May 29th - 1:14 pm
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.
May 27th - 1:03 pm
The final gavel of the 84th Legislature drops in just five days. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:
Law enforcement agencies from across the state are meeting at the Capitol to protest gun control laws being pushed through the Legislature. House leaders passed a watered-down version of the “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11) just minutes before last night’s midnight deadline. The bill looked destined to fail with more than a hundred amendments still left to debate with just minutes left on the clock, but a last-minute deal led to lawmakers approving the legislation. But that included a key amendment pushed for by university leaders that would allow some campuses to determine where on school grounds that they would allow concealed guns. The controversial piece of legislation has seen staunch opposition from police as well as university leaders; UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out on several occasions against the legislation, saying it will hurt recruiting and will make campuses less safe. Supporters say a person’s Second Amendment rights shouldn’t be infringed when they step onto a college campus.
Two other controversial bills did fall victim to the clock. Senate Bill 575 would have blocked women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion. And Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services also died. That included the amendment that would have protected child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children.
That led to an unusual scene in the House this morning. A Tea Party coalition led by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R – TX House District 92) killed off several bills with wide support, but were mainly sponsored by Democrats. It happened during a session on the Local & Consent calendar, which is usually reserved for noncontroversial bills with only local impact that had near unanimous support in committees. There were about six bills knocked down, included a bill to monitor special needs classrooms in an effort to stop cases of abuse. Several lawmakers accused Rep. Stickland of retaliation, after he voiced criticism of the House’s failure to pass the aforementioned bills. Wednesday was the last day for the House to consider local and consent bills.
Finally, we now know when Governor Greg Abbott will put pen to paper on his priority pre-K bill. Today, he announced a signing ceremony for House Bill 4 tomorrow at an early childhood center in Austin. The plan offers about 130 million extra dollars, that can be divided among school districts that follow certain guidelines in their pre-K programs. Pre-K 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.
For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined by Rep. Jason Isaac (R – TX House District 45), who represents much of the area hit by the massive flooding in Central Texas this week. We’ll hear his assessment of what’s needed from both the state and federal government. All that, plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joins the show with his analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.
May 22nd - 1:40 pm
We’re now just ten days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today.
The Senate is debating the so-called “open carry” bill, House Bill 910, today. It would allow people with a concealed handgun license, or CHLs, to openly display handguns in public. Police departments had voiced concern over an amendment that would block police from stopping someone just to check if they are licensed, but that provision was stripped away in a Senate committee. That means if passed in the Senate, the House will still have to approve that change. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Thursday he expects the bill to clear the Legislature, while Governor Greg Abbott has also said he would sign an open carry bill into law. Questions still remain about another gun law, the so-called “campus carry” bill or Senate Bill 11, which would allow for the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses. Senators said Friday it will not be added as an amendment to open carry, and voiced confidence that it will pass as its own legislation, which is now in the House. The big sticking point in that bill: allowing campuses the opportunity to opt out of the campus carry program, which has been proposed by university leaders. That has not picked up traction so far in the Legislature.
Another controversial piece of legislation is scheduled to come to a Senate vote today, this one regarding abortion. House Bill 3994 would limit the use of judicial bypass, which lets teenagers get a court-ordered abortion if they can’t get parental permission in extreme cases like parental abuse. It would limit where minors could apply for those orders and would require more tangible evidence that they face possible abuse. The bill would also require doctors to assume all pregnant women are minors unless they can prove otherwise with an ID. Critics say that, in effect, creates a voter ID requirement, which would affect poor women, minorities and undocumented immigrants, much like the voter ID law. If approved without changes, it will go straight to the Governor.
A bill that would reduce higher education benefits for Texas veterans could come up for a vote in the House today. Senate Bill 1735 is an attempt to reign in the rising cost of the so-called Hazlewood Exemption, which lawmakers say has become unsustainable. Current law allows veterans with at least six months of active duty to get up to 150 credit hours of free tuition at a public university, and any time they don’t use can be passed on to their children. That cost Texas universities about $170 million last year, and could double in the next five years. This bill would tighten eligibility requirements, requiring recipients to live in Texas for eight years. It would also cut the amount of free tuition to 120 credit hours — the equivalent of a four-year degree — and would cap the number of free credit hours that could be transferred to the child at 60. Critics call the bill a betrayal of the state’s veterans. Supporters point out the need to get the rising costs under control.
And the dust is still settling after two major, albeit unexpected, announcements from the Capitol last night. First, the conference committee on the state budget gave approval to their compromise plan on House Bill 1 last night. Now the plan just has to clear votes in the two chambers before their plan to fund the state government for the next two years can go to Governor Abbott’s desk. Then, Governor Abbott formally announced the $3.8 billion tax cut plan. There weren’t any surprises in the announcement; it’s a combination of property tax cuts and business tax cuts, including a permanent 25 percent cut in the margins tax for businesses. It also creates a $10,000 homestead exemption for homeowners, but that would have to be approved by voters. Homeowners would get an average annual break in school property taxes of $126, starting with taxes owed this year. In all, the entire package amounts to about $3.8 billion, about a billion dollars less than initially proposed. The plan still hast to clear a few more votes before going to the governor for final approval.
For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined tonight by three members of the capitol press corps to discuss the week’s legislative headlines: Terry Stutz with the Dallas Morning News, Ross Ramsey with the Texas Tribune and Scott Braddock with the Quorum Report. Then Gardner Selby from Politifact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman will join us for his weekly fact-checking segment. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 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.
Feb 10th - 1:59 pm
A day after public hearings were set for two bills governing the carrying of firearms, we now know the next step for a third controversial gun bill. The so-called “constitutional carry” bill, which would allow for the open carry of handguns without an additional permit as long as the gun owner is legally allowed to own the gun, was referred to the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Tuesday.
The bill will see some opposition right away from Representative Poncho Nevarez (D – Texas House District 74), who is the co-vice chairman of that committee. Rep. Nevarez has been an outspoken critic of the constitutional carry bill after he received threats from gun rights advocates during a confrontation in his office that was video recorded. The incident made national headlines last month. Rep. Nevarez has since been assigned a security detail and House lawmakers passed new rules offering funding for any House office wanting to install panic buttons.
It’s all part of a larger debate on how to legalize the open carry of handguns, which has been banned in Texas for more than 125 years. Another bill, the so-called “open carry bill,” would allow gun owners to publicly carry handguns if they get a license and pass a background check. That will go to a public hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday along with the “campus carry” bill, which would allow concealed handgun license owners to bring firearms onto public university campuses. That plan has been criticized by UT Chancellor William McRaven, who has raised questions about whether it would make campuses less safe.
Feb 9th - 2:40 pm
The Texas Senate is wasting no time pushing ahead with two controversial bills governing the carrying of firearms in public. The Senate Affairs Committee has scheduled public hearings for open carry and campus carry, setting up the next step in the legislative battle that has dominated the early headlines of the 84th Legislature.
Senate Bill 11 would allowed concealed handgun license holders to carry their guns on college campuses. Senate Bill 346 would remove the state’s 125-year-old ban on the open carry of handguns, but would require those gun owners to pass a background check and receive a license to do so.
Gun rights advocates criticized Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick last month for not following through on campaign promises when he said open carry bills weren’t a top priority and didn’t have the votes to pass. He then walked back on those comments and fast-tracked these two bills. Governor Greg Abbott disagreed with Patrick last week, saying he did believe the support was there for open carry. Then, UT Chancellor William McRaven voiced his opposition to campus carry, saying it would make college campuses more dangerous.
Many gun rights supporters are pushing for a different bill, constitutional carry, that wouldn’t require a license or background check to be eligible to openly carry handguns in public. But their efforts were hurt last week due to perceived threats from a member of Open Carry Tarrant County, who likened opposing constitutional carry to treason, which is punishable by death. Earlier this session, the Legislature installed panic buttons in lawmakers’ offices due to confrontations with gun rights advocates. So far, no action has been taken on constitutional carry.
Right now, it is legal to openly carry rifles, shotguns and other long arms without a license. But gun owners have to pass a background check and pay to get a concealed carry license hold a handgun in public.
Feb 7th - 6:46 pm
In Friday’s Capital Tonight, we examined the real-world implications of the law and saw how Texas gun laws compare to other states.
Immigration and border security are big topics for Republican primary candidates, but is the rhetoric starting to alienate even Latino voters on the right? Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News, the Texas Tribune‘s Jay Root of Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder weighed in on that question and more.
Plus, a new week brings a new round of campaign claims. Gardner Selby of PolitiFact Texas joined us to take a closer look at two of them.
Feb 6th - 9:03 pm
In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at the reaction from Sen. Davis’ fellow Democrats, as well as pro-gun Republicans.
The four candidates vying for the lieutenant governor’s office made their cases to the Texas business community Thursday. They’ve done dozens of forums leading into the March primary, but with less than two weeks until early voting starts, the effort to find differences between the candidates is starting to bear fruit.
We sat down with Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to talk about the state’s drug laws, the Emerging Technology Fund and what separates him from the pack.
Plus, Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi weighed in on the Davis decision and the Patterson campaign from a political strategist’s perspective.
Jun 5th - 8:52 pm
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.
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.
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.
May 22nd - 11:19 pm
After days of mistrust between the House and Senate, two key parts of a complex budget compromise came together as planned.
The Senate did its duty first, by moving forward on a measure to put $2 billion toward the state’s water needs and increase funding for education. With that in place, House Democrats agreed to support a separate resolution that would create a state water fund.
In Wednesday’s episode, Karina Kling explains how it’s all coming together, and we speak to Rep. John Otto, one of the main budget negotiators.
We also spoke with Rep. Aaron Peña and former Sen. Hector Uribe about spats between the House and Senate in the past.
Gun Bills Disarmed
Despite some signs this might be the year lawmakers approved campus carry legislation, that bill is among those unlikely to survive.
Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace spoke with the author of the bill about where things stand this late in the session