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.”

House defeats transportation bill

The Texas House of Representatives Monday failed to approve a proposed constitutional amendment to funnel more money into transportation. House Joint Resolution 2 was defeated 84 – 40, falling far short of the 100 votes needed to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

The Senate and House had been at odds over how best to come up with that money, without raising taxes or fees. The final compromise would would funnel about $848 million into future road projects by diverting money that currently goes into the Rainy Day Fund into transportation. A major point of contention has been the idea of a trigger point, or minimum balance, for the state’s savings account.

While they failed to pass the main bill, lawmakers did approve a key provision to the final deal. HB 16 gives the Legislative Budget Board the power to set the minimum balance every two years, as opposed to adding a hard and fast dollar amount to the state’s constitution. The Senate also approved that provision. They seem to be at least one vote short, however, of signing off on the final deal.

 

 

Senate passes key part of transportation funding plan

After some tense exchanges over a minimum balance, and with barely enough members to form a quorum, the Senate managed to approve part of a plan to direct more money to the state’s transportation needs.

House Bill 16 would allow the Legislative Budget Board to set a minimum balance for the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and it would authorize a joint panel to look into how transportation money is being spent. The bill passed by a vote of 19-4.

Sen. Dan Patrick was one of two lawmakers who spoke against the bill.

“I do not want to see our state in the future not have a reserve fund for economic issues, which it was designed for,” Patrick said.

The Senate had approved a previous version of the bill that included a minimum balance, or floor, in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which would cut off the redirection of money to the State Highway Fund if the balance fell below $6 billion. That amendment, by Sen. Patrick, was eventually scrapped, a move Sen. Patrick referred to as “caving.”

Sen. Robert Nichols defended the change, saying it was a conservative bill with built-in protections.

“There seems to be a misinterpretation that when we vote on this, that we’re giving power to the LBB to spend out of the Rainy Day Fund,” Nichols said. “If you continue to put money in there, and you don’t take money out, that’s your protection.”

Meanwhile, Senators still have to approve the main part of the plan. House Joint Resolution 2 is the mechanism that would split half of the money bound for the Rainy Day Fund into the State Highway Fund. If passed, it would go before voters in November 2014.

Hearings set to consider Wallace Hall Jr. impeachment

Impeachment hearings for University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall Jr. will begin at the State Capitol. The House Transparency Committee today voted to move forward with proceedings to determine if Hall abused his authority.

The resolution, filed by Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, alleges Regent Hall broke state law by not revealing potential business conflicts when applying for the UT Board position. The same measure also says the regent is abusing his authority by making unnecessary open records requests, targeting UT President Bill Powers. 

The hearings could begin as early as late August or early September. A witness list will include the UT Chancellor, Hall and President Bill Powers among others. A special prosecutor will be appointed by the committee as well as an investigator. There have only been two successful impeachments in Texas history.

 

Lawmakers make transportation breakthrough

A standoff over transportation funding appears to be over. Friday, lawmakers reached a deal that will funnel about $845 million dollars into future road projects. The Senate and House had been at odds over how best to come up with that money, without raising taxes or fees.

The final deal is similar to the plan already passed by the Texas Senate. It would divert half the oil and gas production revenue that currently goes into the Rainy Day Fund into transportation.

The major sticking point during negotiations had been over whether the Rainy Day Fund should have a minimum balance, meaning the funding for roads would dry up if the fund dropped below a certain level. In the deal worked out today, the Legislative Budget Board would manage that detail.

Of course, the entire deal is dependent on the voters. They would have to approve a constitutional amendment to make the changes. As part of the deal, lawmakers agreed to push that vote until November, 2014. Voters will already be casting ballots on another constitutional amendment this year to fund water.

The House and Senate are set to reconvene on Monday to approve the deal.

Capital Tonight: House, Senate inch toward transportation deal

Apart from a few procedural steps, lawmakers didn’t made much progress toward a deal on transportation funding Thursday. That leaves just five days until the end of yet another special session, with the threat of round three hanging over lawmakers’ heads.

We checked in with some of the newly appointed negotiators on the House side to see what kind of compromise is in the works.

WENDY GOES TO WASHINGTON

Senator Wendy Davis hosted two Washington fundraisers Thursday, just weeks after her filibuster against Texas abortion restrictions gained her national fame. And as our Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett reports, that attention reaches to the top of DC’s political ranks.

RED VS. BLUE

Plus, we sat down with Will Hailer, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, and Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, to to get their reaction to what’s going on both in D.C. and in Austin.

Abbott accuses federal government of using Voting Rights Act for political gain

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is lashing out against the federal government’s attempts to force Texas to obtain approval before it can change its voting laws. Earlier today, Attorney General Holder said the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal court to require Texas to ask for permission before changing its election laws. The move follows a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that suspended the use of a pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Two pieces of Texas legislation — Voter ID and redistricting — hinge on the decisions made regarding the Voting Rights Act. Both laws were challenged in court and the federal government denied pre-clearance based on their findings that the legislation intentionally discriminated against minorities.

Abbott has been leading the charge against the part of the Voting Rights Act that requires Texas to go through this process. According to Abbott, the Supreme Court’s ruling makes those lower court ruling null and void. 

“The Supreme Court vacated those decisions. So those decisions no longer exist as a matter of law and cannot be used for any legal purposes,” Abbott said.

During a teleconference, Abbott said it was not necessary to put Texas back under federal oversight. He accused the Obama administration of using the legal system to help Democrats’ cause at the ballot box.

“I believe the Obama administration is joining with the Democrat party in the state of Texas in a lawsuit aimed at the 2014 elections rather than trying to protect the rights of minorities. I think this is an abuse of the Voting Rights Act for partisan, political purpose,” Abbott said.

It will be up to a federal district court in San Antonio to decide if it will grant the Department of Justice’s request. Abbott says if that happens, he’ll appeal to the Supreme Court.

Mixed reaction to Holder’s comments on Texas voting laws

Texas political leaders are commenting on remarks made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder regarding Texas voting laws.

Holder told members of the National Urban League on Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal court to require Texas to ask for permission before changing its election laws. The move follows a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that essentialy eliminated the use of a pre-clerance provision of the Voting Rights Act for states with a history of discrimination.

“Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Republican Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement released in response. “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”

Democratic State Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston had a different take on Holder’s announcement.

“I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to join the lawsuit that would require Texas to submit all voting law changes for preclearance for the next decade,” Ellis said in his own statement released to the media.  “Anyone who thinks Texas doesn’t need continued oversight simply hasn’t been paying attention.”

Ellis added that, in his view, Texas has clearly shown a repeated and documented history of discrimination against minority voters, pointing to last year when he said Texas was singled out as the only state to pass redistricting maps which were deliberately discriminatory.

“This is hopefully just the first step,” Ellis said.  “Congress needs to take action [to] revamp the Voting Rights Act to create a formula which takes into account current and historical discrimination and bias while meeting the requirements the Supreme Court has set out.  Otherwise, the voting rights of millions of Americans are in peril.”

Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was also quick to respond to Holder’s comments.

“By first going around the voters and now the Supreme Court, Attorney General Holder and President Obama’s intentions are readily transparent,” Cornyn said in a released statement. ” This decision has nothing to do with protecting voting rights and everything to do with advancing a partisan political agenda. Texans should not — and will not — stand for the continued bullying of our state by the Obama Administration.”

Perry will call a third special session if transportation stalls

Lawmakers could be in for a long summer at the State Capitol if they do not successfully pass transportation funding. A spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that Gov. Rick Perry is willing to call lawmakers for a third special session if they do not find a way to funnel more money into road projects.

The House and Senate had successfully passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would divert about $800 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help pay for roads during the last special session. That bill died on the Senate floor after Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster pushed the final vote past midnight.

It was a rockier road the second time around. The Senate easily passed the original bill. The House, however, opted to make changes and the two chambers have thus far failed to come to an agreement.

There is still time for the legislation to pass. The House and Senate with both convene tomorrow. It is possible they will approve a compromise before the Tuesday deadline.

 

Former President Bush goes bald for a good cause

Former President George H.W. Bush is making a bold statement to show support for the son of one of his Secret Service agents. Bush and other members of his security staff shaved their heads this week in solidarity with two-year-old Patrick, who is being treated for leukemia.

The disease hits home with the Bush family. President and Mrs. Bush lost their second child, Robin, to leukemia when she was four-years-old. 

The members of the Bush Protective Division also launched a website to raise money for Patrick’s treatment. When he learned about “Patrick’s Pals,” the president also made a donation.