Veterans

Daily Digest | May 22

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.

Daily Digest | May 11

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:

We’re down to crunch time in the legislative session, with just three weeks until the final gavel drops. Monday marks a major deadline: Senate and House committees have to vote out their chamber’s bills by the end of the day. Committees will still be able to take up bills referred from the opposite chamber, but they have to get their versions passed by the end of Monday if they are to have any chance moving forward. Then, another deadline comes up Friday. That’s when bills have to have cleared the full chamber to survive into the last two weeks of session. That could set up a frantic week as lawmakers try to push through their priority legislation.

Meanwhile, the House approved Speaker Straus’s priority veteran’s health bill today. House Bill 19 was approved on a 131-5 vote. It charges the Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Veterans Commission with coordinating a mental health intervention program for military families. It also authorizes the creation of a new preventive mental health program for veterans considered “at a high risk of family violence or abuse or neglect.” The bill also establishes new training protocols for mental health volunteers who would participate in the program. The bill does not have a companion in the Senate, so now must be referred to a Senate committee.

And a proposed statewide ban on texting while driving has cleared another hurdle. House Bill 80 was approved by the Senate State Affairs committee today on a 5-1 vote. It would make texting while driving a class C misdemeanor. Violators would face fines ranging from $99 for first time offenders to $200 for repeat violations. The bill was amended to create an exemption for drivers who have to use handheld devices while driving for their jobs. Similar bills in previous sessions have died in the Senate, but supporters hope the third time is the charm for the bill to clear the upper chamber. If it’s approved this time, it will go back to the full House for a vote on the changes made in the Senate.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Carlos Rubinstein, the chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. We’ll check in with him about a plan from last session, which was later approved by voters, to set aside money for water projects. We’ll ask him what types of projects are getting money, and when will they make a difference. Plus, the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will join us for his weekly commentary. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.