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Daily Digest: Aug. 21

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

 

UT-Austin Removes Confederate Statues:

After the violence in Charlottesville, leaders at the University of Texas felt the time was right to remove three Confederate statues on campus.

UT President Greg Fenves said the statues were being removed because they depict parts of American history that “run counter to the university’s core values.” His email to the campus was sent just before 11pm.

Now all that remains are slabs of granite where the statues used to be.
Workers came in the middle of the night to remove the monuments and were still at work this morning shaving down the bolts that used to hold the statues in place.

Now, the statues will go to the Briscoe Center for American History where they’ll be available to academics.

“We’re taking this material as educational material and material evidence of the past that people can use for research,” Don Carleton with the Briscoe Center said.

At 7, hear from students and alumni who have differing opinions on the removal of the statues.

 

Trump Afghanistan Strategy:

At 8pm, President Trump will give a major primetime address to the nation, laying out his strategy for Afghanistan. What he announces will not just have huge implications for the US and the military, but for the global war on terrorism and stability in the region. We’ll have a preview of what to expect at 7pm.

 

Comptroller Glenn Hegar:

Just as the Texas Legislature was nearing its special session end last week, they got some good news from the Texas Comptroller — he found an extra $196 million for them to work with. So did they utilize it — and what’s that say about the Texas economy today? Hear from Comptroller Glenn Hegar tonight.

 

On the Agenda:

And the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joins us to dissect the abrupt end to the special session and the political fallout for the “big three.”

 

Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

 

Daily Digest: Aug. 18

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

 

Bannon Out:

Another White House staffer is out of a job.

President Trump parted ways with his controversial chief strategist Stephen Bannon today after days of rumors that the firebrand conservative was on the outs.

Meanwhile, President Trump faces a two-front battle after his reactions to the violence in Charlottesville and the terror in Barcelona. We’ll have the latest at 7.

 

Redistricting Update:

The state won’t ask lawmakers to come back and redraw congressional maps. Instead, it’s asking the nation’s highest court to step in and keep the boundaries in tact for 2018.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is appealing a lower court’s ruling this week that invalidated two of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

On Tuesday, judges ruled the districts violate the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. One is held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett — the other by Republican Blake Farenthold.

But Paxton argues the maps Texas has used for the last three election cycles are lawful and should remain in place.

 

Six Flags Changes to all American Flags:

The Confederate flag will no longer fly at Six Flags Over Texas. The Arlington-based theme park announced today it will fly six American flags.

A spokeswoman says they “always choose to focus on celebrating the things that unite us versus those that divide us.”

The park was named for the six flags that have flown over Texas — Confederate and those of Spain, Mexico, France, the Republic of Texas and the US.

The Confederate flag the park flew was not the battle flag known for its cross design.

It was an earlier one known as the “stars and bars.”

 

Reporter Roundtable:

Capitol Press Corps reporter Madlin Mekelburg of the El Paso Times and Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News join our reporter roundtable to discuss the abrupt end to the Texas Legislature’s Special Session and the debate surrounding Confederate statues in Texas.

 

PolitiFact Texas:

And Gardner Selby is in to put Gov. Abbott to the truth-o-meter over a claim about Texas jobs.

He also rates this statement from San Antonio activist and trans-woman Ashley Smith:

Says transgender residents make up “about 1-in-300 people, we’re all over the place, we’re your friends and your neighbors.”

 

Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

Daily Digest: Aug. 16

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

 

Sine Die – Now What?:

With the special session over, the blame game has already started. Governor Greg Abbott is lashing out at the Texas House after several of his priority items failed to pass during the overtime session.

On a Houston radio show this morning, the Governor said that all options are on the table if lawmakers would show they’d be able to get something done.

However, special sessions are costly, and the governor said he would be working to get more support on his priorities before considering another call.

The governor also joined a chorus of conservative lawmakers who have pinned blame for the special session deadlock on the House, saying leadership didn’t take all of the agenda items seriously.

“They were wasting time, they were not garnering votes, they were not taking votes, they were not trying to answer the call,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview.

Abbott was also asked about Speaker Straus’ lack of support for the bathroom bill. The Governor suggested the issue will never pass as long as Straus is Speaker and went on to say that’s why “elections matter.”

We’ll have the Speaker’s response to the special session and more post-special session fallout on Capital Tonight at 7.

 

Trump Latest:

President Trump has left New York City after a two-day stay that included perhaps the most explosive moments of his presidency. Our New York reporter, Josh Robin, will have more on the fallout over the president’s remarks about the deadly violence in Virginia.

 

Rep. Joaquin Castro:

The San Antonio Democratic Congressman joined us for a one-on-one interview today to discuss Trump’s comments, DACA, the state’s new anti-sanctuary cities law and 2018. Catch the full interview at 7pm.

 

Political Analysts:

Political analysts Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi are in to give their take on Trump’s comments and the political fallout after an abrupt special session ending.

 

Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

Texas House, Senate End Special Session Early

Both the Texas House and Senate ended the legislative special session a day early.

A stalemate over property tax reform led the House to adjourn first, telling the upper chamber to accept their version or get nothing. But senators said no thanks.

“We’re not going to accept the take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the House and we are going to fight another day,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said.

The Senate then adjourned at around 10 Tuesday night.

At issue was a measure that would have required property tax elections if local governments’ revenue exceeds six percent from the year before. The Senate wanted the cap set at four percent.

The stalemate sets up the possibility of Gov. Greg Abbott calling lawmakers back for a second special session. He called property tax reform a top priority for the 30-day special session that was set to end Wednesday.

His office offered this statement Tuesday night:

“Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before.”

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

Where Gov. Abbott’s Special Session Agenda Stands

The Texas House and Senate ended the special session a day early. Gov. Abbott got a few of his 20 bills passed, but lawmakers did not go 20 for 20.

Here’s the latest on where his agenda stands:

 

What Abbott’s signed into law:

Of his 20 items, Gov. Abbott has signed a handful into law. They include the must-pass sunset legislation needed to keep several state agencies operating. Abbott also signed a bill Friday to combat mail-in ballot fraud.

Tuesday, he signed legislation requiring large cities to hold elections in areas before they annex them. Abbott has also signed a bill increasing abortion complication reporting requirements and requiring women to pay a separate health insurance premium if they want their health plans to cover non-emergency abortions.

Maternal mortality task force: Lawmakers voted to continue a task force on maternal mortality and morbidity.

School Finance: Lawmakers approved about $560 million in extra funding for schools and retired teachers. It’s much less than the $1.8 billion the House originally sought.

Anti-tree Ordinances: New limits on local tree ordinances have been sent to the Governor’s desk. But they aren’t as sweeping as original proposals to virtually wipe out all such ordinances statewide.

Regulating Do-Not Resuscitate Orders: A Senate bill is headed to the Governor’s desk.

 

What’s dead: 

Property Tax Reform:

The House and Senate couldn’t come to a compromise on property tax reform and left the session early without working it out.

In an unusual move, House members left for good Tuesday evening with one day still remaining in the special session. That move forced the Senate to accept the House version of a controversial property tax bill or risk seeing nothing done.

They said no thanks and gaveled out for good as well. The stalemate sets up the possibility of the governor calling lawmakers back for another overtime session.

What the bill would have done: House version required property tax elections if local governments’ revenue exceeds six percent from the year before.

The Senate wanted the cap set at 4 percent.

Other items that didn’t make it: 

Private school choice for special needs students

“Bathroom Bill”

Texting while driving

Union dues deduction

Preventing local rule changes on already acquired properties

Taxpayer funding for abortion

Teacher Pay Increase of $1000: Abbott asked lawmakers to pass a measure that would give Texas teachers a $1000 pay raise. But groups criticized it as an unfunded mandate. Neither chamber approved such a bill yet.

Caps on Local and State Government Spending

Speeding local government permitting process

 

 

Here’s a look at the list Gov. Abbott initially put out:

 

Special session agenda items will include:

  1. Sunset legislation
  2. Teacher pay increase of $1,000
  3. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
  4. School finance reform commission
  5. School choice for special needs students
  6. Property tax reform
  7. Caps on state and local spending
  8. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
  9. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
  10. Speeding up local government permitting process
  11. Municipal annexation reform
  12. Texting while driving preemption
  13. Privacy
  14. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
  15. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
  16. Pro-life insurance reform
  17. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
  18. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
  19. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
  20. Extending maternal mortality task force

 

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Property tax bill gets initial okay from Texas House

A top priority of Gov. Greg Abbott won initial approval from the Texas House Saturday. Lawmakers advanced a bill that aims to limit the amount that larger cities and counties can increase property taxes. The bill passed with a vote of 98-43. It still needs to get a final vote in the House before differences are worked out with the Senate.
Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, repeatedly said the measure would not save taxpayers money. The Governor, Lt. Governor and other Senate Republicans have said otherwise.
“It does not provide one ounce of property tax relief,” Bonnen said Saturday during floor debate. “It’s not intended to and anybody who suggests that is giving you bad information.”
Bonnen said the bill would provide more transparency about how the tax process works.
Currently, voters can petition for an election to roll back the tax rate if the city or county’s new revenue exceeds eight percent.
The House version would require an automatic rollback election if the new revenue exceeds six percent. The Senate has set the rate at four percent.
Cities and counties have aggressively opposed the measure. They said it could hamstring their budgets and make it harder to provide critical services like police and firefighters.
Others argue the only way to provide true property tax relief is to fix the state’s troubled school finance system.

 

Daily Digest: Aug. 11

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

@KarinaKling

Daily Digest: Aug. 10

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

 

House approves must-pass “sunset bills”:

The Texas House has tentatively approved sending the so-called sunset legislation to the Governor. The measures were what forced the governor to call lawmakers back for the overtime session after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick let the typically routine bill die during the regular session.

The sunset bills are needed to extend the lives of the Texas Medical Board and other agencies that were set to expire in September.

The House approved the Senate’s version with no debate today.

“With this everything sunset is to the governor,” Rep. Larry Gonzales. R-Round Rock, said.

The sunset legislation is expected to gain final approval Friday and then go on to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

 

Ethics Reform:

It’s not on the call, but some lawmakers have been pushing for the Governor to place ethics reform on the agenda. The House Investigating and Ethics committee met Thursday to discuss one resolution that would prohibit the governor from accepting political contributions during a special legislative session. Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, authored the measure. He said he’s willing to open it up to all lawmakers.

Texas officeholders are not allowed to accept political contributions during the regular session, but there’s not a ban during a special session.

Tonight at 7 we’ll have more on the measure and why some lawmakers and watchdog groups thinks it’s necessary to keep government accountable.

 

Judge Dismisses Paxton Lawsuit Over Sanctuary Cities:

As we reporter Wednesday, a federal judge has dismissed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against Travis County over the state’s new sanctuary cities law.

Paxton filed the pre-emptive suit shortly after the bill was signed — seeking to have the measure ruled constitutional.

The law bans sanctuary cities. or the term commonly used for local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws. It also allows local law enforcement to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest.

Another lawsuit regarding what’s referred to as SB-4 is still pending in federal court in San Antonio.

Several cities and counties have argued the law violates certain provisions of the Constitution and are trying to prevent it from taking effect.

If they lose their court challenge, SB-4 will be enforced beginning September first. Paxton issued a statement Wednesday saying he was disappointed in the ruling but that the decision has no effect on the San Antonio case.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt joins us at 7pm to discuss Paxton’s lawsuit and why the county continues to fight back against the new law.

 

Remembering Gov. Mark White:

Hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects to former Gov. Mark White as he laid in state at the Texas Capitol Thursday. White died Saturday at the age of 77 after a battle with kidney cancer.

His casket was draped with a Texas flag and displayed in the rotunda beneath his gubernatorial portrait.

White was set to be buried Thursday at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

Hear from lawmakers, colleagues and friends tonight at 7 as they remember the former governor.

 

North Korea Latest:

Mixed messages from the Trump administration on next steps, as North Korea claims it could have a plan to strike the U-S territory of Guam for leader Kim Jong Un’s approval within days. We’ll have the latest on the escalating exchanges between Pyongyang and Washington. Plus we’ll be joined by Paul Miller to discuss the increased tension. He’s the associate director of the Clements Center for National Security at UT-Austin.

 

Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling

 

 

HJR 54        Moody Proposing a constitutional amendment prohibiting the governor or a specific-purpose committee for supporting or assisting the governor from accepting political contributions during a special legislative session.

 

 

Daily Digest: Aug. 9

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

 

Judge Dismisses Paxton SB4 Lawsuit:

A federal judge has dismissed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against Travis County over the state’s new sanctuary cities law. Paxton filed the pre-emptive suit shortly after the bill was signed — seeking to have the measure ruled constitutional.

The law bans sanctuary cities, or the term commonly used for local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws. It also allows local law enforcement to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest.

Another lawsuit regarding what’s referred to as SB-4 is still pending in federal court in San Antonio.

Several cities have argued the law violates certain provisions of the Constitution and are trying to prevent it from taking effect. If they lose their court challenge, SB-4 will be enforced beginning September first.

Paxton issued a statement saying he was disappointed in the ruling but that today’s decision has no effect on the San Antonio case.

 

Seven Days to Go, Little to Show:

Time is running out in the Special Legislative Session and so far zero bills have made it to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.

While the Senate has passed out 18 of the governor’s agenda items, the House has taken what they’ve called a “more measured approach,” passing out only a handful.

That’s rubbed some conservative House members the wrong way.

Wednesday morning several publicly voiced their frustration with the slow pace, saying bills are being held up by House leadership.

“This is a body of the people, for the people of Texas, and the problem is we have a handful of people, and some would even say one, the Speaker, who is stopping some of this legislation from passing,” Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said.

But not everyone is disappointed with the pace. Watch Capital Tonight at 7 to hear why some lawmakers say this special session is moving along just as it should.

 

Remembering Former Gov. Mark White:

“Mark did not serve to assuage his ego or advance his social standing, he served to lead the people of Texas to a better future,” former President George W. Bush said.

Bush spoke at Democratic Texas Governor Mark White funeral in Houston Wednesday.

White died Saturday of a heart attack at the age of 77.

Hundreds turned out to pay their respects to a man who was respected by Texans across the political spectrum. That was evident by the bipartisan attendance at today’s service — including Republicans Bush, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

White served a single term as governor from 1983-87.

He will be most remembered for his work in education, approving pay raises and competency tests for teachers, the state’s high school basic skills graduation test – and no-pass-no-play, the rule that students must have passing grades in order to be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

“Mark passed these great reforms and raised the taxes to pay for them,” Luci Baines Johnson said. “He was ultimately defeated for having done so…but he like my father had no regrets.”

Julian Read, close friend of White’s and former press secretary to Gov. John Connally, will join us at 7 to remember the life and legacy of White.

 

Political Analysts:

Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi are in with their take on the special session final countdown.

 

 

Daily Digest: Aug. 8

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

 

Texas House okays restricting insurance coverage of abortion:

The Texas House has given preliminary approval to a measure that would bar insurers from covering abortions in basic health care plans. If signed into law, women would have to purchase separate policies for abortion coverage in Texas.

Supporters say it makes it so that Texans who don’t believe in abortions don’t have to subsidize them for other insurance policyholders.

“We’re discussing taking the life of the innocent little baby because of something the baby had nothing to do with,” Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, said.

Opponents call it anti-women’s health and that it’s simply another attempt to limit abortion access in Texas.

Life threatening medical emergencies to the mother would still be covered. But Democratic attempts to allow abortion coverage in instances of fetal abnormalities, rape or incest were rejected.

“We’re excluding things that I think common decency would dictate should be apart of this coverage,” Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “I’m just, I’m sorry, I’m just baffled.”

The Senate has approved a similar proposal.

Coming up on Capital Tonight at 7, hear from one abortion rights groups about how much this could potentially cost some low-income Texas women.

 

Senate stands firm on education agenda:

State Senate Republicans are standing firm on their education agenda and rejecting a House plan. That plan would pump $1.8 billion into public schools over the next two years.

The House education chair has touted it as an important step to fixing the state’s troubled school finance system. But today, the chair of the Senate education committee argued long-term solutions are needed and called the lower chamber’s proposal a political fix.

“The time for tinkering around the edges and making minor changes is over,” Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said. “We have a broken system that is well past applying another band aid.”

Sen. Taylor and his Republican colleagues say the Legislature needs to study the problems in the school finance system further. He’s pushing a plan to create a commission to do just that and then make recommendations.

 

When and how to use the Rainy Day Fund:

There’s been an ongoing debate about when and how the state’s so-called rainy day fund should be used. It’s at about $10 billion right now. House members have been on board with tapping it to fill holes in the state’s budget. But Senate Republicans say it should only be used for one-time expenses or emergencies.

Dale Craymer, President of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, joins us at 7 to talk more about its intended purpose and whether current needs warrant tapping it.

 

Talking trees:

One of the 20 items Gov. Abbott wants lawmakers to pass this special session is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees. Many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or plant new trees if they cut down larger ones on their land.

Abbott and other conservatives argue the ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights. But proponents of the local regulations say they are constitutional and improve the quality of life for Texas residents.

Andrew Dobbs with the Texas Campaign for the Environment will discuss his group’s opposition to the legislation and why he says a compromise bill is being “hijacked.”

 

Watch for these stories and the latest on President Trump’s threat to North Korea tonight at 7pm.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling