March 23, 2017      5:06 PM

Fallout from the Baylor sex assault scandal: Texas lawmakers are asked to protect victims

As a young victim says “Please stop protecting my attacker,” Sen. Birdwell said he is “profoundly concerned with the rights of the accused,” though he does support the legislation on the table

Survivors of sexual assault appeared before the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday, urging lawmakers to pass proposed measures that would work to improve reporting of such crimes on university campuses.

Among them were women from Texas A&M University, Trinity University, The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University. The women shared personal accounts of assault and explained why this legislation is so important to them.

“A little over a year ago I was assaulted by a guy who I’d just met,” said Paige Hardy, a sophomore at Baylor University to a panel of lawmakers. “My friends, my family society, have all told me that this was my fault. That because alcohol was involved, I deserved it. That ‘maybe’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘convince me.’ That if I didn’t call the police within minutes of my attacks, I must be lying.”

By Eleanor Dearman

March 23, 2017      5:04 PM

Press Releases: Human trafficking, SB3 reactions, raise the age, and more

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March 23, 2017      4:54 PM

Greenfield: State Revenue Situation, Improving, but Not Great

As the House and Senate stake out their positions on the budget, our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield takes a look at the improving revenue situation. Tomorrow, he’ll look at the expenditure side of the equation

State revenue receipts, unlike Gaul, can be divided into two parts, General Revenue-Related (GRR) and non-GRR.  The former is the revenue stream that our legislators can appropriate with their complete discretion, while the latter, e.g., federal funds, is dedicated to a specific government activity, e.g., Medicaid, public education.

When Comptroller  Glenn Hegar released the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) for FY18-19 on January 9, 2017, all hands immediately turned to Table A-1 which shows the funds that the Comptroller certifies is available to the Legislator to appropriate.  Table A-1 shows $104.9 billion available for the 85th Legislature for discretionary spending.

This $104.9 billion is $5.4 billion less than the Comptroller stated in the Certification Estimate, released in October 2015, would be available for FY16-17 and $2.9 billion less than the amount for FY16-17 in the current estimate.  This reduction in available revenue was anticipated, and the Governor and Legislative Budget Board took actions, hiring freeze, to reduce state expenditures for FY17.

The complete column by Dr. Stuart Greenfield is in the R&D Department.

By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

March 23, 2017      1:05 PM

Texas GOP Chairman slams Texas Tribune story that suggested he improperly lobbied

Mechler said he’s done it all by the rules and “It comes as no surprise that the Texas Tribune, an organization with a history of bashing Republicans and Republican values while lifting up Democrats, is at it again.”

In response to a Texas Tribune story this week that suggested he may have improperly lobbied state officials about the oil and gas business, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tom Mechler on Wednesday told members of the State Republican Executive Committee he wanted to “set the record straight.”

“It is not surprising that Democrats and the liberal media are continuing to lob false accusations at Republican leaders across the state,” Mechler wrote in an email obtained by Quorum Report on Thursday.

“Over the past year, they have repeatedly used false allegations and fake news to try to discredit Republican leadership,” Mechler said.

By Scott Braddock

March 23, 2017      10:19 AM

Former Chairman Keffer joins TAB for session

“Jim will be focusing on a number of areas, include our work against discriminatory legislation,” said TAB President Chris Wallace

The full release from the Texas Association of Business can be downloaded here.

March 22, 2017      4:59 PM

Updated: Looming showdown over budget draws comparisons to Enron, puts pressure on Hegar

Straus says the Senate is “cooking the books” as the Finance Committee pushes $2.5 billion in spending into the next biennium

Senate Finance is using a sales tax deferral to expand the capacity of this session’s budget, a last-minute maneuver that Speaker of the House Joe Straus equates to cooking the books.

Chair Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, unveiled the choice in a back-and-forth with Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in this morning’s Senate Finance hearing. Nelson said the committee substitute to Senate Bill 1, which passed the committee unanimously, only represented the appropriations side of the budget. Changes were occurring simultaneously on the revenue side, she added.

“For example, the comptroller has informed us that $2.5 billion of the $5 billion Prop 7 transfer can occur in September 2019 and therefore will not count against the fiscal year 18-19 biennium,” Nelson told her colleagues. “The substitute….”

Then Bettencourt interrupted the chair’s comments to provide the explanation of the transfer.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 22, 2017      4:56 PM

Senate takes up limiting university tuition increases

U of H’s Khator said “These measures, there’s nothing wrong, we can tweak some of them to make them better for sure, and the flexibility is good…the trouble will come when we try to set specific targets.”

The debate over college tuition regulation returned to the Texas Senate Wednesday when the Higher Education Committee met to discuss a handful of bills dealing with limiting tuition increases.

The five proposals go about limiting increases in several ways. Senate Bill 250 by Charles Schwertner, R- Georgetown, would freeze tuition rates for a year. After that increases would be capped to inflation rates. Senate Bill 442 by Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, freezes an institution’s tuition at the 2017-2018 academic year level and requires, leaving it up to the legislature to permit increases.

Senate Bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would prohibit institutions from increasing tuition “except to make up any difference between core operational costs and state formula funding appropriations.”

By Eleanor Dearman

March 22, 2017      4:51 PM

Press Releases: Medicaid reforms, firefighters, golf course fight, and more

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March 22, 2017      3:14 PM

Hegar weighs in on Senate sales tax deferral plan

"If the estimated $2.2 billion in sales tax collections in fiscal 2018 for the highway fund were transferred in September 2018, and the $2.5 billion in fiscal 2019 sales taxes were transferred in September 2019, then there would be a gain to certification of $2.5 billion for the 2018-19 biennium."

Comptroller Glenn Hegar's response to Finance Chair Jane Nelson can be downloaded here.

March 22, 2017      12:22 PM

Straus says Senate is cooking the books on the budget like Enron

“I’m not interested in cooking the books just to avoid a vote on the Rainy Day Fund,” Straus said

Arguing that the Texas Senate is double counting $2.5 billion in dedicated transportation funding in its budget, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday said "This is the Texas Legislature. We are not Enron."

“I want to be clear that counting money twice in order to balance the budget is not a good idea," Speaker Straus said.

“I’m not interested in cooking the books just to avoid a vote on the Rainy Day Fund,” Straus told reporters in the afternoon.

By Scott Braddock

March 22, 2017      10:18 AM

Updated: Senate Finance votes out SB 1 15 to 0; vote on the budget by the full Senate expected Tuesday

March 21, 2017      9:46 PM

Under cloud of bogus school voucher letters, Senate holds late night hearing on vouchers

All the promises of miracles happening in private schools quickly start to sound like a multi-level marketing convention

Texans have probably never done more, spent more or hired more lobbyists to promote the idea that the state needs to move forward with school choice legislation.

At last count, Texans for Educational Opportunity had a dozen lobbyists on its payroll, including Mike Toomey, Bill Messer and John Colyandro. Thousands of endorsements – albeit bogus form letters – have gone out from Austin to lawmakers in both chambers. And supporters of school choice have spared no expense to put together a polished pro-choice message in front of lawmakers, a strategy that appeared to resonate with Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

The only bill on the agenda in Senate Education was Senate Bill 3. The committee is stacked this session with Republicans most favorable to a vote on school choice. Democrat Lucio, for one, also has warmed to the argument that disinterested parents will finally be involved with their children’s lives if they are given the right to choose.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 21, 2017      6:29 PM

Rural Republican senators also receiving fraudulent school voucher letters

Sen. Seliger says his office discovered that a deceased person had been impersonated writing a letter in favor of vouchers; says lawmakers are being "defrauded"

Quorum Report has now learned that some Republican senators who represent large swaths of rural Texas are also receiving the same kind of “fraudulent” school voucher letters that were reported earlier by rural Texas House members.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is said to have received the letters and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, confirmed to QR’s Eleanor Dearman this afternoon that his office has received hundreds of them.

Sen. Seliger said one of the letters his office received recently came from a person his staff later discovered is deceased.

March 21, 2017      6:28 PM

Rural GOP House lawmakers alarmed by "fraudulent" letters promoting school vouchers

“We've gone to complete new lows in public campaigns” said former Rep. Hardcastle; Rep. Clardy: “I’m going to defend the people of my district and protect their identity”

Rural Republican Texas House members are sounding the alarm after a significant number of them say they received letters promoting school vouchers from what at first appeared to be constituents but turned out to apparently be sent by someone in Austin. But the actual sender of the letters is a mystery.

The letters, described by members who received them as “fraudulent,” included the names and addresses of constituents but were not signed. And even though constituents’ addresses were used from places like Gatesville and Vernon, the envelopes had an Austin postmark.

One of the letters sent to Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, included the name and address of former Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who told Quorum Report that the tactic represents “a new low.” Hardcastle said Rep. Springer contacted him after receiving the letter with Hardcastle’s name on it. Hardcastle was taken aback that someone would impersonate him and completely misrepresent his opinion.

“I'm not a voucher guy and everybody knows I'm not a voucher guy," Hardcastle said.

By Eleanor Dearman and Scott Braddock

March 21, 2017      6:26 PM

Press Releases: Property tax reactions, wrongful birth, Intelligence hearing, NASA, and more

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March 21, 2017      3:38 PM

SB 2 passes the Senate after attempt to amend by Sen. Seliger

Sen. Charles Perry said he feels he is letting down his rural district but voted for Patrick's property tax bill anyway

Bathrooms and school vouchers aside, the Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a bill centered on the defining issue in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s rise to power: Property tax “reform.”

When the dust had cleared after the debate on Senate Bill 2 – the measure by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, limiting local governments’ ability to control local property taxes – Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, was the lone Republican to join with the Democrats in voting “no.”

The final vote was 18 to 12 with one absent.  

By James Russell

March 21, 2017      9:10 AM

The powerful Texas Association of Realtors supports SB 2

"When local elected officials hide behind increasing property values to justify larger budgets, taxpayers suffer. Senate Bill 2 goes a long way to fix this problem”

The press release from the Texas Association of Realtors can be downloaded here.

March 20, 2017      5:38 PM

Houston Mayor Turner faces tough questions from senators over pension plan

“Some are not as comfortable as we would like, but the reality is I can’t think of any other way to fix it,” Turner told the committee this morning. “There is no perfect pension bill.”

That victory lap Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was perhaps planning to take at Senate State Affairs Committee this morning felt a whole lot more like a slog, given the opposition mounting to is efforts to reform Houston’s pension system.

The failure of Houston’s municipal, fire and police pension plan is oft-told: erroneous actuarial calculations in 2001, underfunded payments, weak investment returns and, most perplexing, the city borrowing against its own pension fund for non-pension items. Turner came into office thinking he faced a $5.6 billion gap; all told, it’s closer to $8.1 billion.

Failure to negotiate a compromise would cost Turner’s budget an extra $134 million. So, Turner and his staff met faithfully with all three unions for months to craft a fix. By October, all three unions had agreed terms that were later blessed by the City Council.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 20, 2017      5:37 PM

Press Releases: Gorsuch, health care bill, minimum wage, and more

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March 20, 2017      3:57 PM

Democrats clash with Texas House Republicans over proposals on minimum wage

“What we are asking for is something for the little dogs,” Rep. Thompson; Rep. Shine says a hike in the minimum wage would increase wage inflation

The minimum wage took center stage at a Monday House Business and Industry Committee meeting, where legislators heard nine bills aimed at bumping up the floor on how much a person can be compensated per hour in Texas.

Texas’ minimum wage is set at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Most of the proposals heard on Monday recommend that it be increased to either $10.10 or $15 an hour. Two would leave it up to local governments to decide.

“What we are asking for is something for the little dogs,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said while laying out her proposal to set the minimum wage at $10.10 an hour. “This is a little dogs’ bill.”

But several GOP members of the committee were not convinced, expressing concerns about potential negative economic impacts including for small business owners.

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Belton, was among them.  

By Eleanor Dearman

March 20, 2017      3:56 PM

House GOP Caucus Chair Parker says third-party groups spreading misinformation on minimum wage

“Allowing the legislation to be heard in committee did not put it on any type of fast track, nor did it change the likelihood that this legislation would become law.”

Saying “there have been third-party groups engaging in spreading false and misleading information” about the minimum wage bills being heard today in the Legislature, Texas House GOP Caucus Chairman Tan Parker on Monday said he’d like to “set the record straight.”

“Last week, the House voted on a procedural motion to suspend the House Rules and allow a bill to be heard in committee without the usual five-day posting period,” said Parker, R-Flower Mound. “This is a courtesy that legislators from both parties routinely extend to one another.”

In this instance, he said, a Republican presented the motion on behalf of his committee chairman as a courtesy so that bills addressing the minimum wage could be heard today in House Business and Industry. “Allowing the legislation to be heard in committee did not put it on any type of fast track, nor did it change the likelihood that this legislation would become law,” Parker said. “In short, the legislation is no more likely to pass than it was before the vote was taken.”

Parker’s full statement is here.

March 18, 2017      10:15 AM

Kolkhorst helped slip $5 million project for Lucio into budget after he was lone Dem to support SB 6

After bathroom bill vote, Sen. Kolkhorst sponsored what conservatives would certainly call “pork” for Lucio’s district; the senator from Brenham’s office calls it “common practice”

After Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, became the lone Senate Democrat to support the “bathroom bill,” many in his own party accused the South Texas lawmaker of being a “complete sellout.” He was taking so much heat from fellow Democrats, in fact, that his son Rep. Eddie Lucio III came to his defense in a passionate plea for civil disagreement.

“My father preached love and service in my house growing up, and although I sincerely believe that his position is not rooted in hate, it is still wrong and will create adversity for many,” Rep. Lucio said, adding that he completely disagrees with his father on Senate Bill 6. Their family quarrel has drawn national attention.

Now Quorum Report has learned that the day after the bathroom bill was finally passed by the Senate, SB6’s author Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, sponsored a rider quietly slipped into the upper chamber’s version of the state’s spending plan to shell out $5 million during a tight budget year for a project her fellow conservatives would most assuredly call “pork” in Lucio’s district.

The rider would appropriate $5 million for a Center for Urban Ecology at Quinta Mazatlan in the Rio Grande Valley. Quinta Mazatlan, by the way, is a historic adobe mansion and nature and birding center in McAllen.

By Scott Braddock

March 17, 2017      5:31 PM

Competing budgets propose fix for health care for teacher retirees

Both chambers are pretty far apart while retired teachers say the House is “laser focused on developing ways to help lessen the pain on retirees”

The House and Senate have found hundreds of millions of dollars to plug a hole in health care for teacher retirees, but a long-term fix likely will require major structural changes.

What Tim Lee of the Texas Retired Teachers Association can say is that lawmakers have found real money for TRS-Care in a tight budget session. The Senate has ponied up $317 million. The House has pulled $500 million from the Rainy Day Fund to cover increasing costs.

TRTA has probably gotten the best deal it can this session while awaiting some kind of permanent solution for spiraling costs, Lee said. On the Senate side, Sen. Joan Huffman’s Senate Bill 788 has phased in premium increases, slowed somewhat by a bump in the state contribution from 1 percent to 1.25 percent. That percentage is applied to the aggregate of teacher pay in the state, Lee said.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 17, 2017      5:25 PM

As the process begins, proposals on ridesharing have nuanced differences

Three big bills emerge as the major players on the issue by Schwertner, Nichols, and Paddie

Members of the Legislature this week heard several proposals related to regulating ride-hailing companies. The topic was considered in House and Senate committees as bills with many of the same goals but some nuanced differences were laid out.

In a Thursday House Transportation Committee meeting, while taking up House Bill 100 by Rep. Chris Paddie, lawmakers grappled with many of the same arguments for why or why not the bill should pass as were heard in Senate committee on Tuesday.

By Eleanor Dearman

March 17, 2017      5:24 PM

Press Releases: A first time with the gavel, TCEQ, and Cruz back on the scene

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March 17, 2017      5:09 PM

Sen. Kolkhorst takes up the cause of an industry often under fire from conservatives: Horseracing

"As a Senator who represents so many Texans involved in the horse racing industry, this is a huge economic development issue,” Kolkhorst said

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has filed a trio of bills intended to bolster the flagging revenues of the Texas Racing Commission, which will depend on an advance of fees from the racing industry to close out its final expenses this year.

The racing industry had a tough interim, with a squabble with conservatives like Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson over historical racing putting the agency’s funding in danger. Add to that, a number of dormant tracks refusing to pay license fees to the commission, compromising the agency’s budget. The latter led to messy year-end meeting with multiple parties claiming ownership of the Longhorn Downs license.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 17, 2017      3:59 PM

O’Donnell: Return of the Evil Empire!

Our Senior Curmudgeon says Trump wants to take us back to the days of “atomic attack drills, ‘duck and cover,’ decontamination stations, fallout shelters, ICBMs, missile silos…and constant anxiety.”

About once a week these days I wake up and check my Mickey Mouse watch for the latest President Twump time. Too often I find that it has automatically turned back five or ten years. It was, therefore, no surprise when I found that it had turned back 60 years and a U.S. president was talking about our nation’s need to be at the “top” of the nuclear weapon food chain.

A recent New York Times report said we’re behind the Ruskies in nuclear weapons stockpiled. They have 7,300 atomic bombs while we only have 7,000. The remaining 1,000 dooms day devices available globally are sprinkled over our allies and foes. Most notably among the worrisome buggers are China with 260, Pakistan with 120 and the ever-popular North Korea with 10. Apparently having enough atomic weapons stockpiled to kill all living things on the planet is once again not sufficient to anyone’s national security.

The full column by Edd O’Donnell is in the R&D Department.

By Edd O'Donnell

March 16, 2017      6:11 PM

House beefs up budget through use of supplemental bill

Chair Zerwas says “It’s fundamentally unacceptable, and it doesn’t reflect the values of this state” to take half of teachers pensions to pay for TRS-Care

The House will use its supplemental budget to power many of its major funding decisions this session, including TRS-Care, Medicaid therapy and even cybersecurity.

The supplemental budget can sometimes be something of an afterthought in the budget process. This session, however, the House is betting on a combination of spending in both the supplemental and upcoming budget that will keep Texas under its budget cap, while pulling down maximum federal matching funds and using $2.4 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Chair Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, told House Appropriations that the state had tapped the Rainy Day Fund seven times since it was created in 1988. The only time lawmakers used more was in 2011, when a third of the fund, $3.2 billion, was used to close a budget gap.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 16, 2017      6:08 PM

Reporter Brian Rosenthal departs the Houston Chronicle for the New York Times

Investigative journalist who hounded George P, Sid Miller, and TEA heads to The Gray Lady

From the announcement from the New York Times:

“Ellen Gabler, a reporter and deputy investigations editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Michael LaForgia, an investigative editor and reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, are joining the Investigative Department. Brian Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle is joining Metro as an investigative reporter tasked with coverage of City Hall and Albany.

Investigative journalism is at the heart of the mission of The New York Times, and these hires continue to build on our ever-expanding foundation of investigative journalism.”

More from Poynter is here.

March 16, 2017      6:06 PM

Senate takes another swing at fixing TxDOT contracting

Rodriguez says he is “shocked at the lack of oversight over districts”; Chair Nichols looks to improve contracting, reporting and documentation

This session’s Sunset bill for the Texas Department of Transportation is intended to put pressure on the agency to follow through on critical improvements, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, told the Senate Transportation Committee this week.

No agency has been revisited by the Sunset Commission more over the last decade than TxDOT: in 2009, 2011 and now 2017. That doesn’t even include the large-scale omnibus transportation bill, House Bill 3588, that rolled out public-private partnerships in 2003 and has been tweaked in just about every subsequent session to reflect changing attitudes toward the investment and operation of toll roads by private entities.

Every successive bill on TxDOT over the last decade has drilled down to a more granular level of agency operations. And Nichols’ Senate Bill 312, which mirrors recent Sunset Commission recommendations, follows that course, dictating areas such as contracting, reporting and documentation. The bill also prescribes future management actions.

By Kimberly Reeves