August 20, 2014      5:03 PM

Davis rolls out plan to end statute of limitations for rape prosecutions

Annie’s List and Battleground Texas Blue Star Project House candidates across the state join in the call

As virtually all of the oxygen in Texas politics continues to be consumed by Governor Perry – first his border theatrics followed by his indictment last Friday on charges he abused his office – the race to succeed him in the Governor’s Mansion is still simmering just below the surface.

Sen. Wendy Davis on Wednesday rolled out an initiative to end the statute of limitations on sexual assault in Texas. This of course builds on the theme of the Democrat from Ft. Worth’s campaign that she is an advocate for rape victims both through her legislative work on rape kits as well as her opening attack ad on Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

"While the bills I authored are helping to address the backlog of rape kits, the fact that we would throw survivors' trauma and courage on a shelf for months or years without a second thought is offensive to them and to everything we say we stand for," Davis said. "But then to turn around and make survivors pay the price for our failure and neglect by denying them justice is almost criminal in itself."

August 20, 2014      5:02 PM

Press Releases: Charter school decisions, endorsements and more reactions to the indictment of Gov. Perry

August 20, 2014      4:31 PM

With no federal budget in sight, more Congressional showdowns loom

“Everything is going to be driven by deadlines”

MINNEAPOLIS - The federal budget picture as Congress is in its August recess has many of the same characteristics of last year’s picture minus one significant point: Too little progress between the two chambers to guarantee a final document by the end of the fiscal year but almost no chance of another last-minute government shutdown.

Analysts before the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Budget & Finance Committee agreed Wednesday morning it would be deadlines and not principles that will drive future budget negotiations. Jeff Hurley of NCSL and Trinity Tomsic of the NCSL-spinoff Federal Funds Information for the States both expect a continuing resolution to be done in quick order when lawmakers return to Washington.

“We’ve really had no change with the new Congress. We’re halfway into the budget year, and we’ve yet to pass a budget,” Tomsic said. “We do expect them to do a continuing resolution when they get back from the August recess. We do know they are going to fund programs but the question will be the timing, duration and provisions of the continuing resolution.”

Tomsic and Hurley split duties on appropriations and taxation options. Tomsic predicted funding levels driving the discretionary budget would be essentially the same as last year, with some minor program-by-program tweaks. The Budget Control Act still prevails over the budget, which means a mandatory 7.3 percent to non-defense programs and 9.5 percent cut to defense.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 20, 2014      10:20 AM

Simpson: Proud of vote to keep PIU in Travis County DA's office instead of moving it to the AG's office

“It perplexes me that the same people who are decrying the actions of the Ethics Commission are also questioning the votes of members who opposed granting the Commission an unconstitutional task.”

Since Governor Perry’s indictment by a Travis County grand jury, I have received inquiries as to why I voted against an amendment that was intended to move the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) from the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to the Office of Attorney General. When I was first elected to the Legislature, I was advised to do the right thing and then explain it. Here is the explanation:

During the 83rd Legislature the District Attorney for Travis County was arrested for drunk driving and exhibited reprehensible behavior. In many cultures the public shame of such actions would result in an official’s voluntary resignation. There is however, no mechanism for the legislature to force the resignation of a locally elected official who has lost the public’s trust. That did not stop members of the legislature from trying.

Senate Bill 219, a bill which dealt with the Texas Ethics Commission and was vetoed by the Governor, presented the opportunity for a political statement through an amendment to “transfer the duties and responsibilities of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office to the office of the attorney general.”

The problem with the amendment was that the PIU is merely an organizational division within the office of the District Attorney. Travis County like the other 253 counties in the State, derive their authority to prosecute criminal violations from the Texas Constitution. The Attorney General has no such authority and the amendment would not have conferred it to him. Only a constitutional amendment can do so.

The rest of Rep. David Simpson’s column can be found in today’s R&D Department.  

By David Simpson

August 19, 2014      6:52 PM

Gov. Perry booked at the Travis County Jail

Grand jurors, meantime, tell the Houston Chronicle that the accusations of a partisan witch hunt will fall apart when the facts come out

With a crowd of about a hundred people looking on, Gov. Perry emerged from the Travis County Jail Tuesday afternoon with a smile on his face after his mug shot was taken and he was fingerprinted as part of the booking process on felony charges. Perry thanked the sheriff’s deputies who processed him for their professionalism and said this case revolves largely around protecting his First Amendment rights.

“I’m here today because I believe in the rule of law,” Perry said. “I’m here today because I did the right thing.” This legal battle is an opportunity to protect the rights of future governors, be they Republicans or Democrats, to use the powers afforded them under the Texas Constitution, Perry said.  

While the vast majority of the crowd seemed to be in the governor’s corner, there were a few of his opponents on hand as well, including one man who shouted out “criminal!”

August 19, 2014      4:15 PM

Bearse: The Petty and the Partisan

Against backdrop of Perry indictments, some Republicans turn guns inward and others savor gamemanship

Let’s start with the most serious: the runaway grand jury and the prosecution of politics. The indictment of Governor Rick Perry late Friday has been the talk of the town, in fact the nation (note: the governor remains a client of mine). In the first 72 hours people of all political stripes have rallied to the governor’s side, decrying the criminalization of politics and an indictment based on what experts deem to be a weak case.

The prosecution has created a sort of alternative reality: that the veto itself was not the crime, but instead the alleged warning given ahead of time. So, no case could be made if the governor struck $7.5 million from the Public Integrity Unit out of the blue, but if he tried to give District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg the chance to step down in order to salvage the integrity of the unit, and therefore it’s funding, it is alleged to be a crime.

We don’t resolve our political differences by indictment, but by elections. One can disagree with the governor’s policy decision, but to deem his veto an abuse of power, and pursue charges against him for it, is ironically its own form of abuse of power.

The rest of Eric Bearse's column can be found in today's R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

August 19, 2014      3:55 PM

Sources: Judge Dietz aims to release school finance decision on August 29

Opinion will be available on Travis County District Court website

August 19, 2014      3:38 PM

Rep. Darby: Continued Transparency Improvements with Speaker's Strategic Fiscal Review

Applauding Straus' initiative, Darby drills down on some of the budgetary questions subject to review

When the 84th Legislature convenes in January 2015, budget writers will be faced with prioritizing border security, transportation, education and many other concerns.  What many legislators and maybe fewer Texans realize is that budget writers have discretion over less than 17% of all funds in that budget.  The rest is federally mandated, constitutionally dedicated or statutorily required spending that saddles every legislature with fewer choices on how your tax dollars are spent or returned in tax relief.

I support House Speaker Joe Straus' call for a Strategic Fiscal Review to utilize a new budget writing process to ask fundamental questions more closely resembling the state's well-established Sunset process: What does the Texas Constitution and state law require of this agency?  Does the mission of this agency align with its delivery model?  Are there alternative agencies better-suited for the work?  Does the funding for this agency align with its original intent and purpose?  And can the mission be satisfied with fewer dollars, employees or resources?

This special review will be incredibly complex and rely heavily on the Legislative Budget Board, legislators and their staff working closely with the identified agencies to answer these questions before the House adopts the next state budget.  The agencies the Speaker has identified in this initial review constitute $29.5 billion in budgeted funds, plus a review of approximately $31 billion in the Available University and Texas Emissions Reduction Plan funds.  The House needs to answer how these agencies will meet their core functions before moving forward with a budget. 

By Rep. Drew Darby

August 18, 2014      6:49 PM

Judge denies MQ Sullivan request for temporary injunction against Ethics Commission

Judge says it wasn’t a close call “at all” and he was “mystified” by Sullivan’s legal strategy, but the judge hinted he’s interested in the question of whether the commission should have voted in public on MQS lobby complaint

Following an afternoon of spirited arguments, a Travis County judge on Monday denied a request from attorneys for Midland oilman Tim Dunn’s spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan for a temporary injunction against the Texas Ethics Commission.

Sullivan’s attorneys argued that the commission’s ruling that he’s a professional lobbyist and has failed to register may not be valid because commissioners may have acted in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Attorneys for the commission answered that on Monday – and the judge agreed with them – by saying that Texas law exempts the TEC’s process for resolving sworn complaints from the Open Meetings Act. The commission’s attorney Eric Nichols said the agency’s “straightforward” position is “if it's exempt, it's exempt.”

Quorum Report readers who have followed this case may be aware that the natural next step after a commission ruling against him would seem to be for Sullivan’s attorneys to file what’s called a “de novo” appeal in state district court. That appeal would essentially restart the entire process of figuring out whether Sullivan should have been registered to lobby in 2010 and 2011, the timeframe covered by the sworn complaints. Judge Scott Jenkins went so far as to say he was “mystified” that Sullivan’s attorneys were not doing exactly that.

By Scott Braddock

August 18, 2014      5:04 PM

Press release section: LSP asks Abbott to justify paying Perry legal fees, more indictment reax plus TWIA notice

August 18, 2014      4:55 PM

Perry rolls out all star legal team led by frequent TLR target and Perry appointee to Texas A&M Board of Regents, Tony Buzbee

The team also includes Austin attorney David Botsford, DC heavyweights Ben Ginsberg and Bobby Birchfield and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips

In a presser this afternoon, the attorneys allege that there is no documentary proof Perry ever actually made a threat. According to Austin American Statesman reporting by Tony Plohetski,"In a stunning revelation, Perry’s attorneys hinted that the governor may have never directly threatened Lehmberg that he would veto the state expenditure — the crux of the prosecution’s case — but added that even if he had done so, he was still within his First Amendment rights."

August 18, 2014      11:09 AM

HK: Perry wins initial PR offensive but trials differ from court of public opinion

Boils down to Lehmberg video vs. financial quid pro quo for retaining or firing a public official

A successful press offensive does not necessarily translate into an effective criminal defense.  Would that were not true, Governor Rick Perry’s indictments would be dismissed in a summary judgment.

The Governor’s defense so far is that he has an undeniable and constitutional right to veto and that the prosecution is a partisan witch hunt.

Good PR, but not particularly accurate or relevant.

By Harvey Kronberg

August 18, 2014      10:34 AM

No perp walk for Perry confirms Travis county clerk

August 16, 2014      4:11 PM

In presser, Perry deflects from issues of coercion to constitutional right to veto

Democrats point out special prosecutor is a Republican

Gov. Rick Perry vigorously defended himself against indictments from a Travis County Grand Jury this afternoon, calling charges of coercion and an abuse of official a “farce of a prosecution” and an “abuse of power.”

In an afternoon news conference at the Capitol, Perry defended his right to veto the $7.5 million in state funding to the Travis County Public Integrity Unit last summer after the arrest of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg on driving while intoxicated charges. Travis County government eventually picked up the tab for at least a portion of the work once funded by the state.

Since the indictments were announced, Perry’s team has been on the offense. Video of Lehmberg’s behavior in the Travis County Jail last year, from demanding jailers call “her friend Greg” (Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton) to kicking the door cell to being restrained by jailers has re-emerged with a vengeance in social media circles in the last 24 hours.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 16, 2014      2:23 PM

In presser, defiant Rick Perry calls indictments a farce, says Lehmberg unfit to administer public funds

Simultaneously, Bobby Jindal issues press release supporting Perry and includes video footage of Lehmberg's behavior at arrest (video below)

August 15, 2014      7:42 PM

HK: Six quick down and dirty post-indictment observations

The firmament has just shifted but it is premature to draw any conclusions; is Ken Paxton next?

First, we should all remember that while Tom DeLay may ultimately prevail in his appeals, a Travis County grand jury ended his political career.  What may be the fundamental difference in the Rick Perry matter is that there was no video in the DeLay trial comparable to that of the arrest of Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg and her reprehensible behavior.  Perry has a gift with which to build his narrative and may not be damaged among Republican primary voters.

However, the second inescapable conclusion is that Rick Perry’s presidential bid fund-raising just came to a halt.  All the para-military photo optics on the border have just been neutered.  Rick Perry’s fundraising ambitions have just shifted from a campaign war-chest to building a legal defense fund.

By Harvey Kronberg

August 15, 2014      5:44 PM

Breaking: Gov. Perry is indicted

Grand Jury handed up a two count indictment late Friday; the governor is accused of abusing his power when trying to force Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg from office

You can read the full indictment by clicking here.

August 15, 2014      5:00 PM

Opponents drop effort to put Houston Equal rights ordinance repeal on November ballot

Full court challenge scheduled for January

The battle over the challenge to Houston’s Equal Rights ordinance encountered a slight pivot today when Steve Hotze and Jared Woodfill withdrew their effort to force the issue on to the November ballot.  Instead, the full issue will be tried in January. 2015.

The Houston Chronicle reports the issue here.

The issue is polarized and had observers speculating whether or not its placement on the ballot in November would drive turnout more for Democrats or Republicans.  In the past, issues surrounding the gay community would drive Republican turnout.   However as current polling continuously suggests, the issue may not be so reliable for the GOP and could potentially galvanize votes for Democrats in an already highly charged election.

By Harvey Kronberg

August 15, 2014      4:59 PM

Press Releases: Jobs numbers, committee work, endorsements, and the Texas promise

August 15, 2014      2:24 PM

Stanford: Perry not getting second chance at first impression

From the left -- no fresh look from national press as Perry tries to re-brand himself

Al Gore never claimed he invented the Internet. Sarah Palin never said she could see Russia from her house. And when Dan Quayle visited Latin America, he never wished he had studied “Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people"—but they might as well have.

 Once the national media decides on a narrative, it is nearly impossible for a politician to get a rewrite. That’s what’s happening to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is begging for another crack at the role of a lifetime. Unfortunately, the press has decided that he’s just not what they’re looking for because he blew his last audition so badly. Perry would not concede this point on a return trip to the Iowa State Fair.

“I'm not saying it was necessarily bad. Life is about having experiences you can grow from. I had one in 2011 and 2012,” he said. “Being prepared physically, mentally, and intellectually is very, very important if you’re going to be running for the President of the United States.”

The rest of Jason Stanford's column can be found in today's R&D Department.

By Jason Stanford

August 14, 2014      5:10 PM

National Guard theatrics jeopardize billions in potential growth along the Texas border

The crime rate in McAllen is about the same as Round Rock or Plano, which of course is set to be the new home of Toyota’s North American headquarters; huge trade in the Laredo sector at risk

While Gov. Perry continues his national cable TV tour talking about the influx of migrant children along the border and his decision to deploy as many as 1,000 Texas National Guard Troops to the region, business and political leaders there are increasingly concerned that their hot economy will be chilled by his executive actions.

Perry, appearing on Fox News Channel Wednesday, said the surge in border security is already having great effect in reducing the number of apprehensions of those illegally crossing the border. He added that leaders in Washington are “wasting their time” if they pursue comprehensive immigration reform without first creating a comfort level among Americans that the border is secure. There has been a 56 percent decrease in apprehensions along the border in the five weeks since Operation Strong Safety began, Perry said.

But that progress – if it can be called “progress” given the fact illegal crossings often see a dip during the hot summer months – cannot be credited to the deployment of the National Guard. The Senate Finance Committee this week heard testimony from the commander of those forces that the vast majority of them, about 700, are stationed for training now at Camp Swift near Bastrop, nearly 350 miles from the Rio Grande.

And, as Marty Schladen at the El Paso Times has reported, the statistics Gov. Perry and DPS Director Steve McCraw often cite to make their case for the border surge are problematic and rely on “fuzzy math.”  

The optics of this have gotten so treacherous for those charged with expanding the economy in South Texas that many feel they have no choice but to speak out.

By Scott Braddock

August 14, 2014      5:09 PM

Press Releases: Lite Guv debate is set, dueling endorsements in West Texas Senate race, & some new tech at UT

August 14, 2014      5:08 PM

In new filing, plaintiffs in abortion law challenge accuse AG of hiding correspondence with pro-life activist

“…the State Defendants did produce evidences that there are numerous emails sent by the Testifying Experts to Dr. Rue that were not independently produced.”

Attorneys for plaintiffs in the abortion law challenge filed a notice in US District Judge Lee Yeakel’s court Thursday afternoon, reiterating concern Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell and his team had failed to produce a full record of emails between pro-life activist Vincent Rue and expert witnesses.

Attorneys presented closing arguments to the House Bill 2 challenge on Wednesday. At the time, Yeakel admitted he was disturbed by the fact that Mitchell had appeared to hide the extent of Rue’s involvement in the case, which challenges the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical centers required under the new law.

In the brief, Attorney Stephanie Toti, representing Whole Woman’s Health, outlined the state’s failure to disclose the full record of Rue’s email interactions with various testifying experts. The sequence of events, according to the notice to the court, including multiple rounds of emails produced, initially from Rue and then additional emails to Rue from some, but not all, testifying experts.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 14, 2014      2:14 PM

Propping up Prop 1: Advocates rush to assure voters in November

Transportation advocates fear backlash from recent commission decisions

A select House committee has rushed a list of project selection principles to the Texas Transportation Commission for review in an effort to shore up support for a proposition to reroute billions out of oil and gas taxes into the State Highway Fund.

If voters approve Proposition 1 in November, half the oil and gas production taxes that go into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund would be diverted to the State Highway Fund. In the state’s current energy frenzy, that means an estimated $1.7 billion for construction and maintenance of public roads in the first year.  

And, yes, none of it will be used for toll roads, which advocates underlined in a current ballot campaign known as Move Texas Forward.

That diversion, after three special sessions, was the closest the legislature could come to a predictable funding stream for transportation, which could easily use an additional $4 billion per year to maintain current congestion on Texas roads. Failure at the polls could be a major setback.

But admitting the Texas Department of Transportation might face a confidence issue at the polls in November was something House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, had to drag out of other lawmakers last week after Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, cobbled together a last-minute work force of transportation leaders to take a look at what one transportation official politely but obliquely referred to as a “refinement on messaging.”

By Kimberly Reeves

August 13, 2014      5:15 PM

In closing abortion arguments, Yeakel worries about undue travel burdens for legal procedure

Judge unhappy state did not divulge witness coaching; some experts admitted signing off on studies they had not reviewed

Comments from the bench this morning would indicate a federal judge still has strong reservations about the burdens imposed by the state’s new abortion law.

Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, in final arguments of Whole Woman’s Health’s challenge to House Bill 2, said plaintiffs in the case had failed to carry their burden of proof that provisions of last session’s abortion bill provided undue burdens or substantial obstacles to either clinic or patient.

In fact, Whole Woman’s Health failed to prove the bill, which has closed almost half the abortion clinics in the state in the last year, had stopped a single woman from getting an abortion procedure, Mitchell argued. Nor had plaintiffs proven the remaining clinics were incapable of handling increased demand, if it existed.

“They’re had a lot of witnesses and a lot of testimony, but they’ve been unable to present proof that no patient was unable to get an abortion,” Mitchell argued before US District Judge Lee Yeakel. “The McAllen clinic closed on Nov. 1. That’s nine months. In that time they haven’t located even one patient to testify.”

By Kimberly Reeves

August 13, 2014      5:14 PM

Press release section: Castro slams Perry border theatrics, Courts strike down PAC creation waiting period and more

August 13, 2014      5:09 PM

New Rick Perry ad challenges Obama to secure the border

RickPAC ad calls for border security, yet most Texas Guard troops remain in Bastrop