Archive for January, 2017

Gov. Abbott Names CPS, Ethics Reform, Sanctuary Cities and Convention of States Emergencies

Governor Greg Abbott laid out his priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature Tuesday morning. He told lawmakers to immediately get to work on four issues: overhauling the state’s broken foster care system, ethics reform legislation, banning so-called “sanctuary cities” and passing a resolution to support a convention of states to amend the US Constitution.

The designation of an emergency item permits the Legislature to vote on relevant legislation in the first 60 days of the 140-day session.

 

Child Protective Services overhaul:

The state’s child welfare system was declared broken by a federal judge in 2015 and lawmakers have been working to overhaul the agency. They approved emergency funding last year so CPS could hire more caseworkers and give employees a pay raise. The agency has been plagued by high caseloads and high turnover.

“Do not underfund this rickety system only to have it come back and haunt you,” Abbott told lawmakers in his address. “If you do nothing else this session, cast a vote to save the life of a child.”

 

Banning “Sanctuary Cities”:

Abbott has been in a showdown with the Travis County Sheriff over her new “sanctuary city” policy that places limits on requests from federal immigration officials. The Governor said this session will be the one where lawmakers ban sanctuary cities.

 

Ethics Reform:

The Governor named ethics reform an emergency item last session but lawmakers failed to get a bill to his desk. Abbott said he’s confident the sponsors of the legislation this time would be able “to avoid the pitfalls that led to the demise of ethics reform last session.”

 

Convention of States:

Abbott has been touting this idea for months. Calling for a convention of states would allow states to propose amendments to the US Constitution. For it to happen, 34 state legislatures must apply for a convention.

“For decades, the federal government has grown out of control,” Abbott said Tuesday. “It has increasingly abandoned the Constitution, stiff-armed the states and ignored its citizens. This isn’t a problem caused by one president. And it won’t be solved by one president. It must be fixed by the people themselves.”

 

The Governor also ordered a state hiring freeze through August. He said it’s a way to deal with the state’s tight budget and would free up about $200 million in the current budget.

 

Governor Abbott then touched on a number of topics that he did not deem emergency items. He criticized lawmakers on the pre-K program he championed last session. He said both the House and Senate budget give insufficient attention to improving the program.

“If you’re going to do this, do it right or don’t do it at all,” Abbott told lawmakers.

 

He has said he wants a so-called school choice bill to reach his desk and told lawmakers to make Texas the 31st state that offers parents the option of using public money to send their children to private schools. He also said lawmakers are right to tackle the issue of school finance now rather than putting it off. The Texas Supreme Court ruled the system barely constitutional last year, and urged lawmakers to make changes.

 

One thing notably missing from Abbott’s address – his stance on the so-called “bathroom bill” that could be the most controversial item of the session.

 

Click here to see the Governor’s budget.

 

Watch Capital Tonight at 7pm for analysis and reaction from Texas Democrats.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

At Confirmation Hearing, Perry Says He Regrets Pledging to Abolish Energy Department

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry kicked off his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Thursday morning by expressing regret for campaigning on the promise of doing away with the Energy Department.

“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Perry is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Energy.

Perry also touched on the politically sensitive topic of climate change. He said in his opening remarks that he believes the climate is changing and some of it is caused by “man-made activity.”

“The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way?” Perry added. “When it comes to climate change, I’m committed to making decisions based on sound science that also take into account economic impact.”

The former Texas Governor repeatedly touted his tenure overseeing a state with the 12th largest economy in the world as reason he’s prepared for the position.

Fellow Texan, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn praised Perry as he introduced him to the committee citing job growth and Texas becoming the top exporting state in the country while Perry was Governor.

“Rick Perry is not a status quo kind of guy. He’s a leader. He’s an innovator,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn also noted that today, Texas leads the nation in oil and gas production and produces more wind energy than any other state in the country.

Perry was set to face tough questioning from Democratic Sen. Al Franken, but then this exchange happened:

 

But Sen. Franken then turned serious citing Perry’s 2010 book where he wrote about a “cooling trend” and asked about how much climate change he thinks is due to human activity.

“Senator far from me to be sitting before you today and claiming to be a climate scientist. I will not do that,” Perry said.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to be a climate scientist. But you’re going to be the head of the Department of Energy,” Franken responded. “I don’t want this idea of the economy and addressing climate change are at odds at all.”

 

This post will be updated and watch Capital Tonight at 7pm for full coverage and analysis of Perry’s confirmation hearing.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

 

Proposed Texas Budgets Billions of Dollars Apart

Updated to include House version:

The only piece of legislation Texas lawmakers must pass each session has been filed.

Budget proposals from both the House and Senate were revealed Tuesday. The proposals are starting points for budget writers to begin negotiating, but the bills reveal big differences between the two chambers. First off, Texas Senate and House budgets are nearly $8 billion dollars apart.

Texas Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson has proposed a $213.4 billion two-year base budget.

State House Speaker Joe Straus’ includes $221.3 billion over two years.

One of the most glaring differences between the two chambers is with public education funding. The House wants to add $1.5 billion if lawmakers reform the school finance system. The Senate version does not increase state money for public schools beyond enrollment growth.

Both chambers agree a funding boost is needed for the state’s embattled child welfare system.

A slump in oil and gas prices, as well as decisions by lawmakers two years ago to cut taxes and dedicate money to road funding, has left the state with less money to spend.

 

Earlier version:

The only legislation Texas lawmakers must pass each session has been filed.

A $103.6 billion budget proposal from the State Senate is now on the table.

And while it’s a starting point for lawmakers in the upper chamber — the initial bill would mean significant cuts to many state agencies.

It also does not increase state money for public schools beyond enrollment growth.

The proposed budget by Republican Finance Chair Jane Nelson follows the Comptroller’s gloomy revenue estimate last week.

A slump in oil and gas prices, as well as decisions by lawmakers two years ago to cut taxes and dedicate money to road funding, has left the state with less money to spend.

The budget bill does include some funding boosts for programs including the embattled Child Protective Services agency and pre-kindergarten.

 

Here’s Sen. Nelson’s and Speaker Straus’ full releases on their base budgets:

 

SENATOR NELSON FILES SB 1, THE SENATE’S BASE BUDGET

AUSTIN – Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, today filed SB 1, the Senate’s base budget, establishing the state’s funding priorities for the next two years.

“This base budget is a starting point, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a balanced budget that addresses our needs and strengthens our economy.  While we will need to prioritize and make efficient use of our resources, I am confident we can meet the challenges ahead,” Senator Nelson, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said.

Last week, the Texas Comptroller issued his Biennial Revenue Estimate, indicating that the Legislature will have $104.9 billion available for the FY 18-19 budget.  SB 1 allocates $103.6 billion, including additional resources for transportation, Child Protective Services and other priorities. SB 1:

  • Continues the current funding formulas for both public education and higher education;
  • Adds $2.65 billion to cover student enrollment growth, which is projected to be more than 80,000 per year over the next two years;
  • Increases the education instructional materials allotment by $29.6 million;
  • Provides an additional $32 million for high quality pre-kindergarten;
  • Continues funding at current levels for Communities in Schools;
  • Includes $5 million for Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a new program designed to help students pursue careers in technology;
  • Provides $10 million to support Education Commissioner initiatives;
  • Maintains current funding levels for Texas’ major financial aid programs for public institutions of higher education, including TEXAS Grant;
  • Adds $44.1 million for Graduate Medical Education with the goal of ensuring that residency slots are available for Texas medical school graduates;
  • Dedicates approximately $5 billion for transportation in accordance with Proposition 7;
  • Adds $260 million to address the critical needs of Child Protective Services;
  • Provides a $1 billion commitment to improve the state hospital system and address other state facility needs;
  • Includes $63 million to eliminate waitlists for community mental health services;
  • Keeps funding for women’s health programs at current levels;
  • Maintains veterans’ services and the Texas Veterans + Family Alliance, a $20 million grant program to assist veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues;
  • Fully funds the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute;
  • Maintains the additional $800 million for border security approved last session;
  • Includes $25 million for high caliber bullet-proof vests to protect Texas peace officers;
  • Directs the Department of Information Resources to study the state’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

Balancing the state’s needs against available revenue, SB 1 eliminates one-time expenditures from the previous budget; includes many agency recommendations for 4% savings; reduces funding for non-educational higher education initiatives; and calls for a 1.5% across-the-board budget reduction, exempting the Foundation School Program.

With declining oil revenue and growing needs, the Legislature faces several critical budget decisions this session, including:

  • Structuring our school finance system to better meet the needs of students;
  • Skyrocketing health care costs in Medicaid, the Teacher Retirement System, the Employee Retirement System and correctional managed care; and
  • Addressing mental health needs of the state, including infrastructure and capacity challenges within the mental health state hospital system.

“We have difficult decisions to make this session, and we will work tirelessly to address the needs of the state in a responsible manner,” Senator Nelson said.

In crafting the base budget, 16 agencies underwent strategic fiscal review – a modified form of zero-based budgeting.  In an effort to improve transparency, five agency budgets are presented in a program-based format, and members will receive a program-based version of SB 1 in its entirety. For more information on how the budget process works, visit http://www.senate.texas.gov/_assets/srcpub/85th_Budget_101.pdf

———————————————————————–

HOUSE BUDGET PRIORITIZES PUBLIC EDUCATION

AUSTIN – The initial 2018-19 budget introduced by Texas House leadership Tuesday puts additional resources into public education, child protection and mental health while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.

“We keep overall spending low while making investments in children and our future,” said Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “We put an emphasis on public education, child protection and better mental health care. The Members of the House, beginning with the Appropriations Committee, will now have the chance to shape this budget and decide how best to allocate resources during an economic slowdown. This is the first step toward producing a balanced budget that reflects the priorities of the Texas House and does not raise taxes.”

Highlights of the initial House budget include:

Public Education. The budget provides funding to pay for expected enrollment growth of about 165,000 students over the next two years. It also includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces Recapture and improves equity in the school finance system.

 

Child Protection. In December, the leaders of the House and Senate joined with Governor Greg Abbott to approve new caseworkers and investigators at Child Protective Services, as well as pay raises aimed at reducing employee turnover. Overall, the House budget provides $268 million to bring additional stability to the CPS workforce.

 

Mental Health. The House budget increases funding for behavioral health by $162 million. The increase would allow the Legislature to eliminate wait lists for mental health services and implement recommendations of the House Select Committee on Mental Health, including early identification efforts, jail diversion programs and local collaborations to expand capacity of mental health treatment facilities. The increase also provides funding for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans.

 

The initial House plan appropriates $108.9 billion in General Revenue. It reduces funding for administrative costs and discretionary programs across state agencies. It also eliminates one-time funding provided by the last Legislature, such as completed capital and information technology projects. It also includes cost-containment efforts to reduce spending in Medicaid by $100 million.

“The House will have a productive debate about where to go from here,” Speaker Straus said. “I’m confident that the end product will put more dollars in the classroom, protect children and keep this state on sound fiscal footing.”

 

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

Texas House Gets Early Look at Bathroom Battle, Rules Fight Plays out in Senate

HOUSE UPDATE:

Bathroom Battle:

It didn’t take long for the friendly pomp and circumstance to wear off for state lawmakers. On day two of the 85th Texas Legislature, the House got its first taste of the looming battle over access to bathrooms.

Rep. Matt Schaefer, (R) Tyler, offered an amendment to House administration rules that would restrict people using restrooms in the Capitol to only use those that correspond to their biological sex.

But House administration chairman Rep. Charlie Geren, (R) Fort Worth, quickly called a point of order and told members the Capitol bathrooms are managed by the State Preservation Board, not the House.

Rep. Schaefer eventually withdrew is proposal.

The Senate has made passing a so-called “bathroom bill” a top priority. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has said it’s about protecting women. Critics have said it discriminates against transgender people and the business community has warned it could cost the state billions in lost revenue.

 

SENATE UPDATE:

2/3 Rules Fight:

Senators began their debate on day two over whether to restore the two-thirds rule. That would mean the Senate needs 21 members to bring a bill to the floor for debate. The make-up of the current Texas Senate is 20 Republicans to 11 Democrats. Currently, the Senate operates under a three-fifths rule where only 19 senators are needed to bring up a bill. After heated debate, the Senate voted along party lines to keep the three-fifths rule, enough to give the 20 Republicans greater power over what legislation moves through the upper chamber.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling