Daily Digest: Aug. 24

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Hurricane Harvey: How Prepared is Texas?

Texans are bracing for Hurricane Harvey. As the storm barrels toward the Texas coast, its impact could mean extreme flooding and damage to communities.

Governor Greg Abbott has already declared a state of emergency for 30 Texas counties.

Harvey is set to become the first hurricane to make landfall on the Texas coast since Ike in 2008.

But how prepared is the state for a storm like this? At 7, we take a look at how decisions by lawmakers in the past could impact the state’s ability to respond to this latest storm.


Harvey Impact on Oil Industry:

About one third of the entire refining capacity in the country is located along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples joins us to discuss how the hurricane could affect the oil and gas industry.

“They are in the process of shutting those refineries down that are going to be directly impacted,” Staples said.

He also details a new report by OGA on Texas’ energy dominance.


Federal Court Orders Texas House Map be Redrawn:

A federal court has ruled Texas’ state House maps are intentionally discriminatory and some districts must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled lawmakers must fix the violations.

Nine districts must be redrawn, potentially affecting the configuration of political boundaries in four counties. Those counties include Dallas, Nueces, Bell and Tarrant.

Today’s ruling comes a week after the same court invalidated two of Texas’ congressional districts — and ordered those be redrawn.

Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed that ruling to the US Supreme Court. Regarding today’s House maps, Paxton said the state will appeal that ruling, too.


Report: State Cuts Hurting ECI Services:

Thousands of Texas children could be affected by state cuts to therapy services.

We’re joined by the CEO of Texans Care for Children to discuss a new report that shows how many kids with disabilities could be missing out on critical developmental care.


Trump Tweetstorm:

President Trump is once again attacking the top Republican in the U.S. Senate. The rift highlights the continuing problems the President has with the leaders of his own party.

Our Washington bureau reporter Alberto Pimienta will have an update at 7pm.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling


Daily Digest: Aug. 23

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Trump’s Tone:

President Donald Trump took a drastically different tone today at a stop in Reno, Nevada.

It comes one day after a fiery speech in Arizona where he railed against the media and members of his own political party.

At 7, we’ll have the latest on how Trump’s rhetoric could create immediate new problems for Republicans on Capitol Hill.


Sen. Cornyn’s Reponse:

Texas’ senior Senator John Cornyn referred to Trump’s government shutdown threat if a wall wasn’t built as a negotiation tactic.

“I think that’s part of, that’s President Trump the negotiator, laying down the tough line,” Cornyn said.

Speaking to reporters after an event with veterans in Austin this morning, Cornyn wouldn’t say whether Trump’s remarks were helping or hurting the Republican agenda in Washington.

Instead, he referred to Trump’s fiery speech in Arizona as him being in “campaign mode.”

“I think the president was speaking to a very enthusiastic base of voters that helped him win on Nov. 8. But my experience is running for election is very different than governing. And it’s really important that we work together with the president to try to get his agenda passed.”

Cornyn, the majority whip and second most powerful lawmaker in the Senate, also didn’t deny that Sen. McConnell and Trump aren’t on speaking terms. But he did say he and McConnell communicate with the White House daily.


Veteran Truckers:

Military services affords veterans countless skills and experiences. Now one Texas lawmaker wants to make it easier for veterans to put some of those skills to work.

US Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, says he wants to make it easier for military veterans to go from driving vehicles on the battlefield, to driving trucks at home.

It’s called the Jobs for Our Heroes Act.

It’s aimed at streamlining the process by which active duty service members, reservists, and veterans with experience operating heavy vehicles in the military can apply for a civilian commercial drivers license.

Sen. Cornyn says he wants to ensure that hardworking veterans with the right skills are able to find good work after they’ve left the battlefield.

“I think it not only keeps our commitment to our active duty military once they become veterans, but it also helps employers like Coca-Cola get the trained workforce they need in order to keep doing their job,” Cornyn said during a visit to Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages in Austin today.

Cornyn says the bill will go to the full Senate this fall for a vote.


Ag Commissioner Sid Miller:

While the debate over removing Confederate statues is back in the spotlight following Charlottesville, the conversation is not new — particularly here in Texas.

There are more than 150 confederate statues and place names in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

And while the University of Texas recently removed three of them from the campus’ main mall, if state lawmakers had passed a bill in 2007 by then State Rep. Sid Miller, they’d likely still be standing.

“Any monuments on the Capitol ground, before they can be removed, have to be approved by the State Preservation Board,” Miller said. “The legislation that I introduced and did not pass, would have expanded that to state properties, which would have included the University of Texas.”

The current Agriculture Commissioner also said he doesn’t agree with removing the statues.

“We need to preserve our history, we don’t need to sanitize it. It is what it is and we need to preserve that for future generations so they can learn from it,” Miller said.

Watch our full interview with Miller at 7pm.


Political Analysts:

Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi discuss President Trump’s fiery speech in Arizona and the debate over confederate statues.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm on Spectrum News.


Posted by Karina Kling



Daily Digest: Aug. 22

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Trump’s Arizona Rally:

Protesters and counter-protesters are showing up in Phoenix, Arizona, where the president is set to hold a campaign rally tonight.

Just a week after violent, deadly protests in Virginia, the White House is struggling to combat criticism that the president failed to strike the right tone afterwards. We’ll have a preview of what to expect from the president.


Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy:

In his first prime-time foreign policy speech as President, Trump laid out his strategy for Afghanistan last night. Democratic lawmakers have criticized the president’s plan for having too few details.

But we’ll explain why Trump says it’s part of his strategy to not talk about troop levels or specific military plans.

Plus, Paul Miller, associate director of the Clements Center for National Security at UT-Austin, joins us to discuss what Trump got right and what he got wrong.


Mail-in Ballot Fraud:

Keeping Texas elections secure: that’s the goal of a new measure recently signed into law.

During the special legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill that will increase the penalties for mail-in ballot fraud.

Only Texans who are disabled, who are 65 or older, or Texas voters who are outside their home counties can vote by mail, and voting officials say the new measure will play an important role in ensuring their votes are secure.

“So it’s really designed to increase penalties where that’s concerned, to something where a misdemeanor might be bumped up to a higher level offense,” Caroline Geppert with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office said. “It added penalties to the law. For example, it makes it extremely clear if you own someone else’s ballot without their permission.”

But this new law has a side effect.

Coming up at 7 on Capital Tonight, how it will overturn a different measure aimed at helping people in nursing homes vote.


Mental Health Reforms:

While there wasn’t a lot state lawmakers could agree on during the regular – or special session, a move to address the mental health crisis in Texas received bipartisan support.

More money was devoted to the cause and bills including insurance parity for mental health disorders and substance abuse, and increasing awareness through education, were all approved.

Another piece is part of the so-called Sandra Bland Act. It was named for a 28-year-old woman who was found dead in the Waller County jail in 2015, days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop.

Lawmakers and leaders met today to discuss how to implement the new law. Greg Hansch of NAMI-Texas joins us at 7 to discuss how it will help protect people with mental illness who are arrested and may harm themselves in jail.

He also weighs in on the strides made on mental health during the regular session and how it could help curb the state’s crisis.


Join at 7 for these stories and more.


Posted by Karina Kling




Daily Digest: Aug. 21

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


UT-Austin Removes Confederate Statues:

After the violence in Charlottesville, leaders at the University of Texas felt the time was right to remove three Confederate statues on campus.

UT President Greg Fenves said the statues were being removed because they depict parts of American history that “run counter to the university’s core values.” His email to the campus was sent just before 11pm.

Now all that remains are slabs of granite where the statues used to be.
Workers came in the middle of the night to remove the monuments and were still at work this morning shaving down the bolts that used to hold the statues in place.

Now, the statues will go to the Briscoe Center for American History where they’ll be available to academics.

“We’re taking this material as educational material and material evidence of the past that people can use for research,” Don Carleton with the Briscoe Center said.

At 7, hear from students and alumni who have differing opinions on the removal of the statues.


Trump Afghanistan Strategy:

At 8pm, President Trump will give a major primetime address to the nation, laying out his strategy for Afghanistan. What he announces will not just have huge implications for the US and the military, but for the global war on terrorism and stability in the region. We’ll have a preview of what to expect at 7pm.


Comptroller Glenn Hegar:

Just as the Texas Legislature was nearing its special session end last week, they got some good news from the Texas Comptroller — he found an extra $196 million for them to work with. So did they utilize it — and what’s that say about the Texas economy today? Hear from Comptroller Glenn Hegar tonight.


On the Agenda:

And the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joins us to dissect the abrupt end to the special session and the political fallout for the “big three.”


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling



Daily Digest: Aug. 18

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Bannon Out:

Another White House staffer is out of a job.

President Trump parted ways with his controversial chief strategist Stephen Bannon today after days of rumors that the firebrand conservative was on the outs.

Meanwhile, President Trump faces a two-front battle after his reactions to the violence in Charlottesville and the terror in Barcelona. We’ll have the latest at 7.


Redistricting Update:

The state won’t ask lawmakers to come back and redraw congressional maps. Instead, it’s asking the nation’s highest court to step in and keep the boundaries in tact for 2018.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is appealing a lower court’s ruling this week that invalidated two of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

On Tuesday, judges ruled the districts violate the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. One is held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett — the other by Republican Blake Farenthold.

But Paxton argues the maps Texas has used for the last three election cycles are lawful and should remain in place.


Six Flags Changes to all American Flags:

The Confederate flag will no longer fly at Six Flags Over Texas. The Arlington-based theme park announced today it will fly six American flags.

A spokeswoman says they “always choose to focus on celebrating the things that unite us versus those that divide us.”

The park was named for the six flags that have flown over Texas — Confederate and those of Spain, Mexico, France, the Republic of Texas and the US.

The Confederate flag the park flew was not the battle flag known for its cross design.

It was an earlier one known as the “stars and bars.”


Reporter Roundtable:

Capitol Press Corps reporter Madlin Mekelburg of the El Paso Times and Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News join our reporter roundtable to discuss the abrupt end to the Texas Legislature’s Special Session and the debate surrounding Confederate statues in Texas.


PolitiFact Texas:

And Gardner Selby is in to put Gov. Abbott to the truth-o-meter over a claim about Texas jobs.

He also rates this statement from San Antonio activist and trans-woman Ashley Smith:

Says transgender residents make up “about 1-in-300 people, we’re all over the place, we’re your friends and your neighbors.”


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling


Daily Digest: Aug. 16

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Sine Die – Now What?:

With the special session over, the blame game has already started. Governor Greg Abbott is lashing out at the Texas House after several of his priority items failed to pass during the overtime session.

On a Houston radio show this morning, the Governor said that all options are on the table if lawmakers would show they’d be able to get something done.

However, special sessions are costly, and the governor said he would be working to get more support on his priorities before considering another call.

The governor also joined a chorus of conservative lawmakers who have pinned blame for the special session deadlock on the House, saying leadership didn’t take all of the agenda items seriously.

“They were wasting time, they were not garnering votes, they were not taking votes, they were not trying to answer the call,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview.

Abbott was also asked about Speaker Straus’ lack of support for the bathroom bill. The Governor suggested the issue will never pass as long as Straus is Speaker and went on to say that’s why “elections matter.”

We’ll have the Speaker’s response to the special session and more post-special session fallout on Capital Tonight at 7.


Trump Latest:

President Trump has left New York City after a two-day stay that included perhaps the most explosive moments of his presidency. Our New York reporter, Josh Robin, will have more on the fallout over the president’s remarks about the deadly violence in Virginia.


Rep. Joaquin Castro:

The San Antonio Democratic Congressman joined us for a one-on-one interview today to discuss Trump’s comments, DACA, the state’s new anti-sanctuary cities law and 2018. Catch the full interview at 7pm.


Political Analysts:

Political analysts Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi are in to give their take on Trump’s comments and the political fallout after an abrupt special session ending.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling


Texas House, Senate End Special Session Early

Both the Texas House and Senate ended the legislative special session a day early.

A stalemate over property tax reform led the House to adjourn first, telling the upper chamber to accept their version or get nothing. But senators said no thanks.

“We’re not going to accept the take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the House and we are going to fight another day,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said.

The Senate then adjourned at around 10 Tuesday night.

At issue was a measure that would have required property tax elections if local governments’ revenue exceeds six percent from the year before. The Senate wanted the cap set at four percent.

The stalemate sets up the possibility of Gov. Greg Abbott calling lawmakers back for a second special session. He called property tax reform a top priority for the 30-day special session that was set to end Wednesday.

His office offered this statement Tuesday night:

“Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before.”


Posted by Karina Kling


Where Gov. Abbott’s Special Session Agenda Stands

The Texas House and Senate ended the special session a day early. Gov. Abbott got a few of his 20 bills passed, but lawmakers did not go 20 for 20.

Here’s the latest on where his agenda stands:


What Abbott’s signed into law:

Of his 20 items, Gov. Abbott has signed a handful into law. They include the must-pass sunset legislation needed to keep several state agencies operating. Abbott also signed a bill Friday to combat mail-in ballot fraud.

Tuesday, he signed legislation requiring large cities to hold elections in areas before they annex them. Abbott has also signed a bill increasing abortion complication reporting requirements and requiring women to pay a separate health insurance premium if they want their health plans to cover non-emergency abortions.

Maternal mortality task force: Lawmakers voted to continue a task force on maternal mortality and morbidity.

School Finance: Lawmakers approved about $560 million in extra funding for schools and retired teachers. It’s much less than the $1.8 billion the House originally sought.

Anti-tree Ordinances: New limits on local tree ordinances have been sent to the Governor’s desk. But they aren’t as sweeping as original proposals to virtually wipe out all such ordinances statewide.

Regulating Do-Not Resuscitate Orders: A Senate bill is headed to the Governor’s desk.


What’s dead: 

Property Tax Reform:

The House and Senate couldn’t come to a compromise on property tax reform and left the session early without working it out.

In an unusual move, House members left for good Tuesday evening with one day still remaining in the special session. That move forced the Senate to accept the House version of a controversial property tax bill or risk seeing nothing done.

They said no thanks and gaveled out for good as well. The stalemate sets up the possibility of the governor calling lawmakers back for another overtime session.

What the bill would have done: House version required property tax elections if local governments’ revenue exceeds six percent from the year before.

The Senate wanted the cap set at 4 percent.

Other items that didn’t make it: 

Private school choice for special needs students

“Bathroom Bill”

Texting while driving

Union dues deduction

Preventing local rule changes on already acquired properties

Taxpayer funding for abortion

Teacher Pay Increase of $1000: Abbott asked lawmakers to pass a measure that would give Texas teachers a $1000 pay raise. But groups criticized it as an unfunded mandate. Neither chamber approved such a bill yet.

Caps on Local and State Government Spending

Speeding local government permitting process



Here’s a look at the list Gov. Abbott initially put out:


Special session agenda items will include:

  1. Sunset legislation
  2. Teacher pay increase of $1,000
  3. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
  4. School finance reform commission
  5. School choice for special needs students
  6. Property tax reform
  7. Caps on state and local spending
  8. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
  9. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
  10. Speeding up local government permitting process
  11. Municipal annexation reform
  12. Texting while driving preemption
  13. Privacy
  14. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
  15. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
  16. Pro-life insurance reform
  17. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
  18. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
  19. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
  20. Extending maternal mortality task force



Posted by Karina Kling









Property tax bill gets initial okay from Texas House

A top priority of Gov. Greg Abbott won initial approval from the Texas House Saturday. Lawmakers advanced a bill that aims to limit the amount that larger cities and counties can increase property taxes. The bill passed with a vote of 98-43. It still needs to get a final vote in the House before differences are worked out with the Senate.
Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, repeatedly said the measure would not save taxpayers money. The Governor, Lt. Governor and other Senate Republicans have said otherwise.
“It does not provide one ounce of property tax relief,” Bonnen said Saturday during floor debate. “It’s not intended to and anybody who suggests that is giving you bad information.”
Bonnen said the bill would provide more transparency about how the tax process works.
Currently, voters can petition for an election to roll back the tax rate if the city or county’s new revenue exceeds eight percent.
The House version would require an automatic rollback election if the new revenue exceeds six percent. The Senate has set the rate at four percent.
Cities and counties have aggressively opposed the measure. They said it could hamstring their budgets and make it harder to provide critical services like police and firefighters.
Others argue the only way to provide true property tax relief is to fix the state’s troubled school finance system.


Daily Digest: Aug. 11

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Senate Panel Guts House School Finance Bill:

The Texas Senate Education Committee scaled back a priority House bill to give Texas public schools more money. House Bill 21 would have injected $1.8 billion into the public school system. But the Senate panel reduced it to $311 million over the next two years. Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said he expects the Senate to vote on the measure Saturday and then work with House lawmakers on a compromise.

While the House has pushed for pumping more money into the system, the Senate has voiced support for studying school finance through a commission that would then make recommendations to the Legislature.

Both chambers also differ on how to pay for the bill. The House had proposed delaying certain payments to school districts in the upcoming budget cycle to the following biennium. But the Senate wants to delay certain payments to Medicaid managed care organizations.

We’ll have more on the school finance standoff tonight at 7.


Bills on Way to Governor’s Desk:

While he might not get his 20 for 20, there are finally a couple of bills on their way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.

The must-pass sunset bills that reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and other agencies have been approved by lawmakers. Friday’s unanimous House vote sends the measures to Abbott.

The bills are the main reason the governor was forced to call a special session after Lt. Governor Dan Patrick let the typically routine bills die during the regular legislative session.

Lawmakers have also sent a bill that would increase criminal penalties for improper mail-in voting to Abbott. The measure makes some cases of mail-in voter fraud felonies, punishable by lengthy jail sentences.

It also increases ballot signature verification rules.


Undoing Hands-Free Ordinances:

One priority item looking less likely that it’ll hit the Governor’s desk — Abbott’s call for overriding all city rules requiring drivers to go hands-free. After a decade of trying, lawmakers finally passed a statewide texting ban during the regular session. But when Abbott called lawmakers back, he wanted them to do away with what he called a “patchwork” of city regulations.

That would preempt much stricter laws in cities across Texas, including many in our area. San Antonio, Austin and cities in between have passed their laws over the last few years.

Most of them require drivers to be hands-free. The texting ban would relax those rules, so drivers can still hold their phones to make calls.

Area mayors say they prefer the hands-free law. For one, it’s easier to enforce.

“You look at the reports of all the accidents that were caused by people using cell phones and texting, and we thought it was appropriate given our location on I-35,” Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said.

The Texas Senate passed its version of a bill that would override local cell phone laws. A similar bill is pending in a House committee.


Immigrant Journey:

They’re found dead on rural properties, others inside tractor trailers. And right now, U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas are seeing a spike in the number of undocumented immigrants dying trying to enter the United States.

Our Annette Garcia traveled to Laredo to find out what is behind the increase. Watch her full report on Capital Tonight at 7.


Reporter Roundtable:

Reporters closely covering the special session will join us for a roundtable discussion. Ben Philpott of KUT News, Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune and James Barragan with the Dallas Morning News will give their take on how the final days of the legislative session will play out.


Congress Looks to Prevent Hot Car Deaths:

A three-year-old died this week in Florida after being left inside a hot van all day outside a daycare. The tragic death is drawing new attention to the problem of children left alone in cars on hot days.

Such cases continue to happen nationwide, especially in Texas. No other state has had more children die in hot cars this year.

At 7pm, our Washington bureau reporter Alberto Pimienta will break down what Congressional leaders are trying to do to prevent these tragedies.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling