February 24, 2017      4:55 PM

Lawyers and industry face off in tort reform fight of the session

The trials argue this is not even a “hailstorm” bill but instead a full rewrite of the insurance code; TLR says that is not true – Kimberly Reeves breaks down the arguments

Texans for Lawsuit Reform says lawyer-driven lawsuit abuse by the “hail cartel” is the reason to take another high-profile run at tort reform of hailstorm claims this session.

If only it was that simple.

Senate Bill 10, filed by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, is shaping up into one of those classic standoffs between tort reformers and trial lawyers. Both groups carry heavy influence among lawmakers during this, and any other, session.

But unlike last session, TLR takes clear ownership as a key stakeholder in SB 10. Sen. Larry Taylor’s bill last session, Senate Bill 1628, amended two chapters of the insurance code. This session’s SB 10 takes direct aim at the deceptive trade practices act in the Business & Commerce code. As Ware Wendell of Texas Watch points out, both approaches accomplish the same goals.

By Kimberly Reeves

February 24, 2017      4:53 PM

Press Releases: Visiting law enforcement, military and job creators, GME request, public school water quality, and more

Click the Press Releases button above for all the latest

February 24, 2017      4:07 PM

Researcher calls code of educator ethics the missing piece in inappropriate teacher-student relationships

In the case of teachers, a code of ethics would guide pre-service training, be incorporated into professional development and provide a launching pad for colleagues to share important decision points

New bills to address inappropriate teacher-student relationships have everything in them, except the one thing experts consider important to prevent so-called “pass the trash” in the first place: a code of ethics.

“Passing the trash” is the crude term for moving a potentially problematic teacher from one campus to another or one district to another.

The Senate Education Committee rolled out two bills to combat inappropriate relationships: Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s, R-Houston, Senate Bill 7 and Sen. Van Taylor’s, R-Plano, much more extensive Senate Bill 653. Bettencourt said his goal was to stamp out a problem that has appeared to have skyrocketed in recent years.

By Kimberly Reeves

February 24, 2017      3:55 PM

ICYMI: Montgomery County did not endorse Patrick property tax plan, Houston Chronicle reports

"The action by Montgomery County is one of the biggest breakthroughs in bringing property tax reform to all Texans," said Patrick this week, though the county didn’t endorse any specific legislation

From the Chronicle’s Mike Snyder:

“Montgomery County commissioners, however, had not actually endorsed SB2. Nor had they urged passage of HB538, HB44, or House Joint Resolution 41, other measures targeting various aspects of the property tax system.

These measures were cited in the ‘whereas’ clauses of the resolution, which commissioners adopted unanimously Feb. 14. But the crucial ‘be it resolved’ section states simply that Commissioners Court ‘calls upon the Texas Legislature to provide significant and meaningful relief to Texas individuals, families and businesses.’”

Here is the full story.

February 24, 2017      3:44 PM

Smith: "Jim Crow, June Crow, Jose Crow Laws"

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the anti-gay marriage movement is just one way today’s Republican leadership is trying to divide America by law

The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, apparently alarmed at political threats from the far right, will rehear a case that would make second-class citizens of public employees in same-sex marriages.

The Court rejected the Houston case last September by an 8-1 vote. Then came a flood of emails from members of sects once part of a religion of love. The emails more or less threatened to unseat the judges unless they voted to diminish the lives of the targets of their hatred.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, engaged in an undeclared war over who can best pander to the extremists, filed briefs urging the court to reverse itself and take up the case. Attorney General Ken Paxton did, too. He wasn’t about to miss the party.

The full column by Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

February 23, 2017      4:28 PM

SB: On bathrooms, Patrick speaks for Abbott because Abbott lets him

Filling a void left by Abbott’s silence, Patrick said "of your state leaders, only the speaker has not said he's in favor”; Patrick takes the liberty of presuming Abbott’s silence equals support

There was much chuckling and chatter at the Texas Capitol following the release of Texas Monthly’s cover story featuring Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick holding the gavel standing over the words “In Charge.”

One recurring reaction went something like this: “Maybe the magazine should have done a vote count on Patrick’s priority bills before making that assertion.”

So far, it does not seem Patrick has sufficient support in the Texas Senate to bring school vouchers or the “bathroom bill” to the floor. Of course, there’s plenty of time in the session for Patrick to work the senators and get enough of them on board for either or both of those key pieces of legislation.

But the question of whether Patrick can round up the votes for those bills isn’t what determines his dominance at the Capitol. No, instead it’s the fact that Abbott leaves a void Patrick is more than happy to fill.

By Scott Braddock

February 23, 2017      4:27 PM

Appeals court reinstates state immigration banning the harboring of undocumented people

MALDEF says it is a positive result “because the fifth circuit narrowed the statute when neither the legislature nor the Attorney General would do so"

The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated a 2015 law Thursday that makes it a crime to harbor people in the U.S. illegally, undoing a preliminary injunction from April of last year.

The court dismissed a lawsuit against the state challenging a harboring provision of last session’s House Bill 11. The law says a person is a criminal if he or she “encourages or induces a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

The plaintiffs in the case were several landlords and shelter workers who argued that they could face criminal charges for harboring under the provision.

By Eleanor Dearman

February 23, 2017      3:49 PM

Pauken: A new sheriff in town

From the Right: Former RPT Chairman Tom Pauken says “what worries Liberals is that they no longer will have control of the Department of Justice where they can use the threat of legal action to force their social agenda on America.”

Liberals are going crazy. There is a new Attorney general at Department of Justice and his name is Jeff Sessions.

Heather Digby Parton over at Salon says that Jeff Sessions is “an angry man” and a “hanging judge” who “has not mellowed with age.”

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis Taylor, Jr. makes an equally “reasoned” point in a recent column: “Since the country elected a clueless president it’s the people in his Cabinet, like Jeff Sessions who will be wreaking havoc as they storm the halls of justice.”

The full column by Tom Pauken, former Republican Party of Texas Chairman, is in the R&D Department.

By Tom Pauken

February 23, 2017      9:27 AM

Patrick appoints Chris Flood to the Texas Ethics Commission

"Chris Flood is an attorney and partner at the Flood and Flood law firm in Houston. A former Harris County Assistant District Attorney, Flood's legal practice currently focuses on white collar criminal defense cases."

The full announcement from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor can be downloaded here.

February 22, 2017      6:23 PM

Texas House rolls out its version of controversial A-F accountability system

A simpler version than has been discussed so far, three domains with no combined letter grade; no weighting of academic domains more than others; and no reward for better-than-required performance on the STAAR test

Former school board member Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, has filed what is likely to be the starting point for the discussion of the A-F accountability system in the House.

A handful of details about what shape the House alternative would take emerged after Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s recent meetings with superintendent groups: including a simplification of complicated formulas; and adjusting the importance of school climate.

After meetings with stakeholder groups, King has filed House Bill 2132, which his office emphasizes is the starting point of the discussion for accountability. The idea was starting from scratch, but it’s almost impossible not to point out the ways in which HB 2132 varies from Morath’s version presented in December: three domains with no combined letter grade; no weighting of academic domains more than others; and no reward for better-than-required performance on the STAAR test.

By Kimberly Reeves

February 22, 2017      6:18 PM

ICYMI: Jeff Moseley is the new CEO of the Texas Association of Business

“In every job Jeff has held, he has focused on job growth and economic development

The full announcement can be found here.

February 22, 2017      5:38 PM

Tuition set aside bill gets Senate committee approval

Sen. Watson objects: “We fly in the face of the reason it was created, which is to provide protection for the families that end up having to pay.”

The Senate Committee on Higher Education passed Sen. Kel Seliger’s tuition set aside bill out of committee Wednesday 4-2, with Democratic Senators José Menéndez and Kirk Watson voting against it and Sen. Royce West not voting.  

The set aside in question requires that public universities put aside a portion of student tuition for financial aid. Seliger’s bill removes this mandate, though universities could choose to keep it in place.

“College affordability is an issue the legislature must address, but we should not do it for some students on the backs of others that may very well be of the same financial status,” Seliger said.

By Eleanor Dearman

February 22, 2017      12:56 PM

Report: Draft Trump administration document revokes rules on transgender bathrooms

Revocation of Obama policy could kick the legs out from under Patrick's "bathroom bill" in Texas

The flash from Reuters is here.

February 21, 2017      8:26 PM

Updated: Rural lawmakers file nearly 20 bills pushing back on high speed rail

Chairman Cook: "If you're gonna do it, do it right"; Texas Central shoots back "it is ironic that the proposed legislation calls for more government regulation in trying to block a free market led project..."

Rural lawmakers gained momentum in their push against high speed rail on Tuesday, taking aim at the Texas Central Railway plan to build a connecting line between Dallas and Houston.

Several House and Senate legislators filed about 20 bills that, if passed, would effectively regulate and limit private entitles like Texas Central as they work to bring the high-speed system of travel to the state.

The bills would do things like prevent the use of state dollars for private high speed rail projects, restrict private entities from using eminent domain for such rails and prohibit private high speed rail companies from entering land to survey it – unless the company is deemed a railroad by TxDOT.

By Eleanor Dearman

February 21, 2017      8:24 PM

In first hearing with the gavel, Chairman Huberty commits to school finance as priority

“…the Supreme Court ruled on school finance and they said that it’s lawful but it’s awful.”

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, led his first Public Education Committee meeting Monday, setting school finance reform as a priority early on.

Huberty told the committee that for the next two hearings the committee would take “a pretty hard look at school finance.” Next Tuesday, Huberty said he intends to hear from stakeholders on the issue and discuss possible improvements. The following week, Huberty said the plan is to post school finance bills. 

“I think all of you know that the Speaker talked briefly, not briefly, but a lot to us about the importance of and to focus on school finance as we move forward,” Huberty said. “And in 2016 we know that the Supreme Court ruled on school finance and they said that it’s lawful but it’s awful.”

By Eleanor Dearman

February 21, 2017      4:59 PM

Federal judge says Texas cannot kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid

February 21, 2017      4:25 PM

Investors representing more than $11 trillion in assets oppose bathroom bill

“We seek a predictable, stable business climate in Texas where our portfolio companies can thrive. However, SB6 directly undermines the strong business-minded environment in your state.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Joe Straus on Tuesday were sent a letter from major investors representing more than $11 trillion in assets telling the Republican leadership of the state to reject Patrick’s “bathroom bill.”

The investors said they were writing out of their “strong belief that equality, diversity, and inclusiveness are fundamental elements of a successful workplace, community, and capital markets system” and said they were “closely monitoring” legislation across the country including Senate Bill 6.

“Bills that deliberately limit the human rights of LGBT people are not only unjustified and unfair, but may have troubling financial implications for the business and investment climate in states, including in Texas,” the investors wrote.

By Scott Braddock

February 20, 2017      5:10 PM

After trying to force out a GOP Ethics Commissioner, Patrick drags feet on Democratic appointee

Wanting a “new direction,” Patrick leaned on Republican Commissioner Hugh Akin to leave before his term was up; Democrat Wilhelmina Delco’s term expired two years ago

After failing to entice a Republican member of the Texas Ethics Commission to step down last year, Quorum Report has learned Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been in receipt of recommendations from Senate Democrats for a replacement for the upper chamber’s Democratic appointee for months but has done nothing about it.

Under the Texas Constitution, the Texas House and Senate each get two commissioners on the panel that regulates campaign finances and lobby registration, one Republican and one Democrat each. Republican lawmakers make recommendations for the GOP member of the commission and the Democrats do likewise for the commissioner from their party, then the presiding officers of each chamber make a selection.

The governor appoints the balance of the commission.

Back in September, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus delivered a list of names for possible replacements for Wilhelmina Delco, whose term on the Ethics Commission expired in 2015.

By Scott Braddock

February 20, 2017      4:41 PM

Press Release: Yuge endorsement of Patrick property tax plan, recognitions, and more

Click the Press Releases button above for the latest

February 20, 2017      4:37 PM

Murdock: Fastest growing populations have the lowest levels of education and income

County Affairs Chairman Coleman adds “How we fund our education system does make a difference to whether or not those individuals go to college.”

Demographer Steve Murdock, director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, told the House Committee on County Affairs Monday that the state’s future is tied to its minority populations.

“How well they do is how well we all do, “Murdock said.

The former official state demographer of Texas and former director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census laid out demographics data to the committee, hammering down that the data shows minority populations, particularly Hispanic populations, are growing the fastest, meanwhile those same people have lower levels of education and income.

“The fastest growing populations are those who have the lower levels of education, the lower levels of income, and if we want Texas to be greater we have to raise the income and the education that goes with that for our minority populations,” Murdock said.

By Eleanor Dearman

February 20, 2017      12:17 PM

Video: ACLU launches "I Pee with LGBT" in opposition to SB 6

Director Richard Linklater helped put the video together