83rd Legislative Session

New UT / TT poll sheds light on voters’ abortion opinions

On the same day heated testimony is expected at a House committee meeting on abortion, a new University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll is shedding some light on Texans’ opinions on the issue. According to the Tribune, “voters remain split on the permissibility of abortion, but favor banning the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” The so-called fetal pain bill is among restrictions lawmakers are considering.

The poll shows 16 percent of voters said abortion should never be allowed and another 30 percent said it should only be allowed in “cases of rape, incest or danger to women’s life.” On the other side, 36 percent said abortion is a matter of personal choice.

 

 

 

The poll also asked if voters thought abortion laws should be stricter. Thirty-eight percent said yes, they should. That’s compared to 26 percent who said they should be less strict and 21 percent who said no change is needed.

On the question of the so called ‘fetal pain’ bill lawmakers will discuss today, the poll showed an overwhelming number of people support banning abortion after 20 weeks. The outcome of that poll was essentially the same whether the words ‘fetal pain’ were used, or not.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst abortion tweet angers critics

For hours on the Senate floor last night, Texas Republicans insisted new restrictions on abortion clinics were designed to protect women, not to shut down facilities. But a Tweet from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst today seems to indicate otherwise.

The Tweet from Dewhurst’s account reads, “We fought to pass SB5 thru the Senate last night, & this is why! #StandWithTexasChildren”

 

 

 

 

It links to a map from an abortion rights group showing clinic locations that would be forced to close under the new legislation.

The legislation passed last night requires that abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers and that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Critics say very few abortion clinics could meet those requirements and that all but five would have to close.

The bill also includes stricter rules regarding the abortion pill RU-486. A provision to ban abortion after 20 weeks was dropped from the bill before debate began.

Judge sets date for new school finance trial

The judge in the state’s school finance case has set a date to hear new evidence, based on changes the lawmakers made to education funding this legislative session.

In February, State District Judge John Dietz ruled that the way the state finances schools was unconstitutional. It was based on massive education funding cuts and stricter graduation requirements passed in 2011. Dietz also found disparities between property rich school districts and property poor districts.

The state asked the court to reopen the case based on laws passed during the current legislative session. Lawmakers elected to restore $3.4 billion in education funding and also reduced the number of standardized tests necessary for students to graduate. Lawmakers also passed a bill that creates a vocational path to graduation.

The more than 600 districts that sued in 2011 maintain the entire school funding formula is flawed and that the additional funding won’t fix the basic problem.

Dietz said Wednesday the case will go back to trial on Jan. 6th. He has scheduled six weeks of testimony to hear what the new funding means.

 

Commissioners Court considers funding Public Integrity Unit

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg made her first public appearance Tuesday since serving jail time for a DWI. Lehmberg went before the Travis County Commissioners Court asking the county to help restore the $7.5 million dollars in funding that was cut from the Public Integrity Unit.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that portion of the budget Friday, making good on threats to do so if Lehmberg refused to step down. Perry has taken aim at Lehmberg’s personal integrity after she was arrested and served time for drunk driving in April. Jailhouse video showed Lehmberg acting unruly and repeatedly demanding that the employees “call Greg,” apparently in reference to Sheriff Greg Hamilton. Lehmberg has maintained she has no intention of stepping down.

The Texas Legislature provides a little more than $3 million in funding per year. That money allows the Public Integrity Unit to carry out its three main functions. The unit has statewide authority over cases involving insurance and motor fuel fraud. It also handles public corruption cases, which occur in Travis County. Funding for the Public Integrity Unit will run out September 1.

Critics have criticized Perry’s veto, saying the governor is using his power to shut down investigations into his office and its programs. “I can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been an attempt in the legislature to mess with the Public Integrity Unit,” Lehmberg said.

The court agreed Tuesday to explore ways to include funding in the county budget. “We have to make decisions on unfunded mandates all the time,” Commissioner Ron Davis said. “We’ll do the best we can.”

The commissioners requested that the District Attorney’s office provide a breakdown of the Public Integrity Unit’s expenditures and agreed to explore ways to work it into the next budget without an undue burden on taxpayers. They will meet again, in two weeks.

Texas Monthly names ‘Best and Worst Legislators of 2013″

Texas Monthly is out with its biennial “Best and Worst Legislators List.” Here they are, in no particular order.

                     BEST:

  • Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie)
  • Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen)
  • Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands)
  • Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio)
  • Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth)
  • Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock)
  • Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen)
  • Rep Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth)
  • Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)
  • Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio)
       
                    WORST:
  • Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano)
  • Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas)
  • Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso)
  • Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
  • Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston)
  • Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston)
  • Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills)
  • Comptroller Susan Combs (A “very special worst award” according to a Texas Monthly tweet)
  • Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville)
  • Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)

And the “Bull of the Brazos” title went to Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston).

Be sure to watch the show, later tonight. Texas Monthly Executive Editor Paul Burka and contributor Sonia Smith will be on to talk more about why the reasons for their rankings.

Updated: Perry adds abortion, juvenile justice to special session call

Updated to add a statement from Gov. Perry

Gov. Rick Perry is adding two more issues to the lawmakers’ special session call.  Perry this afternoon will announce that he will ask lawmakers to consider abortion regulations and mandatory life sentences for certain juvenile offenders.

Capital Tonight has confirmed the specific call is as follows:

  • “Legislation relating to establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender”
  • “Legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers, and facilities.”

Gov. Perry issued this statement on the expanded call:

“The horrors of the national late-term abortion industry are continuing to come to light, one atrocity at a time. Sadly, some of those same atrocities happen in our own state. In Texas, we value all life, and we’ve worked to cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child. We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause.”

Perry threatens to veto Public Integrity Unit funding

Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to strip state funding from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refuses to resign. The Public Integrity Unit is funded partially by the Texas Legislature and prosecutes ethics and campaign finance violations.

According to an Austin American-Statesman exclusive, Perry intends to line-item veto that portion of the state budget. The governor’s office would not go into specifics, but spokesman Rick Parsons told the paper “we’re going through the budget line by line. (The governor) has very deep concerns about the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit.”

Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges in April. Police records show her blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit. Jailhouse surveillance video also shows Lehmberg acting belligerently toward the jailers. Lehmberg was sentenced to 45 days in jail and was released in early for good behavior.

Despite numerous petitions and lawsuits from attorneys and lawmakers alike, Lehmberg has maintained she will not step down as district attorney and head of the Public Integrity Unit. In court today, a judge determined that Lehmberg will face a jury in two separate lawsuits. One claims Lehmberg violated a code of conduct that states she cannot be intoxicated on or off duty. The other is for official misconduct, based on her actions in jail.

If Lehmberg chooses to step down, or is forced out of office, Gov. Perry would appoint her replacement.

 

 

Capital Tonight: Perry signs education bills, prepares for job-poaching trip

Education Legislation

 

Gov. Rick Perry put pen to paper, officially signing a stack of education bills into law today, including House Bill 5.

Many were closely monitoring the fate of the graduation requirement legislation amid rumors that Gov. Rick Perry would veto the measure.

The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg offered his thoughts on what Perry’s non-veto might mean and analyzes the governor’s decision to add transportation to the special session call.

 

On the Agenda

Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown sat down with the Lonnie Hollingsworth from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. Click the video link below to get his take on the new law and hear what he says still needs to be done.

 

Perry adds transportation to special session call

Gov. Rick Perry today announced he would add transportation funding to the special session call. That means lawmakers will now consider “Legislation relating to the funding of transportation infrastructure projects.”

Perry released this email statement:

“Texas’ growing economy and population demand that we take action to address the growing pressure on the transportation network across the state. As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life.”

Representatives urge Perry to add construction bonds to special session

A bipartisan group of Texas representatives is calling on Gov. Rick Perry to add campus construction bonds to the special session call. The Tuition Revenue Bonds, known as TRBs, would allocate millions of dollars for construction projects on college campuses across the state.

Despite having support from both parties in both the House and Senate, lawmakers ran out of time to pass the legislation in the regular session. Now, they’re urging Gov. Perry to give them a second chance.

More than 65 representatives signed a letter to governor saying “approval of these projects will bring notable benefits to our economy, while the construction and ongoing operations resulting in a significant multiplier effect in local communities throughout the state.”

You can read the full letter, and see if your representative signed it, below:

TRB Letter to Perry by TexasCapitalTonight