Aug 29th - 5:01 pm
A federal judge in Austin has struck another blow to the state’s new abortion laws. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled Friday that the portion of the law requiring medical and structural upgrades is unconstitutional. That provision of House Bill 2, which passed last legislative session, was set to take effect on Monday.
The costly upgrades would have forced more than a dozen abortion clinics out of business, leaving seven operating abortion clinics in the state.
This latest lawsuit was filed by Whole Women’s Health, which was already forced to close its Austin facility because its lease was running out and they couldn’t afford to wait for a ruling. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the law would put an undue burden on women who would be forced to travel hundreds of miles for care.
Supporters of the law say the regulations were meant to improve safety.
Two other provisions of the state’s stricter abortion regulations were challenged earlier this year. Back in March, a federal appeals court upheld new rules requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. They also upheld stricter limits on the way doctors prescribe abortion inducing drugs. That case could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Aug 29th - 3:44 pm
Gov. Rick Perry spent nearly $133,000 in state money on his legal defense – more than the $80,000 previously reported. The governor’s office confirmed to Capital Tonight on Friday that Gov. Perry enlisted three law firms to provide counsel during the grand jury proceedings. Gov. Perry paid $98,000 to Botsford & Roark, $15,000 to Baker Botts and $19,890 to attorney Jack Bacon.
Those fees were paid through appropriations designated for legal fees through the Texas Comptroller’s office. Perry was not required to request access to the funds, nor explain for what purpose they would be used.
“The firms worked with Governor’s Office attorneys to protect the governor’s interest during the grand jury process, including legal research, witness interviews, and dealing with the Court and the prosecutor on a broad range of issues,” said a Perry spokesperson.
Attorneys with two of those firms, David Botsford and Thomas Phillips, remain on Perry’s legal team. Jack Bacon, meanwhile, works for Keel Nassour LLP.
Gov. Perry is facing two felony charges stemming from his 2013 threat to cut funding to the Public Integrity Unit if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not resign following her drunken driving conviction. When Lehmberg refused, the governor followed through and pulled the funding. Perry’s attorneys have maintained that the governor was within his rights to veto the money and to issue a warning about a possible veto. Monday, they filed a writ of habeus corpus to have the indictment thrown out on the grounds that the charges are unconstitutional.
Perry is currently employing six attorneys, including Botsford and Phillips, as well as consultant Steve Schmidt. Moving forward, their fees are being paid for with campaign funds. The governor’s office has not said if Perry plans to repay the $133,000 already spent.
Aug 29th - 2:48 pm
Now that Attorney General Greg Abbott has pulled out of the televised gubernatorial debate with State Sen. Wendy Davis scheduled for Sept. 30 in Dallas, does that leave all of us without a statewide televised debate? That depends on your definition of statewide.
According to WFAA-TV, theirs would have been the only debate available in every television market in the state. That would have included all Gannett-owned stations in Texas in the following markets: Abilene, Austin, Beaumont/Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Tyler/Longview, San Angelo, San Antonio, Waco, and Bryan/College Station. Any station located in a non-Gannett market would have also been allowed to broadcast the debate.
According to Carlos Sanchez, editor of the McAllen Monitor, the debate his newspaper is co-sponsoring will air on all Sinclair-owned television stations across the state, including: Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont/Port Arthur, El Paso, Harlingen/Weslaco/Brownsville/McAllen, and San Antonio. While it is not be available to English-language stations in other Texas markets, it will be available live on the Internet, and will be simulcast in Spanish on all Telemundo stations in Texas. That debate is scheduled for Sept. 19.
As for formats, WFAA indicated theirs would have been a “round-table” format without strict time guidelines. Sanchez said the Rio Grande Valley debate will have a more traditional format, with timed responses. Each candidate will get one minute to respond to a question, and 45 seconds to offer a rebuttal. There will be no opening statements. Each candidate will receive two minutes for a closing statement.
Aug 29th - 12:17 pm
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has backed out of the only scheduled statewide televised debate before the November election. The debate, which was to be hosted by WFAA-TV, was set to be held in Dallas on Sept. 30. Station officials say Abbott’s campaign cited concerns over the format as the reason for the reversal.
In a statement on their website, WFAA-TV General Manager Mike Devlin said,
“We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate. WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.”
Abbott’s Democratic challenger Sen. Wendy Davis had initially proposed six debates across the state. Abbott only agreed to a debate in McAllen later this month, and the now-cancelled WFAA debate.
Davis campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas issued this statement, Friday:
“It’s no surprise that Greg Abbott is pulling out of a long planned debate the day after he was defeated in court for protecting billions in public education cuts that have led to overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and shuttered schools. Greg Abbott is clearly too afraid to defend his record of siding with insiders at the expense of Texans – whether it’s defending funding cuts for classrooms, siding with a corporation against a victim of rape or letting his donors take tens of millions of taxpayer dollars intended for cancer research. This is nothing short of an insult to the voters of Texas.”
Aug 28th - 4:26 pm
Any possible changes the Texas Legislature makes to the school finance system will happen under the watch of the next governor.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is the current attorney general. His office represents the state in school finance litigation. Officially, his office said he would defend this law in court, just as he would any other law passed by the Legislature.
Later Thursday, his campaign released this statement:
“Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely. My plan will make Texas top-ranked in the nation for education by returning genuine local control to school districts, ensuring all children are reading and doing math at grade level by third grade, and graduating more students from high school than ever before.”
Sen. Wendy Davis is also weighing in on today’s ruling. She has long criticized the Legislature’s decision to slash $5.4 billion in school spending in 2011. In a statement Thursday, she said:
“Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans. The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven’t been working for our schools; they’ve been actively working against them. Abbott has been in court for years, defending overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and public-school closings, and today, Judge John Dietz ruled against him. This ruling underscores the crucial need to invest in education and reminds us of just how much our schools, teachers and students have had to sacrifice over the past three years just to get by.”
Aug 28th - 2:35 pm
State District Judge John Dietz has once again ruled that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional. The decision comes six months after the second phase of the trial wrapped up in Austin.
The case stems from 2011, when the Texas legislature cut more than $5 billion in education funding. More than 600 school districts sued, arguing the budget cuts left them without the resources to meet academic standards. They also said the gap between property rich schools and poor property districts was too great.
In a verbal ruling last year, Judge Dietz agreed. He reopened the case, however, after lawmakers restored about $3.5 billion and cut testing requirements during the 2013 session. Today, Dietz reaffirmed that the “Robin Hood” system of property tax sharing doesn’t allocate money fairly among school districts.
The state is expected to appeal this ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. If it’s upheld, the Legislature will have to come up with a new funding formula.
Aug 26th - 8:13 pm
In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we learned more about former John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt’s role. Plus, we heard from two lieutenant governor candidates at a committee hearing on education.
While Politico reports Schmidt is officially named as part of the governor’s legal team, his role in McCain’s presidential run and his national profile indicate his hiring is more about the campaign trail than the courtroom. Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi weighed in on what his hiring indicates.
And the Texas oil and gas boom continues, with both positive and negative consequences coming down the pipeline. Republican state Rep. Jim Keffer joined us with an update on both.
Aug 26th - 11:59 am
Gov. Rick Perry has now added a seventh person to the team tasked with handling his indictment. Politico is reporting that Perry hired former John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt. Schmidt is a big-dollar campaign strategist and was an instrumental member of McCain’s team during his presidential run. (You may recall he was played by Woody Harrelson in the HBO movie “Game Change.”)
Perry has already hired six high-powered attorneys to aid his defense. Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee is leading the team. He is joined by Austin attorney David Botsford, who represented Perry during the grand jury proceedings, and Ben Ginsburg, who is famous for his work with the Florida recount during the 2000 presidential elections.
Yesterday, Perry’s lawyers filed a motion to have the felony charges dismissed. The 60-page brief argues the charges are unconstitutional. Special prosecutor Michael McCrum, however, remains confident that Perry will go to trail.
Gov. Perry is charged with abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. The charges stem from the 2013 legislative session, when Perry warned he would cut funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not step down following a drunk driving conviction. Perry pointed to an embarrassing post-arrest video as grounds for his request. He followed through and slashed the $7.5 million when she refused to resign.
Perry’s attorneys claim his veto explanation falls under his first amendment right to free speech, as well as separation of powers in government. Attorneys also claim the statute being used to prosecute the governor for abuse of power is flawed.
Aug 25th - 8:46 pm
While Gov. Perry travels to New Hampshire, the race to succeed him continues. We heard why the Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott campaigns have been mostly silent on the Perry indictment and what they’re focusing on instead.
ON THE AGENDA
The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joined us to weigh in on the day’s political news. Plus, we heard new testimony from the seismologist hired by the state’s oil and gas regulators.
Aug 25th - 1:54 pm
As promised, Gov. Rick Perry’s attorneys are asking a judge to dismiss the criminal charges against him.
They filed the motion in district court Monday morning. At a pre-trial hearing Friday, Perry’s attorney, David Botsford said the motion would attack the constitutionality of the prosecution. He says the law being used to prosecute Perry is too vague and that it violates the state’s constitution.
Gov. Perry is charged with two felony counts: abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. The charges stem from his threat to cut funding for the Public Integrity Unit, headed by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. When Lehmberg refused to resign after her drunken driving conviction, the governor followed through on that threat and vetoed the funding.