Jan 31st - 1:10 pm
The leaders in the Texas House and Senate laid out new agendas for their respective committees during the interim legislative session. This is the work lawmakers will be tasked with accomplishing before the legislature reconvenes in 2015.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced interim charges for the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs during the annual Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars Mid-Winter Conference. He is calling on lawmakers to study ways to improve access to support services, monitor the implementation of new mental health legislation and to study the impact of federal spending cuts on local veterans programs.
“Here in Texas, we honor our veterans because of their sacrifices and service to our country and the positive impact their leadership, experience, and education have on our economy,” Dewhurst said. “I am committed to making Texas the most vet-friendly state in the country.”
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus also laid out his interim charges to help the committees prepare for the 2015 legislative session. According to the Speaker, the 44-page list is based on requests and suggestions made by House members. Among them is a call for House members to investigate the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people.
“Today’s interim charges, combined with the initiatives that I will announce in the weeks to come, will help Members prepare to tackle serious challenges in the next session,” said Straus. “I am confident that we can continue to address these issues in a responsible, bipartisan way.”
You can read the full list of charges below.
May 16th - 1:42 pm
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.
May 2nd - 8:46 pm
A showdown could be brewing between the House and Senate over funding for the state’s water plan.
In an interview with Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News, House Speaker Joe Straus revealed he was digging in his heels against a Senate plan that would include funding for education.
Senate Joint Resolution 1 would ask voters to authorize dipping nearly $6 billion into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund to pay for water and transportation infrastructure. But the measure also includes an extra $800 million for public education as part of a compromise with Senate Democrats.
Straus has been vocal about the need for water infrastructure funding since the start of session, but he now says such a decision should be made by lawmakers. He compared the constitutional amendment strategy to punting the issue to voters.
Capital Commentators Harold Cook and Ted Delisi joined us in studio to talk about the implications of Straus’ new stance.
Education Bill Update
After passing with overwhelming support in the House, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s bill to change graduation and testing requirements remains stalled on the Senate side. The House Public Education chair spoke to Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown about what he believes will happen next.
House Gun Debate
The gun debate has been in the national spotlight lately, and this weekend, it’s expected to spur renewed debate at the Capitol. Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace spoke to one lawmaker whose name is on several of the proposed bills to get a preview of what to expect.
Apr 30th - 2:42 pm
The day after a bill to fund the state’s water plan failed on a point of order, House Speaker Joe Straus’ office released a statement reaffirming his commitment to finding a solution.
“Speaker Straus will not let a technicality seal the debate on water and remains committed to working with Appropriators, Members of the House and stakeholders to ensure funding for the state water plan this session,” the statement said.
Straus has made water infrastructure a priority since the start of session, calling it a key factor in the state’s potential for economic growth.
House Bill 11, which would have put $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund toward the state’s water plan, was pulled from the House floor Monday on a point of order. Democrats raised the technicality in an effort to get more money for public education.
The funding could still come through other means, however. House Bill 19 lays out a similar plan, and the Senate has passed a resolution that would fund water and transportation through a constitutional amendment.
Mar 13th - 5:45 pm
University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa is expressing concern once again over legislation relating to allowing concealed handguns on university campuses.
According to a press released issued by the UT System on Wednesday, the chancellor has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry on the matter. The letter was also delivered to House Speaker Joe Straus, Chairman Joe Pickett of the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee and Chairman John Whitmire of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
“I respect the legislature’s authority to decide this public policy issue, and that neither all legislators nor the Texans they represent will agree,” Cigarroa wrote in his letter to Perry. “However, during my tenure as Chancellor, parents, students, faculty, staff, administrators, and institutional law enforcement officers have all expressed concern that the presence of concealed handguns on our campuses will make the campus environment less safe.”
Cigarroa expressed similar concerns in a letter to the governor in 2011, when the issue was last before legislators.
Mar 7th - 8:48 pm
Hundreds of activists rallied outside the Texas Capitol Thursday, as part of Planned Parenthood lobbying day.
This year’s efforts had particular urgency, now that the organization has been cut out of the state’s Women’s Health Program. A bill making its way through the House aims to reverse that decision and bring back federal and state funding.
Another question looming the 83rd Legislative Session is this: Should Texas expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act?
Proponents say it would pull down billions in federal dollars to help the uninsured. Critics, including the governor, say it forces Texas to spend too much money on a program that needs serious reform.
We spoke to John Davidson from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Anne Dunkleberg from the Center for Public Policy Priorities about the research behind the debate.
Sen. Rand Paul’s nearly 13-hour filibuster Wednesday made national headlines. It also resulted in a new bill, proposed by Sen. Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, that would explicitly outlaw a drone killing on U.S. soil of an American citizen who doesn’t represent an imminent threat.
Our Capital Commentators weighed in on the significance of the filibuster and the proposed bill.
Jan 31st - 11:23 pm
It’s still too early to pass any laws, but a crucial part of the legislative process can now begin. Thursday, House Speaker Joe Straus released the official list of committee assignments.
In addition to the state’s 38 standing committees, three new groups were formed. Among them is one that will focus on transparency. Rep. Dan Flynn was selected to co-chair the committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.
“It’s going to be very simple,” Rep. Flynn said. “We want good public policy. Give us an opportunity to look at agencies and investigate some of the issues that come down that might look questionable.”
On the Senate side, committee assignments are important as well. Sen. Kel Seliger sits on several of them, including the finance, education and open government. He is also chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Sen. Seliger visited the Capital Tonight studio to talk about some of those issues, as well as his Senate Bill 225, which would change requirements for high school graduation.
Also in the show, we heard from political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi. Click the link below to hear their take on the day’s committee assignments and more.
Jan 14th - 8:18 pm
Click on the link at the bottom of this post to watch tonight’s full show.
After a slow first week, lawmakers in the 83rd legislative session are ready to get to work.
Both chambers say they’ve finalized initial budget proposals. On the House side, money for increased Medicaid enrollment is factored in, while funding for statewide school testing is not.
Republican Rep. Jim Pitts is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He said lawmakers need to look more closely at whether current testing standards are working.
“We have seen the over-emphasis on testing over the last 10 years, and we want to see [if that is] all necessary. Do we want to spend all year long testing and teaching for a test?”
The Senate’s initial proposal is smaller, with $186.8 billion allocated, compared to the House’s $187.7 billion. In both proposals, money for the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was cut out.
House lawmakers also went through the process of adopting rules Monday, but not without some friction. Rep. David Simpson, who withdrew his bid to challenge Rep. Joe Straus for the speakership, pursued rule changes that would have limited Straus’ power. Most of those changes weren’t adopted, and Simpson received some terse advice from fellow Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle.
“I think, Representative, when you’re here longer, when you understand the process and when you appreciate the process that we have had so that we can make the best use of the time that we are allotted,” Rep. Riddle said.
We also spoke to the head of the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas in tonight’s episode. The group’s president, Jack Gullahorn, says his chief responsibility is to raise the bar for lobbying in Texas, and to help people understand what lobbyists do.
Jan 8th - 4:08 pm
The 83rd legislative session is officialy underway, and all things considered, it was a relatively quiet start to the session. Here’s a look at what’s coming up on tonight’s show:
Perry lays out his plans
Gov. Rick Perry addressed both the House and the Senate this afternoon. While the governor didn’t name any emergency items, he did chart a course for the upcoming session. Perry urged lawmakers to focus on the economy and cautioned that lawmakers should continue to limit the size of government.
“We have to remember that Monday’s budget estimate represents not a chance to spend freely, but an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the very policies that have made Texas economically strong,” he said.
Tonight, we will hear more from Gov. Perry and get reaction from some Senate Democrats.
Straus reelected speaker
Rep. Joe Straus has begun his third term as Texas House Speaker. He was reelected without a roll call after his challenger Rep. David Simpson announced on the floor that he was dropping out of the race. Despite a vocal campaign to ‘Oust Straus,’ in the end, Simpson didn’t have the support to win a floor fight. Tonight, we’ll take a closer look at Straus’ priorities for the upcoming session.
Sen. Leticia VanDePutte has been named president pro tem for the 83rd legislative session. Tonight our Paul Brown sits down with the long time Senator from San Antonio.
Jul 9th - 1:36 pm
House Speaker Joe Straus called for truth in budgeting, Monday, asking lawmakers to make sure the fees paid by Texans go to their intended purposes. Straus says the long, accepted practice of diverting fees generated for specific purposes to certify the state budget, instead of being spent on their intended purpose has to stop.
For decades those fees have been used as part of "funds consolidation," an accounting trick meant to balance the budget.
"It’s been a long, accepted practice in good times and in bad times, and there’s never going to be an easy time to deal with this," Straus said.
Straus asked a House subcommittee on appropriations to consider how to make the budget process more transparent.
"I’m not saying today that we need to cut $5 billion to straighten this out. What I am saying is that we should be honest in our budgeting and we should collect fees for their intended purpose or stop collecting them," Straus said.
According to Straus, lawmakers have stockpiled nearly $5 billion in dedicated accounts to balance the budget. Examples include fees charged to drunk drivers that are supposed to go to hospital trauma centers. Instead of spending that money, lawmakers keep it in an account where it can be used to balance the budget.
Texas Hospital Association spokesperson Denise Rose says because hospitals do not receive the full amount, each year there’s a possibility of less care, especially in rural areas that can’t keep centers going on their own dime.
"Our half, we’ve gotten portions appropriated, but never the full amount," Rose said. "It’s a chunk of money that’s helpful to a lot of communities, and I think it just increases the strain on hospital facilities and the safety nets and will end up being passed down in some form or fashion."
In a statement Straus said, "This move toward greater transparency will require discipline and tough choices, but I am confident that the House is up to the challenge. In the end, Texans will have a budget that is fairer, simpler and more straightforward."
Austin State Senator Kirk Watson, who championed the Honesty Agenda during the last legislative session, said he is pleased with the call for transparency by the speaker.
"I’m very encouraged by the Speaker’s comments today on the vital issue of ending the diversion of dedicated funds – taxes or fees that Texans pay for specific purposes such as parks, hospitals, and utility bill relief, but that instead are used to certify the budget," Watson said in a press release. "We need to start working on these reforms right now, especially given the budget uncertainties we know we will face next year. And I will work with the Speaker and any other public official in Texas to truly reform the system and ensure taxpayers’ money is used for its intended purpose."