Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Senate Panel Guts House School Finance Bill:

The Texas Senate Education Committee scaled back a priority House bill to give Texas public schools more money. House Bill 21 would have injected $1.8 billion into the public school system. But the Senate panel reduced it to $311 million over the next two years. Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said he expects the Senate to vote on the measure Saturday and then work with House lawmakers on a compromise.

While the House has pushed for pumping more money into the system, the Senate has voiced support for studying school finance through a commission that would then make recommendations to the Legislature.

Both chambers also differ on how to pay for the bill. The House had proposed delaying certain payments to school districts in the upcoming budget cycle to the following biennium. But the Senate wants to delay certain payments to Medicaid managed care organizations.

We’ll have more on the school finance standoff tonight at 7.


Bills on Way to Governor’s Desk:

While he might not get his 20 for 20, there are finally a couple of bills on their way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.

The must-pass sunset bills that reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and other agencies have been approved by lawmakers. Friday’s unanimous House vote sends the measures to Abbott.

The bills are the main reason the governor was forced to call a special session after Lt. Governor Dan Patrick let the typically routine bills die during the regular legislative session.

Lawmakers have also sent a bill that would increase criminal penalties for improper mail-in voting to Abbott. The measure makes some cases of mail-in voter fraud felonies, punishable by lengthy jail sentences.

It also increases ballot signature verification rules.


Undoing Hands-Free Ordinances:

One priority item looking less likely that it’ll hit the Governor’s desk — Abbott’s call for overriding all city rules requiring drivers to go hands-free. After a decade of trying, lawmakers finally passed a statewide texting ban during the regular session. But when Abbott called lawmakers back, he wanted them to do away with what he called a “patchwork” of city regulations.

That would preempt much stricter laws in cities across Texas, including many in our area. San Antonio, Austin and cities in between have passed their laws over the last few years.

Most of them require drivers to be hands-free. The texting ban would relax those rules, so drivers can still hold their phones to make calls.

Area mayors say they prefer the hands-free law. For one, it’s easier to enforce.

“You look at the reports of all the accidents that were caused by people using cell phones and texting, and we thought it was appropriate given our location on I-35,” Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said.

The Texas Senate passed its version of a bill that would override local cell phone laws. A similar bill is pending in a House committee.


Immigrant Journey:

They’re found dead on rural properties, others inside tractor trailers. And right now, U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas are seeing a spike in the number of undocumented immigrants dying trying to enter the United States.

Our Annette Garcia traveled to Laredo to find out what is behind the increase. Watch her full report on Capital Tonight at 7.


Reporter Roundtable:

Reporters closely covering the special session will join us for a roundtable discussion. Ben Philpott of KUT News, Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune and James Barragan with the Dallas Morning News will give their take on how the final days of the legislative session will play out.


Congress Looks to Prevent Hot Car Deaths:

A three-year-old died this week in Florida after being left inside a hot van all day outside a daycare. The tragic death is drawing new attention to the problem of children left alone in cars on hot days.

Such cases continue to happen nationwide, especially in Texas. No other state has had more children die in hot cars this year.

At 7pm, our Washington bureau reporter Alberto Pimienta will break down what Congressional leaders are trying to do to prevent these tragedies.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling