Capital Tonight: Texas veterans say budget deal comes at their expense

 The U.S. Senate has moved closer to passing a bipartisan budget deal that was approved by the House last week. The agreement replaces $45 billion worth of automatic spending cuts known as the sequester by raising fees and making members of the military contribute more to their pensions.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke to a member of one veterans’ group, who says the cuts shouldn’t be put on the backs of those who have served.

REGENT REVERSAL

A University of Texas system regent who faces possible impeachment has announced he won’t testify as expected this week. Lawyers for UT Regent Wallace Hall sent a letter to the committee investigating Hall, saying he won’t testify due to confusion about lawmakers’ intentions.

LOOKING BACK

Criminal justice reform has been a big topic for political leaders lately.

Earlier this year, the justice department announced it would stop pursuing mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders. And here in Texas, experts with the Right on Crime initiative have been making their case for less spending on prisons and more treatment for drug addiction.

We spoke to former State Representative Ray Allen, who spearheaded some of the same ideas back in 2003 in an effort to cut costs.

Medicare Releases List of Best and Worst Hospitals For Hip And Knee Surgery

For the first time, Medicare is ranking how well hospitals perform hip and knee replacement surgeries.

The Affordable Care Act lays out financial incentives for doctors and hospitals to provide better care, and the newly released “best and worst” list is part of that larger effort.

Kaiser Health News explains how the list was compiled:

It evaluated how often a hospital’s patients ended up being readmitted within 30 days of discharge. It also looked at how often patients suffered a serious complication after the operation, such as a blood clot, infection, problem with the artificial joint or death.

While Medicare rated most hospitals as average, it identified 95 hospitals with rates that were higher than the national average in one of the two categories, and 97 hospitals with rates that were lower than average. Those outlier hospitals are listed in the sortable table below. A dash (—) indicates the hospital had average performance for that indicator.

Close to a million people get hip or knee replacements each year. Here’s how hospitals in Texas fared:

 

Baptist St Anthony’s Hospital Amarillo TX Worse
Christus Santa Rosa Hospital San Antonio TX Better
Christus St Michael Health System Texarkana TX Worse
Covenant Medical Center Lubbock TX Better
Doctors Hospital At Renaissance Edinburg TX Better
Grace Medical Center Lubbock TX Better
Houston Orthopedic And Spine Hospital Bellaire TX Worse
Peterson Regional Medical Center Kerrville TX Worse Worse
Plaza Medical Center Of Fort Worth Fort Worth TX Better
Quail Creek Surgical Hospital Amarillo TX Better
Seton Medical Center Austin Austin TX Better
Shannon Medical Center San Angelo TX Worse Worse
St Joseph Regional Health Center Bryan TX Worse
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Dallas TX Better
Vhs Harlingen Hospital Company Llc Harlingen TX Better Better
Woodland Heights Medical Center Lufkin TX Worse

Click here for the full list.

It seems hospitals, upon close inspection, don’t always live up to their reputations.

Capital Tonight: Can Texas do more to improve voter turnout?

Civil rights activists say state agencies and public schools aren’t doing enough to register voters. The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report Monday saying state elections officials show no interest in raising turnout following the first election under a new voter ID law.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we looked what the group is proposing to get more people to the polls.

BEHIND THE BOOM

There’s no question the Texas economy is driven in large part by the oil and gas industry. A recent report from the state comptroller says taxes from exploration alone will add nearly $4.5 billion to state coffers, on top of nearly 300,000 new jobs since 2009. It’s all thanks to a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Capital Tonight’s John Salazar joined us to introduce the first part of his weeklong series on the process.

ON THE AGENDA

He was on the short list for Time’s Person of the Year; now a new poll ranks Ted Cruz third among America’s most influential people. The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to take a closer look at the Cruz effect.

Capital Tonight: Looking back at an erratic week in politics

From questions about who can keep their jobs to a surprise challenger for a high-profile Senate seat, it’s been an erratic week for some public officials.

We sat down with Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune, Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, and Texas Monthly’s senior executive editor, Brian Sweany, to talk about where things stand now that the dust has settled.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

The topic of teaching creationism has come up in the race for lieutenant governor. Republican Sen. Dan Patrick joined us to explain his stance on the issue, along with border security, graduation requirements and more.

CHECKING THE FACTS

Plus, Gardner Selby of PolitiFact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman joined us to fact-check a claim made by the David Dewhurst campaign.

Capital Tonight: Powers stays put after UT regents’ meeting

UT Austin President Bill Powers will stay put.

That was the word from the UT System Board of Regents Thursday, after more than four hours in a closed-door discussion about his employment. University of Texas system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa cited strained relations between Powers and and some board members, but said it’s in the best interest of the system to keep Powers as president of the flagship university.

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we heard reaction from President Powers after the board adjourned, and we looked at how the decision relates to the legislature and the governor.

2014 TICKET

Now that the filing deadline has come and gone, we spoke to Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri and Democratic strategist Harold Cook about their respective parties’ tickets from top to bottom.

MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING

The organization that represents our state’s hospitals is trying to make a point during the holidays. They’re reminding Texans that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the supposed uptick in depression-related issues this time of year is a myth. But they stress the challenges facing Texas’ behavioral health care system are very real.

Capital Tonight: Is insurance enrollment in Texas on track?

After three days of testimony, the decision has been made. Visiting judge David Peeples denied a petition to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office Wednesday, allowing her to keep her job.

Meanwhile, more Texans are signing up for health insurance under the troubled federal online exchange. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 14,000 Texans enrolled in October and November. That’s more than any other state except Florida, but it’s still far short of where the Obama Administration expected it to be at this time.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard from Lehmberg after the ruling was announced, and we talked to policy experts about what the latest enrollment numbers mean.

CAMPAIGN STRATEGY

It can be hard for political campaigns to engage voters this time of year, but when you’re running for the state’s top spot like Attorney General Greg Abbott and Senator Wendy Davis,
there are very few breaks. We looked at how the two candidates strategies differ at this point in the campaign.

BUDGET DEAL

In Washington, members of Congress are weighing in on a new, bipartisan spending deal announced Tuesday night. The bipartisan budget agreement negotiated by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is getting a cautious — though mostly positive — reception from House Republicans.

Judge rules Lehmberg will keep district attorney job

A judge has denied a petition to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office, meaning she will keep her job.

The ruling came Wednesday afternoon after three days of testimony. Multiple judges and attorneys testified on Lehmberg’s behalf, saying they have never seen her under the influence at work, and that removing her from office would harm the county’s justice system. The prosecution argued that Lehmberg had a drinking problem that prohibited her from performing her duties. They also asked the judge to consider how intoxicated the D.A. was and the way she treated law enforcement officers during her arrest.

The civil suit stemmed from Lehmberg’s drunken driving arrest last spring, after her Lexus was spotted swerving along RR 620 in northwest Austin. A rare Texas statute cites intoxication alone as grounds for removal from office on the county level.

Lehmberg spoke to reporters immediately after the decision and apologized for her behavior.

“I promise you I will work diligently to do the right thing, as I always have done,” Lehmberg said.

 

Capital Tonight: After filing deadline, reassessing the field

The paperwork has been signed and the candidates for the 2014 elections are now in place. Republicans saw a last-minute surprise, after U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman filed as a primary challenger to Sen. John Cornyn, and Democrats got an early Christmas present in the form of one judge’s party switch.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we took a closer look at where the top-tier candidates stand, along with Rep. Stockman’s chances now that the dust has settled.

PROSECUTOR ON TRIAL

It was day two of the civil trial over Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a process that will ultimately decide whether she can keep her job.

We heard more about the events leading up to her drunk driving arrest back in April, plus we talked to political analysts Harold Cook and Ted Delisi about what’s next for her office and the Public Integrity Unit.

SENTENCING REFORM

Texas has a reputation for being tough on crime, but a new poll shows many voters are in favor of going easier on certain criminals in hopes of lowering costs. We talked to Sarah Rumpf with the Right on Crime initiative about what the numbers mean for elected officials.

Rep. Steve Stockman files as primary challenger to Cornyn

With just minutes to go before the filing deadline, Republican Congressman Steve Stockman filed the necessary papers to run against Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican primary. Stockman also withdrew his application for his current congressional seat.

It’s a possibility that political pundits have been speculating about for months, after the fight in Washington over defunding the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Cornyn drew fire from the right flank of his party for not following Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead in risking a government shutdown over funding. Even though at least five other Republicans have filed as candidates for the seat, the threat of a high-profile challenger appeared to blow over as the filing deadline approached.

Stockman has drawn publicity in recent years as an instigator, most notably for bringing Ted Nugent to the State of the Union address after the conservative rock guitarist had been investigated by the Secret Service for threatening the president.

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers tout ‘Merry Christmas’ law

It’s OK for Santa to show up at public schools, but what about the phrase “Merry Christmas?”

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we checked in on a new state law that makes sure teachers don’t have to check twice, plus we got an update on the first day of testimony over whether Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg can keep her job after being arrested for drunk driving earlier this year.

AFTER THE DEADLINE

The campaign filing deadline has come and gone. We spoke to theQuorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg about who’s safe from a challenger and who could have a fight on their hands.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

Plus, we sat down with Republican candidate for comptroller, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran.