Daily Digest | May 7

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’s priority pre-kindergarten legislation could go up for a second chamber vote today. House Bill 4 would give at least $130 million to schools to help bolster pre-kindergarten programs, although they would have to already be meeting certain state quality standards to receive the money. Critics of the bill have come from both sides; some argue it should be bigger and include full-day pre-kindergarten programs, others question the need for the program at all. The bill had stalled for weeks after getting House approval, and was the subject of a scathing letter from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s grassroots advisory board. The subsequent fallout between chamber leadership has been pointed to as a turning point in this legislative session.  If the Senate approves the bill, the House would have to agree with any changes that are made, then it will go to the Governor’s desk for a signature. Governor Abbott named pre-kindergarten education his first emergency item in his State of the State speech.

Another high-profile bill started its journey through the second chamber today. House Bill 80 would create a statewide ban for texting while driving. If approved, it would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a $99 fine, to send or receive texts or emails or check social media sites while driving. Talking on a cell phone while driving would not be affected, though that is already banned in many cities due to citywide ordinances. Supporters say it would make roads safer and iron out differences in the patchwork of different rules across the state, while opponents have questioned whether the law is enforceable. The bill went before the State Affairs Committee this morning, and is expected to get a committee vote next week. Former Governor Rick Perry vetoed a similar bill, but Governor Abbott has not commented on his support for the bill.

Social media continues to buzz about a surprise committee vote last night to fully legalize marijuana in Texas. House Bill 2165 was approved on a 5-2 committee vote, but faces an uncertain future in the full chamber. We sat down with the bill’s author, Rep. David Simpson (R – TX House District 7) earlier this session to talk about the bill. You can watch that interview here.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re continuing our “New Texas” series with a discussion about our dwindling water supply. We’ll be joined by Rep. Eddie Lucio (D – TX House District 27), who serves on the Natural Resources Committee and the Land and Resource Management Committee, to talk about water-related legislation this session. Plus, political analysts Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us to give their take on the week’s headlines under the dome. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Capital Tonight: After the election, a long road ahead

The campaigning is over, the votes are cast and the results are in, but plenty of unknowns remain over two of the biggest decisions voters made at the polls.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke to Texas Water Development Board Chairman Carlos Rubinstein about the work that remains now that funding is lined up for the state’s water plan, and we looked at the campaign ahead for Democrat Celia Israel and Republican Mike VanDeWalle, the two candidates sent into a runoff election over House District 50.


Voting trends nationwide are raising concerns about the strength of the Tea Party, but the polls at home tell a different story. We sat down with James Henson of the Texas Politics Project for a look behind the numbers.


And we talked to Democratic candidate Maria Luisa Alvarado about her latest bid for lieutenant governor.

Capital Tonight: Looking ahead to the fight over abortion law

Now that the attorney general’s office has filed a motion to reverse a federal court’s ruling against tighter abortion restrictions, the next decision is in the hands of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we look back at the state’s record of success with the appeals court, and look ahead to where the fight is likely headed from there. 


New fundraising numbers are out this week from groups working to get the word out about Proposition 6. The Water Texas PAC has raised a total of $2.1 million, adding more than a million to what it raised in the last filing period.

It’s a good sign for supporters of the ballot initiative, but some groups are raising questions about where the support is coming from and why. We sat down with Andrew Wheat with the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice to look at the bigger picture.


Conservative business owners, faith leaders and policymakers met Tuesday in Washington to try to revive immigration reform efforts. We checked in on where the issue stands now.

Poll: Texans overwhelmingly support water amendment

A Texas Tribune / University of Texas poll released today shows a majority of Texans are in favor of a constitutional amendment to  pay for water projects. The poll shows 52 percent of people would vote in favor of water funding. That’s compared to 19 percent of people who are opposed and 24 percent who have not decided.

The amendment, known as Proposition 6, would pull $2 billion from the economic stabilization fund to pay for infrastructure. The measure has drawn bipartisan support from the state’s top leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Joe Straus.

Supporters have been working to get the word out about the ballot measure, but it seems they might still have a lot of work to do. The TT/UT poll also shows only 9 percent of voters have heard a lot about the amendments they’ll be asked to approve in November. About 43 percent have heard some information and 32 percent said they haven’t heard very much. Fifteen percent responded that they have heard nothing at all.

Perry appoints new members to Water Development Board

Gov. Rick Perry has named the three people who will replace the six, current members of the state’s Water Development Board.

Carlos Rubinstein, Bech Bruun and Mary Ann Williamson will serve full-time starting next month, with Rubinstein serving as chair. Each of the members currently holds a different government post, and all were previously appointed or hired by Perry. Rubinstein has served on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2009; Bruun works in the governor’s office as the Director of Governmental Appointments; and Williamson has been a board member of the Texas Lottery Commission since 2008 and now serves as chair.

“The new board will provide leadership, planning, and financial and technical assistance for the responsible development of water for Texas,” Perry’s statement said.

The change was set in motion with the passage of House Bill 4, which calls for “active, full-time governance” from the board. The bill is also part of a larger funding plan that includes Senate Joint Resolution 1, which is set to go before voters in November.

The board is currently made up of six members serving six-year, staggered terms. Each of those terms will come to an early end on September 1, when the new appointments take effect.


Capital Tonight: House delays key piece of budget puzzle

Deadlock over budget negotiations at the Texas Capitol continues.

It all hinges on a measure known as Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would allow voters to decide whether to create a statewide water fund. House lawmakers were set to take up the vote Tuesday evening, but instead voted to push it back one more day.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we look at where the bigger budget picture stands with help from our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi. Plus, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples gives his take on whether water needs are being addressed.

Click the image below to watch the full episode.

Capital Tonight: Breaking down the budget deal

After a week of tense negotiations, the state’s top budget writers have approved a final deal.

The bill restores nearly $4 billion to education funding that was cut last session and sets aside $400 million for transportation. Budget committee co-chair Tommy Williams said he believes the bill is one both parties can agree on.

“It’s a tricky process to score where you are when you’re putting this together, because it’s a moving target,” Williams said. “And I don’t think there’s anybody, Republicans or Democrats, who don’t want to fund public education. We all want to fund it at the highest level with we can, that’s consistent with the other poles in the budget.”

In Friday’s episode, we break down the bill’s details with the Quorum Report‘s Scott Braddock and Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune.

Repairing Roads

The oil and gas boom in parts of South and West Texas has added to the state’s coffers, but it’s also led to serious damage on the roads to and from those areas.

One lawmaker wants to make sure that’s not overlooked before the session ends. We spoke to Sen. Carlos Uresti about his plan to make sure county roads get needed repairs.

IRS Under Fire

Just days after the acting director of the IRS was forced to hand in his resignation, he faced tough questioning before the House and Means Committee Friday.

Click the image below to see the Friday’s full episode.

Budget talks stall over education funding

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.

Capital Tonight: Straus sets up showdown over water funding

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.

Capital Tonight: Water, guns and education

Planning for Growth

The need to fund water infrastructure has been at the forefront of the legislative session this year, especially with the growing population in Texas. A plan to draw out $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund failed to pass Monday, but Gov. Perry said lawmakers can expect to be in session until they find a resolution.

A bill passed out of committee Tuesday that would allow students to store their licensed concealed handgun in their vehicle on campus. Lawmakers said they want to give students the same rights that others have.

Standardized Testing

The house voted Tuesday to make changes to standardized tests for fourth and seventh grades. The changes include removing the standardized writing test and limiting the time needed to take the required tests.

Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment is one of the grass roots groups supporting the changes. Joanne Salazar joined Paul Brown to discuss their campaign and the changes they hope to bring about.

Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Steve Munisteri sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including the Rainy Day Fund and Battleground Texas.

The Transparency Committee is continuing its look into CPRIT, and a bill that will make changes to the embattled agency is headed to the House.