84th Legislative Session

Daily Digest | May 29

The 84th Legislature ends in just three days. Here’s what’s going on at the Capitol today:

We’ll know by the end of they day how the state plans to spend taxpayer money for the next two years. After a brief challenge in the House, both chambers began debate this morning on House Bill 1, the general appropriations bill. The conference committee set the budget at $209.4 billion, $2.9 billion below the spending limit. It includes a plan to increase accountability for the border security funding by requiring regular confidential reports on DPS trooper and National Guard numbers to the Legislative Budget Board. And it includes another much-anticipated provision: $50 million in funding for a matching funds grant to help police cover the cost of body cameras for officers. The Senate has already given approval to the plan. We’ll have much more coverage on this budget throughout the day.

That’s not the only thing expected to come up at the Legislature today. Today is the last day for the House to act on Senate amendments. The open carry bill, House Bill 910, could get a vote as early as today. The highly-scrutinized legislation allows concealed handgun license owners to openly display their handguns in public. Lawmakers from both chambers announced a deal yesterday removing a controversial amendment, that was staunchly opposed by police groups, that would have prohibited law enforcement from stopping people who have a gun to ask if they have a license. Supporters of that provision had argued that constitutes an illegal search and seizure, while critics argued it would prevent police officers from being able to adequately protect the public. We’re also expecting an announcement soon on the campus carry bill, Senate Bill 11. The bill’s author said yesterday he’d be willing to allow an amendment that would let schools set up gun-free zones on campus. It’s a major concession supported by campus and police officials, who said this bill would make campuses less safe. Lawmakers are still at odds over a proposal to include private campuses in this legislation. Gun rights advocates argued students’ Second Amendment rights should be protected when they are on a university campus.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (U.S. House District 35), who represents Austin and much of the I-35 corridor in Congress. We’ll talk about the federal government’s responsibility to help flood victims. Plus, Bob Garrett with the Dallas Morning News, Lauren McGaughy with the Houston Chronicle and Patrick Svitek with the Texas Tribune join our weekly reporter roundtable. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 28

The 84th Legislature comes to a close in just five days. Here’s what we have our eyes on at the State Capitol:

Governor Greg Abbott signed his priority pre-K bill into law this morning. Calling the legislation “just the start,” he put pen to paper on House Bill 4 at an early childhood center in Southeast Austin. Governor Abbott said,

“If Texas is going to compete to be #1 in the nation for jobs we can’t wait for tomorrow. We must start today to ensure the best education.”

The plan offers about $130 million in extra funding that can be divided among school districts that follow certain guidelines in their pre-K programs. Early education was Governor Abbott’s first emergency item in his “State of the State” speech, but it found opposition later in the session from Tea Party groups, who called the program unnecessary. The plan was also criticized from Democrats and teachers groups who were pushing for a full-day pre-K program. In the end, schools could get up to $1,500 in state funding per eligible student under the plan. Governor Abbott avoided commenting on the status of gun legislation, saying he’s waiting to see what lawmakers come up with. He also said he does not expect to have to call a special session this year.

The House and Senate both got a late start today. The Senate convened at 1 p.m., but the House won’t gavel in until 2 p.m. Lawmakers in the House could take up the budget as early as this afternoon.

The Senate approved a resolution late Wednesday expressing the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage. It comes after House Bill 2977 was amended in the Senate to include a provision that would have forbidden state or local governments from using public funding to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The author of that bill told Capital Tonight on Wednesday that he would pull his bill down if the language was kept in there. The resolution came after it became clear that legislation would not pass. Opponents of SR 1028 voiced opposition to passing a resolution they say was unnecessary, had no real effects, and would prove to be on the wrong side of history. Supporters argued it was important to represent their constituents who oppose same-sex marriage anyway. Texas already has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of such bans this summer.

Finally, here’s an update on several key pieces of legislation that were sent to conference committee last night. State Representative Byron Cook (R – TX House District 8) resisted attempts to strip his dark money disclosure provision in Senate Bill 19despite the author of the bill, Sen. Van Taylor (R – TX Senate District 8) coming out in strong opposition to it. The language calls for political nonprofits to list their donors. Those two lawmakers will join other conferees to try to come together on a bill that has been called a key part of Governor Greg Abbott’s call for ethics reform, one of his emergency items for this session.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined by Rep. Sylvester Turner (D – TX House District 139), who is leaving the Legislature next week after 26 years representing Houston. We’ll hear his assessment of the budget process, education, gun laws and his future as he continues his campaign to become Houston’s next mayor. All that, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi join the show with their analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 27

The final gavel of the 84th Legislature drops in just five days. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:

Law enforcement agencies from across the state are meeting at the Capitol to protest gun control laws being pushed through the Legislature. House leaders passed a watered-down version of the “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11) just minutes before last night’s midnight deadline. The bill looked destined to fail with more than a hundred amendments still left to debate with just minutes left on the clock, but a last-minute deal led to lawmakers approving the legislation. But that included a key amendment pushed for by university leaders that would allow some campuses to determine where on school grounds that they would allow concealed guns. The controversial piece of legislation has seen staunch opposition from police as well as university leaders; UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out on several occasions against the legislation, saying it will hurt recruiting and will make campuses less safe. Supporters say a person’s Second Amendment rights shouldn’t be infringed when they step onto a college campus.

Two other controversial bills did fall victim to the clock. Senate Bill 575 would have blocked women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion.  And Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services also died. That included the amendment that would have protected child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children.

That led to an unusual scene in the House this morning. A Tea Party coalition led by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R – TX House District 92) killed off several bills with wide support, but were mainly sponsored by Democrats. It happened during a session on the Local & Consent calendar, which is usually reserved for noncontroversial bills with only local impact that had near unanimous support in committees. There were about six bills knocked down, included a bill to monitor special needs classrooms in an effort to stop cases of abuse. Several lawmakers accused Rep. Stickland of retaliation, after he voiced criticism of the House’s failure to pass the aforementioned bills. Wednesday was the last day for the House to consider local and consent bills.

Finally, we now know when Governor Greg Abbott will put pen to paper on his priority pre-K bill. Today, he announced a signing ceremony for House Bill 4 tomorrow at an early childhood center in Austin. The plan offers about 130 million extra dollars, that can be divided among school districts that follow certain guidelines in their pre-K programs. Pre-K education was Governor Abbott’s first emergency item in his “State of the State” speech, but it found opposition later in the session from Tea Party groups, who called the program unnecessary. The plan was also criticized from Democrats and teachers groups who were pushing for a full-day pre-K program. In the end, schools could get up to $1,500 in state funding per eligible student under the plan.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined by Rep. Jason Isaac (R – TX House District 45), who represents much of the area hit by the massive flooding in Central Texas this week. We’ll hear his assessment of what’s needed from both the state and federal government. All that, plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joins the show with his analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 22

We’re now just ten days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today.

The Senate is debating the so-called “open carry” bill, House Bill 910, today. It would allow people with a concealed handgun license, or CHLs, to openly display handguns in public. Police departments had voiced concern over an amendment that would block police from stopping someone just to check if they are licensed, but that provision was stripped away in a Senate committee. That means if passed in the Senate, the House will still have to approve that change. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Thursday he expects the bill to clear the Legislature, while Governor Greg Abbott has also said he would sign an open carry bill into law. Questions still remain about another gun law, the so-called “campus carry” bill or Senate Bill 11, which would allow for the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses. Senators said Friday it will not be added as an amendment to open carry, and voiced confidence that it will pass as its own legislation, which is now in the House. The big sticking point in that bill: allowing campuses the opportunity to opt out of the campus carry program, which has been proposed by university leaders. That has not picked up traction so far in the Legislature.

Another controversial piece of legislation is scheduled to come to a Senate vote today, this one regarding abortion. House Bill 3994 would limit the use of judicial bypass, which lets teenagers get a court-ordered abortion if they can’t get parental permission in extreme cases like parental abuse. It would limit where minors could apply for those orders and would require more tangible evidence that they face possible abuse. The bill would also require doctors to assume all pregnant women are minors unless they can prove otherwise with an ID. Critics say that, in effect, creates a voter ID requirement, which would affect poor women, minorities and undocumented immigrants, much like the voter ID law. If approved without changes, it will go straight to the Governor.

A bill that would reduce higher education benefits for Texas veterans could come up for a vote in the House today. Senate Bill 1735 is an attempt to reign in the rising cost of the so-called Hazlewood Exemption, which lawmakers say has become unsustainable. Current law allows veterans with at least six months of active duty to get up to 150 credit hours of free tuition at a public university, and any time they don’t use can be passed on to their children. That cost Texas universities about $170 million last year, and could double in the next five years. This bill would tighten eligibility requirements, requiring recipients to live in Texas for eight years. It would also cut the amount of free tuition to 120 credit hours — the equivalent of a four-year degree — and would cap the number of free credit hours that could be transferred to the child at 60. Critics call the bill a betrayal of the state’s veterans. Supporters point out the need to get the rising costs under control.

And the dust is still settling after two major, albeit unexpected, announcements from the Capitol last night. First, the conference committee on the state budget gave approval to their compromise plan on House Bill 1 last night. Now the plan just has to clear votes in the two chambers before their plan to fund the state government for the next two years can go to Governor Abbott’s desk. Then, Governor Abbott formally announced the $3.8 billion tax cut plan. There weren’t any surprises in the announcement; it’s a combination of property tax cuts and business tax cuts, including a permanent 25 percent cut in the margins tax for businesses. It also creates a $10,000 homestead exemption for homeowners, but that would have to be approved by voters. Homeowners would get an average annual break in school property taxes of $126, starting with taxes owed this year. In all, the entire package amounts to about $3.8 billion, about a billion dollars less than initially proposed. The plan still hast to clear a few more votes before going to the governor for final approval.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined tonight by three members of the capitol press corps to discuss the week’s legislative headlines: Terry Stutz with the Dallas Morning News, Ross Ramsey with the Texas Tribune and Scott Braddock with the Quorum Report. Then Gardner Selby from Politifact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman will join us for his weekly fact-checking segment. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 21

The 84th Legislature ends eleven days from today. Here’s a look at what we’re watching today:

A controversial anti-union bill hit a major speed bump in a House committee this morning. Hundreds of union organizers showed up to speak against Senate Bill 1968, which would ban government employees from having union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Police, fire, and EMS employees are exempt from the bill as it is currently drafted. It’s part of a larger conservative effort to weaken unions; the authors of the bill say state money shouldn’t be funneled directly into politically-active organizations. Critics of the bill say making it more difficult to pay — or remember to pay — their dues will cut union funding dramatically. They say the bill would, in effect, minimize the voice at the Capitol for other state employees like teachers. Testimony on the bill was cut off after about two hours, with dozens of people still to speak. House State Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Byron Cook said the bill was too flawed to make it through the lower chamber. The bill was left pending, and it is unclear whether the committee will take a vote.

We could have a final budget sent to the two chambers by the end of the day. The budget-writing conference committee on House Bill 1, the general appropriations bill, began voting on parts of the budget yesterday. The final version will still have to get approval from both chambers and the governor. Once approved, we’ll know how the state plans to spend taxpayer money over the next two years, including major programs like education and border funding. That will also pave the way for the tax cut deal to finally get pushed out of the Legislature.

And the House could soon take a vote on a so-called religious objection bill that critics have called anti-gay. Senate Bill 2065 has been placed on the House calendar. It would protect churches, clergy and religious organizations from being sued for refusing to officiate same-sex marriages. Supporters say it’s protecting freedom of religion. Opponents say this protection is already in place, and have questioned whether same-sex couples would force someone to officiate their wedding. Governor Abbott has come out in favor of the measure.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Dr. Terri Givens, associate professor in the Department of Government at UT. This week’s theme in our “New Texas” series: our changing culture, and that of course includes immigration. Based on current demographic trends, how different will Texas be in the near future? And what’s going on now in terms of policy decisions that may affect the state? All that, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

 

 

Daily Digest | May 19

We’re now thirteen days from the final gavel of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on at the State Capitol today:

Immigrant rights advocates are marching on the Governor’s Mansion to call for changes in immigration policy. The group “United We Dream” is protesting the Governor’s lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which would have shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. It comes as two bills that critics have called anti-immigrant return to the Senate intent calendar, which is usually an indicator the legislation has a chance to pass.

Senate Bill 1819 would repeal the Texas DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates if they have lived in Texas for three or more years. The other legislation recently added to the calendar is Senate Bill 185, or the so-called “sanctuary cities bill.” That proposal would expand immigration enforcement authority for local law enforcement. Supporters say it helps enforce immigration laws, while critics argue it leads to discrimination and would turn Texas into an anti-immigrant, “show me your papers” state. Our Karina Kling will explore the political implications of those bills as the House’s border security funding bill, House Bill 11, makes its way through the Senate.

In other headlines, the House Public Education Committee is set to take up Senate Bill 14, the so-called “parent trigger bill.” It would make it easier for parents to intervene and make changes at low-performing schools in their district. The author of the bill says it gives parents more power in shaping their child’s education, but critics argue it will just hurt schools that are already struggling even more instead of bringing them up to speed. And the House’s major overhaul of the state’s economic incentive funds is going before a Senate committee. House Bill 26 would abolish the Emerging Technology Fund and put that money toward Governor Abbott’s University Research Initiative. It would also create an Economic Incentive Oversight Board to monitor how state incentives are being distributed, after accusations were leveled at Governor Perry over lax oversight policies in the awarding of state funds.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Gary Godsey, the head of the influential group, the Association of Texas Professional Educators or ATPE. We’ll discuss the major education-related legislation this session, including the parent trigger bill, the A-F campus accountability bill and school funding, which is still in question. Plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 12

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

The bills are coming fast out of both chambers as major deadlines loom for the 84th Legislature. Lawmakers are trying to push through their proposals before Friday, which is the deadline for bills to be voted out of their originating chamber. It comes on the heels of a relatively slow first four and a half months of the session. Tonight, we look into how this session’s legislative pace compares to past sessions, and what lawmakers are doing to get bills to the governor’s desk.

One of those bills slated for a vote is House Bill 3130, which would ban women from using insurance to cover abortions, even in the case of rape or terminal fetal abnormalities. If approved, women would have to buy a supplemental “abortion insurance” plan to get covered for the procedure. Supporters of the bill say this ensures people who don’t support abortion aren’t subsidizing abortions for others through insurance payments, while opponents say this restricts abortion access even more in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on the upper chamber’s tax cut plan, Senate Bill 1. Committee Chair Dennis Bonnen (R – TX House District 25), who authored the House tax cut bill, slammed the Senate’s plan, which would increase the homestead exemption to lower local school property taxes. He likened it to previous property tax cut plans, which he says didn’t end up decreasing property tax bills because of increases in property appraisals and local taxes. Rep. Bonnen went so far as to say he’d rather scrap the Senate bill and the House bill — which focuses on sales tax cuts — altogether in favor of increasing business tax cuts. Both chambers’ tax cut plans include business tax cuts, but do it to different degrees.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.”  Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick is our guest. She is part of the agency that oversees the oil and gas industry in the state.  A magnitude 4 earthquake recently shook a part of North Texas, just weeks after a recent independent study that says gas well activity is the likely cause of recent nearby tremors. We’ll ask her what the Railroad Commission is doing in light of the quakes and study, and get her thoughts on the state of the oil and gas industry when it comes to the global market.  Plus, political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their observations of activity at the Capitol. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 11

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

We’re down to crunch time in the legislative session, with just three weeks until the final gavel drops. Monday marks a major deadline: Senate and House committees have to vote out their chamber’s bills by the end of the day. Committees will still be able to take up bills referred from the opposite chamber, but they have to get their versions passed by the end of Monday if they are to have any chance moving forward. Then, another deadline comes up Friday. That’s when bills have to have cleared the full chamber to survive into the last two weeks of session. That could set up a frantic week as lawmakers try to push through their priority legislation.

Meanwhile, the House approved Speaker Straus’s priority veteran’s health bill today. House Bill 19 was approved on a 131-5 vote. It charges the Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Veterans Commission with coordinating a mental health intervention program for military families. It also authorizes the creation of a new preventive mental health program for veterans considered “at a high risk of family violence or abuse or neglect.” The bill also establishes new training protocols for mental health volunteers who would participate in the program. The bill does not have a companion in the Senate, so now must be referred to a Senate committee.

And a proposed statewide ban on texting while driving has cleared another hurdle. House Bill 80 was approved by the Senate State Affairs committee today on a 5-1 vote. It would make texting while driving a class C misdemeanor. Violators would face fines ranging from $99 for first time offenders to $200 for repeat violations. The bill was amended to create an exemption for drivers who have to use handheld devices while driving for their jobs. Similar bills in previous sessions have died in the Senate, but supporters hope the third time is the charm for the bill to clear the upper chamber. If it’s approved this time, it will go back to the full House for a vote on the changes made in the Senate.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Carlos Rubinstein, the chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. We’ll check in with him about a plan from last session, which was later approved by voters, to set aside money for water projects. We’ll ask him what types of projects are getting money, and when will they make a difference. Plus, the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will join us for his weekly commentary. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.