Federal government grants West major disaster declaration

Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday the federal government has granted the state’s request for aid to help rebuild the town of West. The town’s fertilizer plant exploded in April, killing 15 people and damaging hundreds of buildings, including the town’s schools.

FEMA had initially denied the state’s request for $35 million to help rebuild the schools and other infrastructure. A spokesman with Gov. Perry’s office said Friday FEMA will “work with the community identify those public works projects that sustained damage in the blast.” It is not clear yet if FEMA will grant the full $35 million.

Gov. Perry issued this statement, following FEMA’s decision:

“The approval of the state’s appeal for a major disaster declaration is great and welcome news for the people of West. I appreciate everyone who joined me in standing with the people whose lives have been forever impacted to move this appeal forward, especially our congressional delegation. This, along with the disaster relief funding provided by the Texas Legislature, will help this community rebuild their infrastructure, school district and public works as quickly as possible.”

Capital Tonight: Sizing up the candidate field for 2014

State Board of Education members are working quickly to to accommodate new graduation requirements approved by lawmakers this session. In Thursday’s show, we talked to two members about how the final package will be implemented.

TOP OF THE LIST

Annie’s List is run by Grace Ann Garcia of San Antonio, who worked for both President Bill Clinton and later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It’s a group that has helped some of the state’s most successful female Democrats for nearly a decade. We spoke to Garcia about how her organization works and what Wendy Davis’s odds are for higher office.

WASHINGTON AND WEST

A House Homeland Security subcommittee met Thursday to evaluate what could have prevented the deadly explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant. Our Washington, DC reporter looked at what lawmakers are calling a problem of unidentified chemical facilities.

Capital Tonight: Third session could involve more than transportation

The third special session has officially begun, and transportation might not be the only item on the agenda. Many lawmakers are pushing once again to get money for state colleges for construction projects, known as Tuition Revenue Bonds, on the call. But another college-related bill might also be thrown into the mix — one that could be a bit more divisive.

NEW ABORTION DEBATE?

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. was the lone Democrat who voted in favor of stricter abortion measures during the second special session. Now he wants women who are seeking an abortion to first go through an adoption course. It’s a measure he hopes will help more women choose to carry their baby to term, but others say it’s just another added stress on an already stressful situation.

INSIDE OUT

The last day of the second legislative session saw nearly two dozen House members missing and a shortfall in votes for transportation funding. Many of those absent were excused on the grounds of “important business in the district.,” a motion that has become increasingly common as the summer drags on.

We spoke to former lawmakers Aaron Peña and Sherri Greenberg about the politics of a part-time legislature.

Abbott releases new online ad

Attorney General Greg Abbott is out with a new campaign ad. The 1:30 web spot features testimonials from people expressing why they think Abbott should be the next Texas governor. 

Republican Tom Pauken is Abbott’s only Republican challenger so far. No Democrats have filed for statewide office.

 

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers hoping third time is a charm

Less than two hours after gaveling in for the end of the second special session, lawmakers had already kicked off a third session and headed for home.

In Tuesday’s show, we look at how another session ended with no results on transportation funding, and we spoke to Transportation Committee Chair Larry Phillips and Speaker Joe Straus about what to expect in round three.

MIXED BLESSING

Oil and gas production in the Eagle Ford Shale generated $61 billion in 20 Texas counties last year, but the booming business is also causing hardship in small towns like Nixon. We looked at how the large trucks carrying much-needed supplies in the region are also tearing up the roads.

CAPITAL COMMENTATORS

Plus, Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Rob Johnson weighed in on what the transportation battle means for the state’s top political leaders. Click the YNN logo below to see more.

Gov. Perry officially calls third special session to order

As promised, Gov. Rick Perry today called lawmakers back for another special session to tackle transportation funding. So far, this third overtime deals specifically with funding road projects.

There have been calls from lawmakers to add tuition revenue bonds, campus carry laws and CSCOPE to the agenda, as well. Gov. Perry could still add those, at any time.

He issued this statement, this afternoon:

“When it comes to transportation, the stakes facing our state could not be higher, and a failure to act now could take years – if not most of a decade – to correct, as traffic congestion increases and harms our quality of life. A plan was on the table that would have taken a significant step toward improving our roads and highways using existing revenue. Inaction is a Washington-style attempt to kick a can down the road – but everybody in Texas knows we’re rapidly running out of roads to kick that can down. For those reasons, I’m calling the Legislature back into another special session immediately.”

 

 

House adjourns, waits for third special session to begin

Less than an hour after convening on their last scheduled day of work, House lawmakers adjourned Sine Die and waited for a third round to begin.

The move leaves transportation funding in limbo once again, after House lawmakers failed to gather enough votes to get a last-minute compromise passed Monday. The latest deal would have diverted half of the money destined for the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund and allowed the Legislative Budget Board to set a minimum balance to ensure the emergency fund wouldn’t get drained.

Speaker Joe Straus confirmed rumors that the governor would call another special session immediately after the current one. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Joe Pickett, said they were hoping for some time in between to come up with a better plan.

On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had indicated he had enough votes to get the funding measure passed today. But with no chance of passage in the House, it’s likely the Senate will put and end to the current session as well.

Gov. Perry hasn’t indicated what, if any, other issues he will add to the call.

 

 

Capital Tonight: House transportation leader explains what went wrong

Transportation funding went off course once again Monday, after House lawmakers failed to pass a last-minute compromise.

The proposal would funnel half of the money generated from oil and gas production revenue to the State Highway Fund, instead of to the Rainy Day Fund. The main point of contention was whether a “trigger mechanism” should be put in place that would end the diversion for roads if the emergency fund fell below a minimum balance. Some House lawmakers want that balance set in stone before they agree to any bill, while others want to allow the Legislative Budget Board, which is made up of state political leaders, to decide periodically.

Minutes after the vote, we spoke with Rep. Joe Pickett about what went wrong and what he’d like to see from the governor heading into the next session.

ON THE AGENDA

With the prospect of a third special session in sight, many lawmakers would rather be out on the campaign trail. The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to look ahead.

INVESTIGATING A REGENT

The Texas House Committee on Transparency is moving forward with hearings that could lead to an impeachment of a UT Regent. A resolution filed in the House alleges that Wallace Hall Junior broke state law by not revealing potential business conflicts when he applied for the position. The same measure also says the regent is abusing his authority by making unnecessary open records requests targeting UT President Bill Powers.

Click the YNN logo below for the full story.

Straus calls third special session unnecessary

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus doesn’t appear to be on board with Gov. Rick Perry’s plans to call another special session. In a statement released following today’s vote, Straus said lawmakers made it clear the bill being considered doesn’t do enough to solve the state’s transportation woes. “Texas needs a much more comprehensive approach to funding our growing state’s growing transportation needs, and another 30-day special session will not change that,”  he said.

Here is Rep. Straus’ statement in its entirety.

“I would like to thank the Members who worked so diligently in an effort to address some of our transportation needs during these two special sessions. As today’s vote shows, Members have become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of diverting and indefinitely dedicating funds away from the Rainy Day Fund to roads.  These funds were never intended to be a stable, long-term way to address our transportation needs.

“Diverting a capped amount of money from the Rainy Day fund to repair roads is much like using a Band-Aid to cover a pothole; in the end, you still have a pothole and you’ve spent a lot of money without solving the fundamental problem.  Legislators know that Texas needs a much more comprehensive approach to funding our growing state’s growing transportation needs, and another 30-day special session will not change that. Until members are free to consider real options - beyond simply shuffling taxes from one purpose to another - we will not find a responsible solution to this issue.

“One of the hallmarks of this year’s regular legislative session was the way legislators came together to develop long-term, responsible policies to meet Texas’ growing needs. Developing a similar long-term, responsible plan to truly address Texas’ growing transportation needs is going to take much more time and an approach that focuses on the best solution for the people of Texas.”

Perry calls House transportation vote ‘disappointing’

Gov. Rick Perry had promised to call lawmakers back for a third special session if they failed to pass transportation funding. It appears now, he might follow through with that threat.

The House Monday voted down the proposed constitutional amendment.  It is not clear if the bill’s supporters will be able to get the 16 votes necessary to reconsider the proposed constitutional amendment.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seems to have the support and is waiting for members to return to town before taking it up. Dewhurst announced Monday that the Senate would take up the measure Tuesday.

Gov. Perry issued this statement:

“It is disappointing that some members of the House today needlessly delayed our state’s ability to deal with the added strain our increasing population and surging economy are placing on our roads and highways. Should the Legislature adjourn without addressing our growing transportation needs, they’ll be abdicating one of the most essential roles of state government, potentially sapping our economic momentum.

This was an opportunity to utilize hundreds of millions of dollars in existing revenue to move forward on numerous projects across our state and begin dealing with the effects of our economic growth, and just as importantly, provide much-needed relief to working Texans everywhere who spend hours in traffic every day. Legislators have been in Austin for nearly seven months now, and to go home without dealing with one of the most pressing issues facing all Texans is simply unacceptable. I join Texans across the state who appreciate the 84 members of the House who voted today to keep Texas moving.”