Apr 23rd - 12:44 pm
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:
After a reported boiling point between the “Big Three” first reported by Texas Monthly, all eyes are on a perceived divide between the leadership in the two chambers at the Capitol. Our Karina Kling will be looking into the political timetable for the Legislative leadership, and what it means for key bills heading into the last month of the session.
Two high-profile bills are on the list of legislation on the Senate’s agenda. Senate Bill 19, regarding prosecution of public corruption cases, is in the spotlight. The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg told us on last night’s show that frustration is growing in the Governor’s Mansion over ethics reform, and this bill could be on its way to a veto if it remains in its watered-down form. The second bill, Senate Bill 185, is the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. It would revoke state funding for police departments in those cities that do not ask detainees about their immigration status. The bill’s author says he wants to enforce immigration laws, while opponents say the bill would turn Texas into an anti-Latino “show me your papers” state, and would make the community less likely to cooperate with law enforcement.
We have two members of the House joining us on “Capital Tonight.” House Public Education Committee chairman, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, whose school finance reform bill was sent to the full chamber earlier this week, will join the show to explain how he plans to fix the funding formula for Texas public schools. Then, the newest face in the lower chamber will join the show. Ina Minjarez won Tuesday’s House District 124 runoff election, and will take over the last open seat in the Legislature. We will talk to the representative-elect about the awkward timetable of coming into the session so late, and ask what she wants to accomplish for the city of San Antonio in the remaining days of the 84th Legislature.
All this, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will give their takes on the week’s headlines on “Capital Tonight.” That’s at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.
Apr 21st - 12:34 pm
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:
Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are the guests of honor at the unveiling of the new headquarters of the right-leaning think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation. The new six-floor building is located about two blocks from the Capitol grounds. Their speeches were followed by presentations from big-name donors like Red McCombs, Jim Henry and Dr. Jim Leininger.
The House Public Education Committee’s plan to fix the state’s school finance system is on its way to the full chamber. Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s $3 billion dollar plan would increase funding for 94 percent of kids in the state, and would increase per-student funding to poorer districts more than it does wealthy ones. The bill passed out of committee on a 7-0 vote. It comes after massive cuts two sessions ago, and a court ruling that the current funding formula is unconstitutional. That ruling is now on appeal with the Texas Supreme Court.
The reactions to controversial bills approved in both chambers yesterday are still coming in. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo voiced his opposition to an amendment to the House open carry bill. And public school advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas released a cartoon video opposing the Senate’s school scholarship tax credit plan, which opponents call a back-door plan to school vouchers. The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg talked about all this and more last night on our show, and you can watch that here.
And a lighthearded end of the day at the Capitol. The House Culture, Recreation and Tourism committee will meet to discuss proposals to name several state superlatives. That includes everything from the cowboy hat as the official hat to naming the western honey bee as the official State Pollinator of Texas.
On tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight,” Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples joins the show. He’ll discuss the ban on local fracking regulations, and give us an update on the Texas oil and gas industry. Plus our Capital Commentators — political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi — will give their take on the week’s headlines.
Mar 30th - 1:38 pm
The state’s massive agency overseeing all health an human services needs “significant changes either in management structure or executive leadership” to lift itself out of a state of turmoil, according to a new study released Friday. The report, released by a “strike force” assembled by Governor Greg Abbott in January, said recent controversies over corruption are only symptoms of larger organizational problems within the agency.
The Health and Human Services Commission is a major component of Texas government, employing nearly one out of every five state workers and spending about $30 billion per year — more than a third of the state’s budget. Governor Abbott formed a team in January to look into problems at the agency after a $110 million state contract fell through over questionable contracting procedures in the agency with Austin-based software company 21CT. Subsequent investigations have led to several high-level resignations within the agency, including a gubernatorial appointee, Inpsector General Doug Wilson. Despite the report’s suggestion of “a change in leadership,” there’s still no word on the future of the HHSC’s executive director, Kyle Janek. Several lawmakers have called for him to step down, while Governor Abbott had previously said they would wait until after the report to make a decision.
That 21CT deal led to questions over the use of cooperative contracting, a type of contracting intended for smaller purchases that allows agencies to sidestep the normal bidding process. But Monday’s report defended that process, calling it a useful method often employed successfully by the state government. It points out “the 21CT controversy had as much to do with the actions of individuals as it did with the contracting process.” It suggested more restrictions and oversight on the Inspector General’s Office, as opposed to eliminating it altogether.
Monday’s report also urged caution about the idea of consolidation of HHSC agencies. Lawmakers have proposed turning the five agencies into one “mega agency” by 2016, but Monday’s report said many of the agency’s problems stem from the last consolidation — from 12 agencies to five — in 2003. The report said that deadline needs to at least be pushed back, and “may not be the right strategy for future success.” It urged lawmakers to consider the implications of that consolidation, saying the agencies are too broad to be successfully run by one entity. They say keeping some functions separate would lead to less risk of neglect and could help attract better and more specialized leadership.
Governor Abbott’s strike force included former Travis County state district judge and current UT Austin professor F. Scott McCown, as well as Texas A&M University System CFO Bill Hamilton, Texas Department of Agriculture CFO Heather Griffith Peterson, and former State Rep. Talmadge Heflin.
Governor Abbot released a statement responding to the quote, saying
“The report’s findings are deeply troubling. It is now more clear than ever that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has been riddled with operational, managerial, structural and procedural problems that go far beyond any individual or contract. That is unacceptable. As Governor, I am committed to addressing these issues head-on. Upon assuming office, I took the immediate step of directing all state agencies – including HHSC – to implement key transparency and accountability reforms to their contracting and procurement processes. I will take the findings of the strike force’s report into account as I determine what additional actions must be taken to ensure Texans can have the trust they deserve to be able to place in their government.”
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.
Feb 20th - 12:04 pm
Governor Greg Abbott has paved the way for the Legislature to start considering certain legislation. He officially issued proclamations for his five emergency items he announced in his State of the State address earlier this week, allowing lawmakers to take up the bills within the first 60 days of the session. The five items, which Governor Abbott called his top priorities for the session, include early education, higher education, border security, transportation and ethics reform.
In his address earlier this week, Abbott called for more than $4 billion per year to build Texas roads without raising taxes, tolls or debt. He says he wants to offer incentives to adopt high-quality pre-K programs, expand community colleges and raise the profile of the state’s research universities. And Governor Abbott says he wants to double state spending on border security.
With the legislature now able to consider bills relating to these topics, it will be up the the state’s two chambers to craft bills accomplishing those goals while heeding the governor’s call to start reducing the state’s debt.
To view the proclamation on early education, click here.
To view the proclamation on higher education, click here.
To view the proclamation on border security, click here.
To view the proclamation on transportation, click here.
To view the proclamation on ethics, click here.
Feb 5th - 1:02 pm
Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar have announced another new effort to reform the state’s financial incentive policy. They announced a new proposal Thursday to restructure the oversight of the state’s four major events trust funds. They want the Legislature to approve moving control of the funds from the comptroller’s office to the governor’s office, which also oversees other economic incentive funds like the Texas Enterprise Fund.
It’s another move by Governor Abbott to reign in the state’s incentive programs, which have been plagued by controversy recently over accusations of lack of oversight. Last month, the governor proposed shutting down another controversial program, the Emerging Technology Fund. The former comptroller, Susan Combs, was criticized for using the major events fund on projects that were already likely to come to Texas. Questions have also been raised as to whether investors of the Formula One racing track in Austin ever submitted a formal application for funding they received to help pay for construction.
Governor Abbott released this statement:
“As part of our broader efforts to maximize efficiency and accountability in state government, Comptroller Hegar and I have identified weaknesses in Texas’ economic development programs and provided a roadmap for reform that will optimize our state’s economic development strategy. The transfer of these programs to the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism Division will leverage our existing economic resources and promote Texas as a world-class commercial destination nationally and globally.”
Jan 23rd - 11:17 am
The state’s highest court will rule on whether the way Texas pays for public schools is unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court announced Friday it will hear the state’s sweeping school finance case.
More than 600 school districts sued the state back in 2011 after the legislature cut more than $5 billion in education funding. They argued budget cuts left them without the resources to meet academic standards, and said the gap between property-rich and property-poor school districts was too great. An Austin-based district judge ruled the cuts unconstitutional, but that ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court last year by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Friday’s court advisory also set up the timeline for the next step in the case. In all, there will be about six months for both sides to file briefs and replies before a date for an oral argument is set. That means the decision won’t come until after the end of the legislative session. If the Texas Supreme Court upholds the unconstitutional ruling, the Legislature will have to come up with a new funding formula. That would require Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session.
Dec 3rd - 2:56 pm
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced legal action Wednesday challenging President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of Texas, is part of a 17-state coalition.
Abbott, the governor-elect, issued the following statement:
“The President’s unilateral executive action tramples the U.S. Constitution’s Take Care Clause and federal law. The Constitution’s Take Care Clause limits the President’s power and ensures that he will faithfully execute Congress’s laws – not rewrite them under the guise of ‘prosecutorial discretion.’ The Department of Homeland Security’s directive was issued without following the Administrative Procedure Act’s rulemaking guidelines and is nothing but an unlawfully adopted legislative rule: an executive decree that requires federal agencies to award legal benefits to individuals whose conduct contradicts the priorities of Congress.”
Oct 14th - 12:11 pm
Republican Greg Abbott is hitting back against Democrat Wendy Davis — and President Obama — in his latest TV ad. The new spot started airing statewide Tuesday.
“President Obama may not be on the ballot in November, but his failed policies are reflected in Sen. Wendy Davis’ agenda for Texas,” said spokesman Matt Hirsch. “It’s clear that President Obama has no better ally in Texas than his ideological twin, Sen. Davis.”
Abbott’s new ad comes as fallout continues from Sen. Davis’ controversial ad released Friday. The ad accuses Abbott of collecting millions from a lawsuit after an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down — while blocking similar lawsuits in court.
Davis defended the ad Monday at an event with several disability rights activists and supporters. She said the ad is not about Abbott’s disability, it’s about his hypocrisy.
Democrats are also demanding that Abbott campaign apologize for a statement from a campaign adviser calling one of Davis’ supporters a ‘prop.’ “Greg Abbott’s hypocrisy extends to his staff,” said Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer. “Referring to a courageous young man as a prop because you don’t like what he has to say is disgusting.”
Oct 10th - 2:24 pm
Attorney General Greg Abbott is firing back after Sen. Wendy Davis released a new TV ad calling Abbott’s legal work with accident victims into question. Davis’ ad started airing in major markets Friday. It accuses Abbott of collecting millions from a lawsuit after an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down — while blocking similar lawsuits in court.
“It is challenging to find language strong enough to condemn Sen. Davis’ disgusting television ad, which represents a historic low for someone seeking to represent Texans,” an Abbott spokesman said. “Sen. Davis’ ad shows a disturbing lack of judgment from a desperate politician, and completely disqualifies her from seeking higher office in Texas.”
The Abbott campaign is also disputing accusations made in the ad accusing Abbott of defending a surgeon accused of operating while under the influence of drugs. Abbott has argued he was defending the state’s medical malpractice laws, not the surgeon himself.