Capital Tonight: The Week in Review

Reporter Roundtable

Christy Hoppe from The Dallas Morning News, Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report and Jay Root of The Texas Tribune sat down with Paul Brown to discuss this week’s events in politics, including recently passed education legislation. They also talked about the Texas Faith and Family rally and the need for water legislation this session.

Fact checking Sen. Ted Cruz

Gardner Selby from PolitiFactTexas discussed Sen. Cruz’s statements at CPAC this week.


House budget calls for $2.5 billion education funding increase

The Texas House Appropriations Committee approved its 2014-15 budget today. The $193.8 billion spending plan includes a $2.5 billion increase for the Foundation School Program. That’s in addition to what had already been set aside for enrollment growth and does not include tapping the Rainy Day Fund. The House version of the budget restores about a billion dollars more in education dollars than the Senate plan.

“By putting additional resources into Texas classrooms, this budget demonstrates that public education is a top priority for the members of the Texas House,” Committee Chairman Jim Pitts said. “The additional resources that this bill provides for public education and higher education will expand opportunities for young Texans.”

The full House will now have to approve the budget. Once that happens, the House bill and Senate bill will head to conference committee where compromises will have to be made in order to pass a final budget.

Here are some of the other highlights of the House budget:


  • Stays below the constitutional spending limit
  • Funded within available revenue
  • Does not use Rainy Day Fund


  • Fully funds enrollment growth
  • $2.5 billion increase for the Foundation School Program (in addition to enrollment growth)
  • $147 million to increase state’s contribution for TRS pensions from 6.4 percent to 6.6 percent


  • $175 million increase for financial aid programs, including $150 million increase for Texas Grants
  • 3 percent formula funding increase (on top of enrollment growth) for all institutions — community colleges, general academic institutions, and health related institutions.
  • $59 million increase for the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund


  • $264 million increase for mental health programs (across all articles), which includes extending services to more than 6,000 adults and almost 300 children on waiting lists
  • $100 million increase for women’s health services
  • Increased funding for Child Protective Services to reduce delinquent investigations and lower caseloads to 2009 levels


  • $50 million increase for Parks and Wildlife Department (General Revenue and GR-Dedicated)
  • Salary increases for correctional officers and Schedule C employees (law enforcement)
  • 1 percent per year merit increases for state employees



Capital Tonight: Bills get moving out of House, Senate

State Senators are now a step closer to passing the one bill that’s required each session. In a vote of 29-2, the Senate version of the 2014-2015 budget was approved late Wednesday afternoon. But even with a strong show of support, many lawmakers say the budget process has a long way to go.


While lawmakers hash out the details on education funding, one group is making sure the debate over vouchers doesn’t get ignored.

Raise Your Hand Texas took out a full page ad calling vouchers a plan to give public money to private schools. We spoke to the group’s CEO, David Anthony.

A bill dealing with Austin’s plastic bag ban got a lot of attention at the Capitol Wednesday. Rep. Drew Springer has proposed what he calls the Shopping Bag Freedom Act, which would overturn the Austin ordinance banning reusable plastic bags at grocery stores.

A number of people came to a hearing on the bill in the House Urban Affairs Committee. Click the image below to hear what opponents of the bill have to say, along with Rep. Springer’s response.

Senate approves two-year state budget

The Texas Senate approved a $195.5 billion budget for 2014-2015 by a vote of 29-2 this afternoon. The dissenting votes came from Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).

Both Davis and Garcia wanted to see more money put into education funding, which took a $5.4 billion hit last session.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee is expected to pass a version of the budget Thursday. The House has put together a very similar plan.

Full Senate considering budget draft

The first budget bill of the legislative session is on the Senate floor, today. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the $195.5 billion dollar plan. The bill calls for $94.1 billion dollars in general revenue and adds funding for mental health services and state parks.

The measure will likely face opposition from Senate democrats who wanted to see more education funding restored. Lawmakers cut more than $5 billion to help make up for a massive budget shortfall last legislative session. Democrats say the $1.4 billion being put back under this proposal is not enough to close that gap.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee is expected to pass it’s version of the budget, tomorrow.

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers mull drug testing for benefits

Lawmakers are considering a bill requiring drug testing of those receiving unemployment benefits. Both sides gave testimony this week about the bill’s effect on those receiving unemployment.

Reporter Roundtable

Paul Brown sat down with Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune, Peggy Fikac from the Houston Chronicle and Terry Stutz from the Dallas Morning News to discuss Gov. Rick Perry’s appearance at CPAC, lawmakers turned lobbyists, and all the week’s events in Texas politics.

Texas White House

The importance of the LBJ Ranch to Central Texas dates back over 50 years. Superintendent Russ Whitlock discussed the park’s importance and how recent budget cuts affected the operating budget.

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


Senate Finance Committee approves 2014-15 budget

The Senate Finance Committee today unanimously recommended its new budget for the next two years. The proposal includes $94.1 billion dollars in general revenue.

According to committee chair Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), the budget emphasizes education and mental health. In addition to funding enrollment growth, the committee also allocated an extra $1.4 billion for school districts across the state.

“The Committee felt strongly about maintaining our commitment to increasing school funding equity and a quality education,”  Williams said. “This investment of resources reaffirms that commitment to the courts.”

Sen. Williams also highlighted these portions of the budget:

  • $746 million increase for higher education, including $204 million for community college formula funding and employee benefits;
  • $120 million for TEXAS Grants on top of $559.5 million in general revenue in the base bill;
  • $6 million in general revenue and 50 full-time employees to address Veteran’s issues;
  • $100 million general revenue for primary care expansion to provide preventive health care to an additional 170,000 low-income women;
  • $18.7 million (offset by $15 million in savings) for 106 additional employees in the Office of Inspector General to reduce costs from Medicaid fraud and overpayment investigations;
  • $80.8 million added to formula funding for health-related institutions, including the health-related institution formula for graduate medical education;
  • Closing two Texas Department of Criminal Justice  facilities for savings of nearly $100 million. The savings will help fund required correctional health care ($45 million), parole supervision ($10 million), community corrections and diversion programs ($30 million), and other basic needs, such as computers, vehicles and an electronic management system to maintain the prison system, and
  • $139 million in general revenue to increase salaries  to improve correctional officer, health care provider, and officer retention.

Sen. Williams did express some concern over some items not included in the budget, including funds for water projects, state highways and small business tax relief. He said those issues would be addressed later in the legislative session. The full Senate is expected to consider SB1 next week.

Capital Tonight: Testing the limits of education reform

The path toward public education reform

A proposal to reduce the number of tests needed to graduate in Texas came up before the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. It would reduce the number of tests from 15 to four or five. Some teachers fear the change could jeopardize education standards.

Beverage distributors and craft brewers reached an agreement on a proposed bill that would allow smaller breweries to sell their beer directly to customers in some cases.


Fracking in Texas

Railroad Commissioner David Porter sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the benefits of fracking to the Texas economy. A study on the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas was released by the Texas Railroad Commission.


The Eagle Ford Shale Task Force Report looks at the economic benefits of fracking, the infrastructure needed and the Railroad Commission’s regulations on the industry.

For the full interview, click the video below.


Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss George P. Bush’s announcement that he’s running for land commissioner next year. They also discussed election laws and a poll recently conducted by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas


Bills address veterans’ tuition program concerns

Two bills have been filed to address concerns raised by some Texas universities over the expense of the state’s veteran higher education financial aid program known as Hazlewood.

State Rep. Chris Turner (D-San Antonio) and state Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) filed identical measures which would allow schools to use “B-On-Time” funds that are currently not utilized to offset Hazlewood and Hazlewood Legacy tuition exemptions.

“Hazlewood represents a solemn promise from the state of Texas to our veterans and their families and our legislation is aimed at keeping that promise,” Turner said.  “By allowing our state’s colleges and universities to utilize unused B-On-Time funds that are currently being transferred back to the state to instead offset Hazlewood costs, we will strengthen our veterans benefits and help our colleges and universities.” 

“The first and foremost consideration is that we help the 1 percent who defend our freedoms and have earned their Hazlewood benefits,” Van de Putte said. “It makes sense to give schools the flexibility to utilize monies already appropriated for their campuses before looking at additional state dollars. This bill will help our universities do the right thing for our veterans and their families.”

The two pieces of legislation would allow state institutions to retain unused tuition funds designated for the “B-On-Time” loan program. HB 3265 and SB 1543 would allow leftover funds to stay with the institution at which they were collected, rather than the current practice of sending that money to other schools.

Capital Tonight: Calls for Medicaid expansion growing

More than a thousand Texans gathered at the Capitol Tuesday, asking lawmakers to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Although Gov. Rick Perry has said he’s against expanding Medicaid in its current form, Democratic Rep. Lon Burnam has a proposal modeled after Arizona’s plan that could gain bipartisan support.

Impassioned testimony

A proposed bill aimed at reducing the number of wrongful convictions in Texas drew emotional testimony at a House committee hearing Tuesday. The bill would establish a review commission to investigate the role prosecutors and judges play in the process.

Where do Texans stand on gun control?

James Henson with the Texas Politics Project joined Paul Brown to discuss recent polling numbers on gun control. The poll looks at where Texans stand on high-capacity magazines, semi-automatic weapons and gun laws in general.