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.
May 28th - 1:23 pm
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 19, despite 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.
May 19th - 12:32 pm
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.
Mar 11th - 11:58 am
We’re getting a glimpse at how Senate leaders plan to tackle Governor Greg Abbott’s fifth emergency item: ethics reform. The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony Wednesday on Senate Bill 20, which aims to regulate the use of cooperative contracts.
Cooperative contracting is the controversial program that allows companies to bypass the usual bidding process for state contracts. The program, which was designed for smaller purchases, made headlines last year when Austin-based software company 21CT received a $20 million contract for Medicaid fraud detection software through that process. Subsequent accusations of corruption within the department led to several high-level resignations at HHSC, and a legislative push for more oversight in the state’s contracting process.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson (R – TX Senate District 12) filed Senate Bill 20, and dedicated Wednesday’s committee meeting to her legislation. It would require agency heads to approve the use of a cooperative contract for anything over $1 million and would prohibit any conflicts of interest with high-ranking department officials. It would also mandate an increasing number of competitive bids depending on the size of the contract, and would require agencies to develop an online database to post their contracts online.
“The recent reports of irregularities in contracts at our health and human services agencies have revealed what I perceive to be gaping holes in our laws on contracting,” Nelson said. “Those gaps need to be addressed across state government. Senate Bill 20 strengthens accountability, increases transparency and ensures the fair competitive bids in awarding of state contracts.”
The Finance Committee heard testimony from several departments, including the HHSC, but left the bill pending. The committee is expected to vote on the legislation next week.