Daily Digest | May 20

Twelve days left until the end of the 84th Texas Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on today:

There’s a lot of movement today on components of the state budget and tax cut plans. The budget conference committee is expected to start voting on components of the budget this afternoon, according to Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R – TX Senate District 12). She also told a group of reporters today that the full budget could be passed out of conference committee as soon as tomorrow. That came after a Senate Finance Committee meeting this morning where they passed a modified version of the House business tax plan. The proposal approved out of committee includes a 25 percent franchise tax cut, and raises the threshold for businesses to use the E-Z calculation rate to $20 million. It also makes that 25 percent tax cut permanent, removing a provision that would have allowed lawmakers to lower that rate again in the future. The competing tax cut plans have been the biggest sticking point of the session, but it now seems details of the plan are taking shape with less than two weeks left in the session. And of course the the tax cut plan is a critical part of the budget, the only thing the Legislature is required to pass to avoid an automatic special session.

We’re also getting a better idea of how the tax cut plan will affect Texans, and it may not be as much as lawmakers promised. The $3.8 billion deal is expected to wrap up this week, but it is about $1 billion less than what House Republicans first proposed. This means the average homeowner would roughly save about an extra $120 on their property taxes, and those savings may be short-lived. Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson acknowledged Wednesday that rising home appraisals could mitigate that tax relief.

Also tonight, we will take a closer look at the House’s omnibus border security funding bill as it starts to regain its momentum in the upper chamber. House Bill 11 was voted out of the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security this morning as lawmakers get closer to a possible deal.  It would increase the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border over the next two years. It would also establish an intelligence center in Hidalgo County to analyze border crime data, and create a volunteer corps of retired DPS officers to bolster the agency’s ranks.

Our guest tonight is highly-involved in both of these major pieces of legislation. Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R – TX House District 25) is the chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, which handles tax cuts. We’ll talk to him about that, plus he wrote the House border security bill, so we will talk about what that plan will mean for Texans as well. All that plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will join us with his observations. Tune in to “Capital Tonight”, at 7 and 11 p.m., only on Time Warner Cable News.

 

 

Daily Digest | May 19

We’re now thirteen days from the final gavel of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on at the State Capitol today:

Immigrant rights advocates are marching on the Governor’s Mansion to call for changes in immigration policy. The group “United We Dream” is protesting the Governor’s lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which would have shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. It comes as two bills that critics have called anti-immigrant return to the Senate intent calendar, which is usually an indicator the legislation has a chance to pass.

Senate Bill 1819 would repeal the Texas DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates if they have lived in Texas for three or more years. The other legislation recently added to the calendar is Senate Bill 185, or the so-called “sanctuary cities bill.” That proposal would expand immigration enforcement authority for local law enforcement. Supporters say it helps enforce immigration laws, while critics argue it leads to discrimination and would turn Texas into an anti-immigrant, “show me your papers” state. Our Karina Kling will explore the political implications of those bills as the House’s border security funding bill, House Bill 11, makes its way through the Senate.

In other headlines, the House Public Education Committee is set to take up Senate Bill 14, the so-called “parent trigger bill.” It would make it easier for parents to intervene and make changes at low-performing schools in their district. The author of the bill says it gives parents more power in shaping their child’s education, but critics argue it will just hurt schools that are already struggling even more instead of bringing them up to speed. And the House’s major overhaul of the state’s economic incentive funds is going before a Senate committee. House Bill 26 would abolish the Emerging Technology Fund and put that money toward Governor Abbott’s University Research Initiative. It would also create an Economic Incentive Oversight Board to monitor how state incentives are being distributed, after accusations were leveled at Governor Perry over lax oversight policies in the awarding of state funds.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Gary Godsey, the head of the influential group, the Association of Texas Professional Educators or ATPE. We’ll discuss the major education-related legislation this session, including the parent trigger bill, the A-F campus accountability bill and school funding, which is still in question. 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.

Daily Digest | May 18

Sine die is two weeks from today, and there’s still plenty of work to do at the Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on today:

The House’s border security funding plan could be sent to the full Senate as soon as this afternoon. House Bill 11 was left pending in the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security this morning, but is expected to be brought back up later this afternoon. It would increase the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border over the next two years. It would also establish an intelligence center in Hidalgo County to analyze border crime data, and create a volunteer corps of retired DPS officers to bolster the agency’s ranks.

Gun control legislation, which dominated the early parts of the session, is coming back to the forefront this week. The House’s version of open carry, House Bill 910, is set to go before a Senate Committee today after going untouched for weeks. If it becomes law, concealed handgun license owners would be able to openly carry handguns. Law enforcement agencies have spoken out against an amendment that would prohibit police officers from stopping people who are openly carrying to ask them if they have a license, saying it would make it impossible to distinguish law-abiding citizens from criminals. As Chuck Lindell with the Austin American-Statesman reports, that provision is expected to be stripped from the bill in the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 11, which would allow concealed handgun owners to bring their guns onto campuses — but not carry them openly — is expected to get a second chamber vote this week. The full House could consider that bill as early as Wednesday, and if they approve the bill without any changes, it will go straight to the governor’s desk.

Governor Abbott is set to sign a major piece of legislation into law today: House Bill 40. That’s the legislation that would ban municipal governments from creating regulations on hydraulic fracturing. Critics of the bill say local governments and its citizens should have a say in whether drilling is done on their land. The bill’s authors say a statewide regulation would eliminate the confusion that could arise from a so-called patchwork of different regulations among local governments.

And the Senate sent a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors to Governor Abbott’s desk this morning. House changes to Senate Bill 97 were approved by the upper chamber today. Critics raised concerns about government overreach, but in the end it passed, on a 20-10 vote. A recent study found more young people are trying e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes, and supporters of the bill say they should be treated like real cigarettes until more is known about their health effects.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight will be Charley Wilkison, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT. He’ll talk about what’s been addressed by lawmakers this session, including CLEAT’s role in the compromise over a police body camera bill. Plus Harvey Kronberg from the Quorum Report will join us for his weekly analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 12

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:

The bills are coming fast out of both chambers as major deadlines loom for the 84th Legislature. Lawmakers are trying to push through their proposals before Friday, which is the deadline for bills to be voted out of their originating chamber. It comes on the heels of a relatively slow first four and a half months of the session. Tonight, we look into how this session’s legislative pace compares to past sessions, and what lawmakers are doing to get bills to the governor’s desk.

One of those bills slated for a vote is House Bill 3130, which would ban women from using insurance to cover abortions, even in the case of rape or terminal fetal abnormalities. If approved, women would have to buy a supplemental “abortion insurance” plan to get covered for the procedure. Supporters of the bill say this ensures people who don’t support abortion aren’t subsidizing abortions for others through insurance payments, while opponents say this restricts abortion access even more in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on the upper chamber’s tax cut plan, Senate Bill 1. Committee Chair Dennis Bonnen (R – TX House District 25), who authored the House tax cut bill, slammed the Senate’s plan, which would increase the homestead exemption to lower local school property taxes. He likened it to previous property tax cut plans, which he says didn’t end up decreasing property tax bills because of increases in property appraisals and local taxes. Rep. Bonnen went so far as to say he’d rather scrap the Senate bill and the House bill — which focuses on sales tax cuts — altogether in favor of increasing business tax cuts. Both chambers’ tax cut plans include business tax cuts, but do it to different degrees.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.”  Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick is our guest. She is part of the agency that oversees the oil and gas industry in the state.  A magnitude 4 earthquake recently shook a part of North Texas, just weeks after a recent independent study that says gas well activity is the likely cause of recent nearby tremors. We’ll ask her what the Railroad Commission is doing in light of the quakes and study, and get her thoughts on the state of the oil and gas industry when it comes to the global market.  Plus, political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their observations of activity at the Capitol. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. 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.

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.

Daily Digest | May 6

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:

Karina Kling is exploring the increasing momentum for abortion bills in this legislative session. After months without much action on this issue, several bills are moving forward. Rep. Debbie Riddle’s (R – TX House District 150) House Bill 416 is expected to go up for a vote today. That would require abortion clinic workers to undergo human trafficking training. That comes after Tuesday’s vote in the Senate on the first major abortion bill of the session. Senate Bill 575 would prevent insurance plans from covering abortions unless it’s a medical emergency. Republicans say it prevents other insured Texans from paying for a procedure they believe is morally wrong, while critics call it more unnecessary restrictions for a state with some of the strictest abortion laws in the country already. That measure now heads to the House, which has already passed a similar bill out of committee. This was a major issue during last session, culminating in then-State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster that launched her into the national spotlight.

A Texas political icon, whose career ended in controversy, has died. Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright served as a Democrat in Congress for 34 years. Wright became the first House speaker ever to step down because of an ethics scandal back in 1989. Wright was charged with violations of House rules on reporting of gifts, accepting gifts from people with an interest in legislation, and limits on outside income. He never admitted wrongdoing and accused his critics of forcing him out due to partisan politics. Wright also spent nearly a decade in the Texas Legislature. He moved back to Fort Worth after he left Congress, and stayed there until his death Wednesday. He was 92 years old.

Earlier this week, House Bill 507 was voted out of committee. The bill, by Rep. Joe Moody (D – TX House District 78), would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. It’s the farthest this type of legislation has advanced in the Texas Legislature. That bill, combined with a renewed push for legalized medicinal marijuana, has turned this session into a possible turning point for marijuana reform in Texas. Our LeAnn Wallace is exploring the future of the bills.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’ll be joined by Rep. Moody, the author of that marijuana decriminalization bill. He will tell us about the vote’s significance, and the bill’s future. Plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will be with us. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 5

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:

The Senate is expected to take action soon on Senate Bill 1735, which amends Hazlewood benefits for Texas veterans. The bill’s author, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R – TX House District 22) has promoted it as a way to rein in the skyrocketing costs of the tuition exemption. Currently, veterans with at least 180 days of active duty can get up to 150 credit hours of free tuition at a public university, and any of it they don’t use can be passed on to their children. That cost Texas universities about $170 million last year, and is expected to double in the next five years. The bill would tighten eligibility requirements — recipients would have to live in Texas for eight years — and would cut the amount of free tuition veterans get. That would be cut to 120 credit hours, the equivalent of a four-year degree, and would cap the number of credit hours that can be transferred to children at 60.

We’re also checking on the status of Legislative efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. A bill authored by State Rep. Chris Paddie (R – TX House District 9) has been approved by the House Transportation Committee, but is still waiting to be placed on the House calendar. Rollout of the growing ride-sharing companies has been slowed by local regulations in Texas. The bill’s backers say this creates a standard statewide protocol and does away with what they call a patchwork of confusing local regulations. The crux of the issue is the question of how to keep dangerous riders off the road. Lobbyists for the ride-sharing companies say they already do background checks and adding more checks isn’t necessary. The bill was amended to allow some city control of background checks, including the power for cities to require Uber and Lyft to subject drivers to fingerprint background checks. Some critics of the bill say it doesn’t do enough to hold drivers accountable, while others question whether allowing cities to require different background checks will create the same problem as before: a “mish mash” of different local regulations.

Republicans in the Senate have pushed through a bill that would reduce access to abortions in Texas. Under Senate Bill 575, private health insurance plans as well as plans through the Affordable Care Act’s health care marketplace could only provide coverage for abortions in cases of medical emergencies.  If the bill is passed, women would have to buy supplemental insurance to cover an elective abortion. Supporters say it would protect Texans who oppose abortion from subsidizing the procedure for others through their insurance payments. Democrats called the measure “extreme,” considering Texas already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who will tell us about his initiative to change statewide policy to allow deep fryers in schools, reversing a decade-old policy. Plus, political analysts Harold Cook and Ted Delisi join us to give their takes on the week’s headlines. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.