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 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.



‘Big 3’ extend border surge

Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have signed an agreement to extend the border surge through the end of August 2015.

Perry and other state officials said in a statement Tuesday that the’ll now await the approval of the Legislative Budget Board, which meets next month.

If members give the $86 million plan the go ahead, the move allows enhanced patrols by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas National Guard and other personnel to continue their response to a surge in immigrants entering illegally into the U.S. through the Rio Grande Valley.

Officials want to divert nearly $48 million in general revenue bonds and other monies to help cover the cost.

“Texas has proven beyond any doubt that this border can be secured, even if the federal government refuses to take the steps necessary to do so as required by the Constitution,” Perry said in a press release. “This agreement will ensure the hardworking men and women from DPS, the Texas National Guard and Texas Parks and Wildlife, who have been working with local and federal partners, have the resources they need to maintain a robust law enforcement presence along the border until the Legislature can act.”

According to the Governor’s Office, funds for DPS would include the addition of new shallow-water boats and other technological capabilities, “which would be used to extend tactical capabilities as well as the surge footprint beyond the Rio Grande Valley Sector.”


Texas Candidates for Governor Respond to School Finance Ruling

Any possible changes the Texas Legislature makes to the school finance system will happen under the watch of the next governor. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is the current attorney general. His office represents the state in school finance litigation. Officially, his office said he would defend this law in court, just as he would any other law passed by the Legislature.

Later Thursday, his campaign released this statement:

“Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely. My plan will make Texas top-ranked in the nation for education by returning genuine local control to school districts, ensuring all children are reading and doing math at grade level by third grade, and graduating more students from high school than ever before.”

Sen. Wendy Davis is also weighing in on today’s ruling. She has long criticized the Legislature’s decision to slash $5.4 billion in school spending in 2011. In a statement Thursday, she said:

“Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans. The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven’t been working for our schools; they’ve been actively working against them. Abbott has been in court for years, defending overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and public-school closings, and today, Judge John Dietz ruled against him. This ruling underscores the crucial need to invest in education and reminds us of just how much our schools, teachers and students have had to sacrifice over the past three years just to get by.”

Capital Tonight: Republicans Debate Details of Immigration Platform

You could call it a Southwest symposium. Today, Gov. Rick Perry welcomed fellow Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to Texas. While the governor of Arizona was here to talk jobs and balancing budgets, she also wanted Perry to be aware of a letter she sent President Obama this week.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard how Gov. Brewer is defending her state’s immigration policies and why she says she has a bone to pick with federal officials over immigrants picked up in Texas.


Meanwhile, the devil is in the details for Republicans in Forth Worth, as they work out the language for their party’s immigration platform. We checked in on the latest on that debate, plus former state lawmaker Aaron Peña joined us to give his take.


It’s been months since the last Texas budget was passed, but the debate over whether it was stingy or a spending spree continues. We spoke to Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation about a new report that aims to make an apples-to-apples comparison between budgets.

House rallies support for transportation funding amendment

The Texas House has formally approved a plan that would funnel $800 million into Texas roads. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pickett,  would change the way gasoline tax is distributed. Currently, five cents of the 20-cent gas tax goes to pay for public education. Under this plan, all 25 cents would be funneled into transportation projects. The education money would be made up, elsewhere.

Transportation funding was all but passed last special session, but the bill ultimately died after it was placed on the Senate calendar after the abortion bill. As a result of Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster, a final vote never took place.

The legislation is now headed to the Senate, which has already approved its own version of the bill. The Senate resolution, however, includes some key differences. Notably, the bill guarantees that $6 billion will remain in the Rainy Day Fund. House Democrats have vowed to block such a provision.

Voters would still have to approve either plan.

House committee quietly passes abortion restrictions

After cutting off testimony that lasted into the wee hours of the morning Friday, state lawmakers came back Friday afternoon and quietly and quickly passed stricter abortion measures onto the full House for debate.

The votes fell along party lines.

If approved the new law would include banning abortions after 20 weeks, requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and only allow abortions in surgical facilities.

Hundreds of public citizens signed up to testify against the legislation at a committee hearing Thursday evening. They dubbed it a ‘people’s filibuster. But the committee chair cut off testimony early Friday morning, leaving those who had waited it out to become outraged. No vote was taken at that time on the bills.

Committee members came back together Friday afternoon in a room that held about 30 people and quickly approved the measures.

A full House debate on the bills is expected to take place Sunday afternoon.

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.



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

Capital Tonight: Public education issues still unresolved

Back to School

More questions are being raised in about the state’s school funding system.

Players from both sides of the school finance lawsuit were back in court Wednesday in an effort to get District Judge John Dietz to admit public education changes passed out of the 83rd Legislature as evidence. But many of those changes are still up in the air, pending Gov. Rick Perry’s signature — or his veto pen.

Campus Construction

As the special session creeps slowly along, some lawmakers are holding out hope that their legislation will make it on the call.

One push in particular is gaining a lot of attention. Legislation that would have approved about $2.5 billion in tuition revenue bonds fell through in the final hours of the regular session, but backers of the bills are hopeful it will be considered during the special session.

Candidate Perspective

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stopped by the studio to give his take on the regular session as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Click the logo below to see the full interview.