Bill barring Medicaid expansion passes House

A bill to change the way Medicaid services are administered passed out of the Texas House, and with it a major roadblock to Medicaid expansion.

The bill itself directs state officials to come up with managed care plans for people with mental and physical disabilities. It also sets up a coordinating panel to help with the transition. But an amendment by Republican Rep. Jeff Leach would block the expansion of any services under the Affordable Care Act. That means that Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t simply direct the Health and Human Services commissioner to work out an acceptable plan with federal officials. Instead, he would have to get approval from the legislature.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation released a statement applauding the amendment. In it, the group’s executive director said:

“The House passage of SB 7 with the successful inclusion of Amendment 26 — the Leach Amendment to prohibit state participation in the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion — is a heartening sign that Texans are determined to resist Washington, D.C.’s ambitions for ever-greater control over our lives and economy. We urge the Senate to affirm the Leach Amendment, and send a unified message that Texas rejects the false promise of Medicaid run on D.C.’s terms.” – Arlene Wohlgemuth

The full bill is now headed back to the Senate, where significant changes made by the House need to be approved before it’s sent to the governor’s desk.


Capital Tonight: Breaking down the budget deal

After a week of tense negotiations, the state’s top budget writers have approved a final deal.

The bill restores nearly $4 billion to education funding that was cut last session and sets aside $400 million for transportation. Budget committee co-chair Tommy Williams said he believes the bill is one both parties can agree on.

“It’s a tricky process to score where you are when you’re putting this together, because it’s a moving target,” Williams said. “And I don’t think there’s anybody, Republicans or Democrats, who don’t want to fund public education. We all want to fund it at the highest level with we can, that’s consistent with the other poles in the budget.”

In Friday’s episode, we break down the bill’s details with the Quorum Report‘s Scott Braddock and Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune.

Repairing Roads

The oil and gas boom in parts of South and West Texas has added to the state’s coffers, but it’s also led to serious damage on the roads to and from those areas.

One lawmaker wants to make sure that’s not overlooked before the session ends. We spoke to Sen. Carlos Uresti about his plan to make sure county roads get needed repairs.

IRS Under Fire

Just days after the acting director of the IRS was forced to hand in his resignation, he faced tough questioning before the House and Means Committee Friday.

Click the image below to see the Friday’s full episode.

Lawmakers announce budget breakthrough

Lawmakers are one step closer to approving a state budget plan. Leaders struck a deal this afternoon that would restore $3.93 billion to public education funding. At the start of the session, Democrats had been pushing to restore the $5.4 billion that was cut last legislative session. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Yvonne Davis said Friday party members are satisfied with what they were able to achieve.

The compromise also clears the way to dip $2 billion into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure projects. A separate constitutional amendment to establish a water fund still needs to be approved by the House. The deal is similar to one Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced late Thursday night.

Today marked a breakthrough after a week of tense negotiations over the two-year spending plan. The full House and Senate still need to vote on the plan, and Gov. Rick Perry has to sign off on it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Capital Tonight: Democrats defend stance as budget talks stall

The battle over a final budget plan continued Thursday night. Roads and education funding were major sticking points. Representative Sylvester Turner joined us to talk about where Democrats stand in the latest round of negotiations. Click the image below to hear the full interview, plus updates on the Michael Morton act and political analysis from our Capital Commentators.

TPPF urges budget conferees to ‘practice spending restraint’

The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation put out a press release this afternoon regarding the state budget process. The TPPF recognizes that budget conferees have “reached a critical point in the budget process” and is calling for spending restraint, especially in the area of education.

Talmadge Heflin, the director of the TPPF’s Center for Fiscal Policy, disputes the idea that $3.5 billion for education this session isn’t enough to meet the state’s needs, and worries putting more money in this area would hurt the possibility of tax relief legislation. The entire press release is below.

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Budget talks stall over education funding

We may learn more about where the state budget is headed this afternoon. First, Republican Gov. Rick Perry will attend a ceremony at about 2:15 p.m. to sign the Michael Morton Act. It’s possible the governor will also take the opportunity to comment on the budget negotiations that continued this morning. The conference committee tasked with finalizing the budget is meeting at 2 p.m., after which an announcement is expected.

According to Harvey Kronberg with the Quorum Report, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, the lone Democratic House member on the conference committee, said Republicans have gone back on an agreement to add almost $4 billion to education, instead changing that offer to $3.5 billion. Meantime, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus indicated that there may not be enough room to get the $3.9 billion for education Democrats want due to the spending cap.

Of course, also part of the equation is bringing House and Senate members of both parties together on a plan to draw $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund for water relief. The same budget negotiations involve a complex mix of legislation that would put approval of a revolving fund for the water money before voters, thus avoiding a budgetary conflict with the spending cap.

We expect to have Rep. Turner on this evening’s Capital Tonight to shed more light on the back-and-forth among conference committee members.

Capital Tonight: Budgets, demographics and DC scandals

The state’s top budget writers have been meeting behind closed doors, hammering out the final details on a two-year plan. Tuesday, we got word that lawmakers are tentatively set on $2 billion dollar water plan, but money for transportation and education remain up in the air.

MALC Turns 40

The country’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus is turning 40. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus celebrated Wednesday with a free concert at the Capitol, but a birthday wasn’t the only thing members celebrated. A new poll hints that the Latino vote could easily overcome the Republican margin of victory, but not every MALC member sees it that clearly.

IRS Scandal

President Barack Obama has announced that the head of the Internal Revenue Service will be resigning, in the wake of a scandal involving the specific targeting of Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.

Sen. John Cornyn appeared on the show to talk about that and more.

Lawmakers strike hybrid deal on water funding

The House and Senate have overcome a major hurdle in budget negotiations at the State Capitol. Namely, they’ve come to an agreement on how to allocate $2 billion dollars to pay for water infrastructure projects. The deal puts to rest what had been shaping up to be a showdown between the two chambers over the best way to tackle the state’s water woes.

“We will put a bow on this, tomorrow,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts said.

The Senate had approved a constitutional amendment that would require voters to authorize dipping $5.7 billion dollars into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (better known as the Rainy Day Fund). Two billion dollars of that money was earmarked for water projects. House Speaker Joe Straus came out against that plan last week, saying the decision needed to be made by lawmakers, not “punted to the voters.”

The compromise would call for voters to approve an amendment establishing a dedicated water fund. Lawmakers, not voters, would then approve the $2 billion dip into the Rainy Day Fund. “We insisted that we were not going to start doing a referendum type of government here in Texas like they do in California,” Pitts said. “We were elected, 150 members over here, 31 members over, there to make these decisions.”

This deal does not address transportation funding. Rep. Pitts said Monday that there are still other ways to make that happen. He also said they plan to have an agreement on education later in the day. The details are expected to be laid out tomorrow.


Budget committee takes steps to restore CPRIT funding

The state’s top cancer fighting agency appears to be back in lawmakers’ good graces.

Members of the conference committee on the budget have agreed to restore more than $594 million in funding to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The organization has been under fire since last year, when the approval of a grant worth $11 million came into question, sparking a criminal investigation. Funding for CPRIT was cut in the Legislature’s original budget proposals.

The restoration of funds is contingent on the passage of Senate Bill 149, however. Sen. Jane Nelson’s bill would ban agency executives from having business relationships with award recipients and create a new oversight position to make sure agency rules are followed.

She released a statement today, saying:

“I am grateful to the conference committee for allowing CPRIT to move forward and approving these funds. I was very disappointed in the poor decision making and mistakes that came to light this session, but believe we must keep up our fight against cancer. SB 149, which was approved by the House Public Health Committee last week, will ensure CPRIT operates in a transparent and accountable way in the future and that these issues will be solved. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support CPRIT during this time. I am looking forward to a bright future for the Institute.”

Dems announce grim outlook for Medicaid expansion

House Democrats called a last-minute press conference Wednesday afternoon to announce that if Medicaid expansion isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly on life support.

Yesterday, Republican Rep. John Zerwas conceded that his “Texas solution” to draw down federal money under the Affordable Care Act remains stuck in the House Calendars Committee, with little chance of escape. Any bill the committee hasn’t assigned to a hearing on the House floor by midnight Thursday is unlikely to get a vote.

 Rep. Sylvester Turner has proposed a different plan to expand Medicaid, which faces a similar fate.

“Unless we know some way to resurrect the dead, it won’t be resurrected this session,” Rep. Turner said.

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