Daily Digest | May 26

We’re now just six days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:

All eyes are on the House as it faces a major legislative deadline: Tuesday is the last day it can take up contested Senate bills. Democrats are expected to use stall tactics and parliamentary procedures in an attempt to block several controversial bills from coming to the floor. One of those is the so-called “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11), which would allow the concealed carry of handguns for licensed gun owners on public university campuses. Lawmakers had considered attaching that bill to the open carry bill to try to push it through the chamber, but they announced last week they would take up the bill on its own. 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. A proposal to let campuses opt out of the legislation has failed to gain traction in the legislature.

Several other controversial pieces of legislation could come up for a vote. One bill (Senate Bill 575) would block women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion. They would be forced to get a supplemental abortion insurance plan in order to have the procedure covered. The bill’s author says using insurance forces people who don’t agree with abortion to help subsidize the cost through insurance payments. Reproductive rights advocates say it just puts more obstacles in the way for women in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. And finally, Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services could come up for a vote. Critics of the bill are trying to block an amendment that would protect child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children. It would also allow welfare agencies to sue the state if a social worker tries to force them to do something against their religious beliefs. It’s another move in Texas aimed at life after a possible ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage. Supporters say they want to protect religious freedom, while opponents argue Texas’ overburdened foster care system doesn’t need more obstacles to overcome, and argue the bill is so broad it would affect more than just same-sex couples.

Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear a case challenging how Texas sets up its political districts. The case is centered around whether Texas should use total population or just the voting age population when drawing its districts. It’s a case with big implications in Texas, a state with a relatively high number of people under 18, and where many of those districts include a high number of non-voting undocumented immigrants. The state’s redistricting plan was signed into law just two years ago, but has seen several legal challenges from civil rights groups who claim they discriminate against minorities.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Jim Henson with the Texas Politics Project, who will discuss recent polling about the importance of tax cuts to Texas voters. All session, lawmakers have said they are fighting for the will of the voters as tax cut negotiations dominated the session, but how many Texans actually name tax cuts as a priority? All that, 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.

Court order lets March primaries go ahead as scheduled

Delays that plagued the 2012 primary elections won’t be a factor in 2014, thanks to a recent court order.

A San Antonio court has allowed the redistricting maps approved by the Texas legislature this summer to be used for the 2014 election cycle, meaning the March 4 primaries will take place as scheduled.

The court order came down Friday afternoon. In it, the three-judge panel explains that there isn’t enough time to complete their review before the 2014 elections. That means that the redistricting maps approved in the first special session of the 83rd Legislature will stand, for now. Those maps are minor variations on the ones approved by the court for use in the 2012 primaries for both Texas House and U.S. Congressional districts.

However, the judges have made it clear that the legal issues that brought the maps before the court in the first place will not be dropped. The redistricting maps passed by a Republican-led legislature in 2011 drew lawsuits from Hispanic, African American and Democratic groups under the Voting Rights Act. The court order asserts that the plaintiffs’ case has not been settled, and that the judge’s final decision could affect future legislative action:

“The fact that the Legislature has adopted the Court’s interim plans in an attempt to curb this particular litigation is no assurance that it will not engage in the same conduct in the next legislative session or any session thereafter.”

A ruling by the Supreme Court this year invalidated the part of the Voting Rights Act that submits Texas to preclearance for changes to election law. However, the U.S. Department of Justice has joined in the lawsuit over redistricting and wants Texas to continue to have changes to voting laws approved by the federal government.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office issued a statement shortly after the court’s decision was announced. It reads:

“We are pleased that the court agreed to allow the 2014 elections to proceed on time using the new maps drawn by the Legislature. That certainty benefits all Texans.

“The State will continue to respond in court to the unwarranted challenges to the new maps by the Obama administration and various plaintiff groups. Texas has prevailed each time the redistricting litigation has reached the U.S. Supreme Court and remains confident that the Legislature’s maps will be vindicated, either at the San Antonio federal district court or at the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

DOJ to file suit against Texas’ Voter ID Law

The Department of Justice will file a lawsuit challenging Texas’ Voter ID Law. In announcing the suit, the DOJ named the State of Texas, the Texas Secretary of State, and the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The DOJ believes that the law “violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

In addition to the suit focused on Voter ID, the department also filed a motion to intervene in the ongoing redistricting case being considered by a federal three-judge panel in San Antonio.

“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released today. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights. The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs. We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had announced that the Voter ID Law would take effect immediately, following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding part of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling suspended federal pre-clearance requirements for states with a history of discrimination in voting matters. The Justices determined that the pre-clearance formula was dated. Congress would have to come up with a new formula for that portion of the Voting Rights Act to be valid once again.

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers hit the road after passing transportation funding

The final piece of a plan to increase funding for the state’s roads and bridges passed shortly after 9:30 Monday night, by a vote of 124-2. Minutes later, House lawmakers adjourned Sine Die, pending administrative duties.

The complete package will divert half of the money earmarked for the state’s Rainy Day Fund toward the State Highway Fund instead. Estimated at nearly a billion dollars per year, the money would go toward construction and maintenance for non-tolled roads, and would fill almost a quarter of the $4 billion in funding Texas Department of Transportation officials say they need.

The two-part plan includes a funding mechanism, known as Senate Joint Resolution 1, which will go before voters as a ballot measure in 2014. The second part of the funding plan, known as House Bill 1, details the way lawmakers decide how much money gets left in the Rainy Day Fund. It also directs TxDOT to find cost-cutting measures without reducing funding for transportation projects.

Lawmakers failed to get a similar plan passed during the previous special session after falling short of the 100 votes needed.

In our special, 11 p.m. broadcast, we checked in with Rep. Joe Pickett shortly before the final vote, and talked to the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg about the latest on funding for the Public Integrity Unit.


Questions about voting law in Texas aren’t going away anytime soon, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling and a vote on redistricting maps by Texas lawmakers. To find out where the issue is headed from here, we spoke to Michael Li of the Texas Redistricting & Election Law blog.


Plus, State Sen. Wendy Davis was back in Washington Monday, this time headlining a luncheon at the National Press Club. Speaking in front of journalists and Democratic supporters, the woman who made headlines with a nearly 11-hour filibuster didn’t shy away from her rising profile. Click the YNN logo below to see the full episode.

Mixed reaction to Holder’s comments on Texas voting laws

Texas political leaders are commenting on remarks made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder regarding Texas voting laws.

Holder told members of the National Urban League on Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal court to require Texas to ask for permission before changing its election laws. The move follows a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that essentialy eliminated the use of a pre-clerance provision of the Voting Rights Act for states with a history of discrimination.

“Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Republican Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement released in response. “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”

Democratic State Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston had a different take on Holder’s announcement.

“I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to join the lawsuit that would require Texas to submit all voting law changes for preclearance for the next decade,” Ellis said in his own statement released to the media.  “Anyone who thinks Texas doesn’t need continued oversight simply hasn’t been paying attention.”

Ellis added that, in his view, Texas has clearly shown a repeated and documented history of discrimination against minority voters, pointing to last year when he said Texas was singled out as the only state to pass redistricting maps which were deliberately discriminatory.

“This is hopefully just the first step,” Ellis said.  “Congress needs to take action [to] revamp the Voting Rights Act to create a formula which takes into account current and historical discrimination and bias while meeting the requirements the Supreme Court has set out.  Otherwise, the voting rights of millions of Americans are in peril.”

Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was also quick to respond to Holder’s comments.

“By first going around the voters and now the Supreme Court, Attorney General Holder and President Obama’s intentions are readily transparent,” Cornyn said in a released statement. ” This decision has nothing to do with protecting voting rights and everything to do with advancing a partisan political agenda. Texans should not — and will not — stand for the continued bullying of our state by the Obama Administration.”

Abbott: Voter ID law to take effect immediately

The state’s attorney general says today’s ruling from the Supreme Court removes the need for judicial review, allowing changes to voting law being held up in court to take effect immediately.

That includes a law passed in 2011 that requires all Texans to show a valid photo ID in order to vote, as well as changes to state redistricting maps.

“Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement released this morning.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is following suit. According to a statement on the agency’s website, “Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.” For those without the proper identification, DPS says it will start accepting applications for an alternative ID, known as an Election Identification Certificate.

Capital Tonight: Controversial committee hearings overshadow redistricting vote

Busy Thursday

Minutes after capping off a nearly six-hour debate on redistricting, many House lawmakers marched off to tackle even more contentious issues.

The House State Affairs Committee saw more than 400 people line up to testify on a list of abortion bills, including one that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. At the same time, the House Appropriations Committee considered Rep. Sylvester Turner’s plan to override the governor’s veto of Public Integrity Unit funding.

Regent Impeachment?

A high-ranking House member is making a move to impeach one of the UT regents, and it appears to have some support. Our Capital Commentators weighed in on that and more.

New Poll Numbers

Plus, James Henson of the Texas Politics Project joined us to talk about the latest poll numbers on abortion laws in Texas. Click the image below to hear more.

House moves forward with state, congressional redistricting maps

Once maps for their own districts were approved, House lawmakers moved quickly to certify maps for state Senate and congressional districts Thursday afternoon.

Unlike their Senate counterparts, House lawmakers added minor tweaks to the interim maps drawn by a district court in San Antonio.

Gov. Rick Perry instructed lawmakers to rubber stamp those maps, which were used in the 2012 primary elections, presumably to strengthen the state’s case before the Supreme Court. However, Rep. Drew Darby allowed minor tweaks to existing districts, sparking extended debate on the House floor.

The changes in House districts will still have to be reconciled with the Senate version, which was passed without alteration.


Capital Tonight: Redistricting road trip begins

Last Hearing at Home

Lawmakers were back in Austin — and on the road — continuing their special session work Thursday. But there’s debate among some lawmakers about whether the hearings serve any purpose at all, if they’re not leading to maps different from the interim approved by a San Antonio court.

Capital Commentators

Governor Perry’s plans are still up in the air, whether it’s putting his signature on key education bills or his plans for political office.

Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Rob Johnson joined us to sort through the hints and signals.

View from Austin

Plus, Sen. Kirk Watson stopped by to talk special session strategy. Click the image below to hear his thoughts on redistricting, campus construction and more.

House lays out redistricting hearing schedule

There is no question lawmakers will take their time tackling Gov. Rick Perry’s special session redistricting call. Gov. Perry called lawmakers back for a special session to ratify the court-drawn redistricting interim maps. Instead, lawmakers in both chambers have announced plans to hold public hearings across the state.

House Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) laid out the schedule today, on the House floor.

The dates are:

  • Dallas – Thursday, June 6
  • San Antonio – Monday, June 10
  • Houston – Wednesday, June 12
Senator Ken Seliger said the Senate plans to hold hearings around the state, as well.