March 3, 2015      6:21 PM

MEA CULPA: on MQS case recusal--apparently judge recused on attorneys fees only

We Jumped the gun -- Waiting to see actual order

March 3, 2015      5:05 PM

Senate offers up redux of conservative education legislation

A parent trigger bill, an opportunity school district, and more offered today; Patrick says school choice is in the offing

Senate Education Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor appears ready to recycle most of last session’s conservative education proposals, including grade book ratings of schools, a parent trigger bill and the creation of a turnaround district, also known as an "opportunity school district," for failing campuses.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joined Taylor, R-Friendswood, for a morning news conference alongside GOP senators Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, Charles Perry, R-Lubbock and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. Vice Chair Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, was there as well. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who did not attend, does appear ready to re-file his bill on turnaround districts this session.

“We can do a lot better in Texas,” Taylor said. “Education is not a partisan issue. Education affects all Texans – Republicans and Democrats. Our students deserve more than partisan bickering over education.”

The Senate’s intention to spend money to support or fix public schools appears limited to reading and math academies in the early grades. The one bright spot in the agenda: The intention to use a bill by Perry to create an appropriate middle school career exploration course, as well as some funding to create career-technology labs with local community colleges.

By Kimberly Reeves

March 3, 2015      5:04 PM

In Texas Energy Report: Darby says to give RRC “preemptive right” to regulate fracking

House Energy Chair takes lead on bill arising from Denton ban

House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Drew Darby plans to file a bill this week or next that would give oil and gas regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission “preemptive rights” to regulate activities – such as hydraulic fracturing – that take place beneath the surface.  

The bill is expected to address who rules – the state or local governments – when it comes to hydraulic fracturing activities inside a city’s limits. A cornerstone provision would establish a “preemptive” right for the Railroad Commission to regulate oil and gas drilling and completion procedures beneath the surface.  

The bill, which was still in draft stage at the Legislative Council on Tuesday, is the latest legislation to emerge in response to Denton’s fracking ban, passed by the city’s voters last November. It is not yet clear whether the bill could apply retroactively to Denton’s fracking ban, which won handily with local voters there.

“The focus will be to bring some certainty, some legal certainty,” Darby, R-San Angelo, told members of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) Tuesday. “Also, we will establish a test by which we will judge all of these measures that cities may implement to regulate the health and safety of their citizens.”

The complete story can be found in Texas Energy Report.

By Polly Ross Hughes

March 3, 2015      4:46 PM

Press Releases: Gov. Abbott on tour, economic development, teacher development, health care and more

March 3, 2015      4:30 PM

Greenfield: A tax relief plan that is more efficient and effective

Armed with the numbers to back up his argument, Dr. Stuart Greenfield says the Legislature should offer real tax relief for all Texans while making the entire system less regressive

From the halls of the Governor’s Mansion to the cubicles in the Texas Capitol, just about everyone has heralded that tax relief will be bestowed on overtaxed Texans.

Governor Greg Abbott has said he would veto a budget plan that doesn’t give businesses “genuine tax relief.” Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate specifying how both property and business taxes will be reduced. Governor Abbot has said any budget must have at least $4 billion in tax relief for him not to veto.

Not to be outdone, the Senate under the leadership of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has proposed tax relief totaling $4.6 billion for the next two years. Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, has said, “We can do better” than the upper chamber. All this adds up to an established $4 billion tax cut floor. One would assume that the ceiling is the $102.8 billion in tax collections in the Comptroller’s estimate.

A recent University of Texas poll found 54 percent of the respondents were dissatisfied with their property taxes. For the sales tax and the business margins tax, 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively, were dissatisfied with those taxes. Of those dissatisfied with the property tax and the sales tax, over 90 percent indicated these taxes should be reduced.

What went largely underreported was that of the 30 things in the poll that respondents could have said were the most important, taxes were ranked 14th at 2 percent – tied with gay marriage and gun control. Border security and immigration were the most important issues at 21 percent and 17 percent. So, Texans are indeed dissatisfied with their property taxes but the issue is nowhere near the top of their priorities.

The entire column from Stuart Greenfield can be found in the R&D Department.

By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

March 3, 2015      4:08 PM

House GOP Caucus welcomes new Reps. John Cyrier and Leighton Schubert

“I look forward to working with both of these great conservatives" - Chairman Tan Parker

Here’s the announcement from the House GOP Caucus.

March 3, 2015      3:06 PM

Bearse: Leadership Amiss

From the Right: With the Netanyahu speech to Congress as the backdrop, Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues leaders should use their political capital to take the right risks

I am watching Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to Congress as I write. He knows how to give a serious speech. He has gravitas. With a firmness to his voice and his gaze, we see a leader who knows the stakes of nuclear negotiations with Iran. The petty politics of the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats that preceded the speech are made smaller by the seriousness of his message. It’s a view the American People need to hear, and that members of both parties in Congress should welcome as part of their oversight role of the Administration’s foreign policy.

Netanyahu’s seriousness and resolve underscore the lack of both in our leadership today. The world quickly crumbles when America refuses to lead. Not only is there no over-arching premise to the Obama foreign policy, but there is a dangerous hollowing of our military that has taken place. The trillion dollars in defense spending cuts, forced by the sequestration, have left our Army 100,000 soldiers lighter, less than half our Air Force squadrons combat-ready, and devastated the readiness of our Navy and Marine Corps too.

The complete column from Eric Bearse can be found in the R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

March 2, 2015      9:19 PM

On Texas Independence Day, David Simpson calls for end of marijuana prohibition in Texas

"The Simpson bill is poised to reframe the current marijuana discussion by bringing it back to the basics: limited civil government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility."

From Rep. David Simpson’s release:

This is perhaps the first bill of its kind in the nation that proposes to simply undo prohibition and avoid the big government approach taken in other states that basically re-regulate the plant.

 “I am proposing that this plant be regulated like tomatoes, jalapeños or coffee.” Rep. Simpson continued, “Current marijuana policies are not based on science or sound evidence, but rather misinformation and fear. All that God created is good, including marijuana. God did not make a mistake when he made marijuana that the government needs to fix. Let’s allow the plant to be utilized for good—helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products—or simply for beauty and enjoyment. Government prohibition should be for violent actions that harm your neighbor—not of the possession, cultivation, and responsible use of plants.”

March 2, 2015      6:08 PM

With nominal Democratic backing, Texas House GOP rolls out "bipartisan" border security package

Chairman Bonnen says the DPS rotations to the border have to stop because they’re leaving other Texas communities “a little less secure."

Texas House Republicans, along with two Democrats, rolled out what they called a "bipartisan" plan to secure the Texas-Mexico border while trying to steer clear of the issue of immigration.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Washington has lapsed in its duty to secure the border and because of that, “it is Texas that pays the price for their inaction.” Part of that sacrifice, Bonnen said, happens when Department of Public Safety troopers leave their posts in other parts of the state to head to the border, “leaving their own communities a little less secure."

A package of legislation authored by Bonnen and two Democrats – Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Rep. Oscar Longoria of Mission – would deal with "border-related crime" no matter where it happens in Texas, crack down on human trafficking, and strengthen the Border Prosecution Unit. Those last two items are the focus of the bills from Democrats in this package, House Bills 10, 11, and 12.

By Scott Braddock

March 2, 2015      6:01 PM

Press Releases: Reactions to Medicaid proposal, border security, a scammer warning, rally days and more

March 2, 2015      4:32 PM

Former Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong passed away

He was 82

March 2, 2015      2:40 PM

Senate GOP calls for big flexibility in Medicaid

Any Medicaid expansion talks are "off the table" unless demands are met; critics are quick to say the proposal is a non-starter

Texas Senate Republicans on Monday said unless unprecedented flexibility is granted to the state over how Medicaid is administered, any discussion of expansion under the Affordable Care Act is "off the table."

Some of the specific things Republicans are now asking for have been done in other states where Medicaid expansion was implemented. In Texas, though, they’re being requested sans expansion. Other pieces of the proposal go further than any other state has been allowed to go by Washington.  

During an afternoon news conference, Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, pointed to a letter sent today to President Obama signed by the entire GOP Senate Caucus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In it, they outlined ten ways in which they want the federal government to allow for more flexibility.

The list includes “personal accountability requirements” like cost-sharing, missed appointment fees, and health savings accounts; tailored benefit packages; work requirements for able-bodied adults; reduced provider administrative burdens; and asset testing as part of eligibility criteria and more.

"These kinds of solutions will allow Texas the independence to more effectively manage its Medicaid program and better serve its citizens," Schwertner said.

By Scott Braddock

March 2, 2015      12:57 PM

Mike Higgins, longtime lobbyist for firefighters passed away today

Details to follow as they become available

March 2, 2015      12:56 PM

After controversial ruling, Senate State Affairs weighs how to protect whistleblowers and public officials alike

Threading the needle of journalism vs. deliberate misinformation

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday listened to heated testimony on how to protect journalists who report on whistleblower allegations while balancing that against the concern that the targets of those accusations might be maliciously and falsely attacked.

Saying she knows this is a political “hot potato,” Chair Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said the bill is a “work in progress” and she will work with all sides to try to achieve the intended goal: Shielding responsible reporters and their employers without creating a safe harbor for reckless allegations to be made with no way to hold media accountable.

Huffman’s Senate Bill 627 was filed after the Texas Supreme Court ruled against an Austin television journalist who reported on a surgeon accused of self-medicating and “taking dangerous drugs.” In reversing a previous ruling, the high court found that media are not legally insulated from libel claims if they publish defamatory statements made by third parties.

As drafted, the bill would prevent libel lawsuits following the "publication of allegations made by a third party regarding matters of public concern, regardless of the truth or falsity of the allegations."

By Scott Braddock

February 27, 2015      5:09 PM

TEC asks for recusal of Denton judge and social media follower of MQ Sullivan in lobby case

Ethics Commission’s attorney cites the fact that Judge Steven Burgess has been a Twitter follower of Sullivan’s, did not disclose that, and deleted his account after it was made known

Attorneys for the Texas Ethics Commission are asking for the recusal of the judge in Denton County who recently threw out the lobby case against Michael Quinn Sullivan, the prominent spokesman for Midland oilman Tim Dunn.

Eric Nichols, outside counsel for the commission, argued in a filing this week that Judge Steven Burgess should not be allowed to rule on the matter, in part, because he had previously been a follower of Sullivan’s on Twitter and did not disclose that.

Sullivan was one of the few people the judge followed on the social media platform.  

By Scott Braddock

February 27, 2015      5:07 PM

Press Releases: Retired teacher health care, accreditation statuses, road construction, and the Unborn Child Due Process Act

February 27, 2015      5:01 PM

Local governments steel for a fight ahead of tax debate

“It’s about local people making local decisions.”

Local governments in Texas are fighting state government for control this legislative session, and could suffer a serious defeat in the Senate as soon as next week.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed Senate Bill 182 earlier this year, which reduces the rollback tax rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. Bettencourt will lay out SB 182 with other property tax bills on Monday and public testimony will be taken Wednesday.

For cities as well as counties, SB 182 limits the revenue they collect from their citizens to fund different services like police and fire, said Lonnie Hunt, County Relations Officer with the Texas Association of Counties.

“By law, the main source of revenue counties have is the property tax,” Hunt said. “We don’t like that. Everybody hates the property tax. But, unfortunately, counties don’t have the option of saying, ‘Well, okay, we’ll find our money somewhere else.’ We don’t get all these other fees and taxes and other things other levels of government have access to. But the county sales tax - most counties don’t have that, but the ones that do, that was enacted as a property tax reduction rate.”

By Jackie Wang

February 27, 2015      4:48 PM

Competing bill sponsors refused to back down in pre-k fight

It appears the first education skirmish of the session is getting underway

Two sides are gearing up for what could very well be the first education battle of the session, and it’s being waged over the education of the state’s most vulnerable 4-year-old children.

The rollout of Gov. Greg Abbott’s pre-kindergarten bill was almost perfect. He spoke of his preferred version in his State of the State speech. Former school board member-turned-Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, hinted at this week’s PTA Rally it would be unveiled and indeed it was and has already been referred to House Public Education.

Abbott also planned a picture-perfect Rick Perry-inspired tour of the School at St. George Place after addressing a luncheon of the highly influential Greater Houston Partnership.

“To improve our schools, we must build a strong foundation. Our goal should be to ensure all Texas students are performing at grade level in reading and math by the time they finish the third grade,” Abbott said in his prepared remarks. “To begin that process, my budget provides additional funding for schools that adopt high-quality Pre-K programs. My plan also provides Pre-K through third grade teachers with world-class literacy and math teacher training. Our children and their future have no time for delay. That’s why I declared early education as my first emergency legislative item as governor.”

He followed it up with a strong statement of support for last session’s House Bill 5, which diversified high school diploma plans. It was a crowd pleaser. The Greater Houston Partnership, that area’s largest business group, was a key player in the approval of last session’s major education legislation, although Texas still lags behind a number of states that have devoted significantly more resources to career-and-technology education.

By Kimberly Reeves

February 27, 2015      4:34 PM

Smith: Salem's Senate

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith says Lt. Gov. Patrick could potentially cement an alliance between Gov. Abbott and Speaker Straus immediately with a fight over Abbott’s picks for the UT Board of Regents

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate may not burn Gov. Greg Abbott’s three nominees to the University of Texas System board of regents at the stake. But after yesterday’s Senate Nominations Committee hearing, it is tempting to think that the nominees’ ankles sure must be feeling warm.

Abbott’s appointees –David Beck, Sara Martinez Tucker, and re-appointee Steve Hicks – are subject to Senate confirmation. It’s unimaginable that 1) Abbott could be so inept that he would lose such an early battle to Patrick; 2) Patrick could be so short-sighted that he would try to win it. Patrick faces two other centers of power: The governor’s office and Speaker Joe Straus’s House. Acting early to cement an Abbott-Straus alliance is not in Patrick’s interests, to say the least.

Still, if yesterday’s hearing is any evidence, Patrick does have a rather unicameral, neutered governor vision of Texas government. He’s even called for the creation of an Army of Christ to advance his personal Crusade against… well, I guess against anyone in Texas who disagrees with him. It is possible that Patrick truly believes himself anointed to lead an Army of Christ, although I think he’s more cynical panderer than a Christian warrior.  But I won’t question his faith. The route from sports bar owner to the Texas Senate might have passed near Damascus after all.

The complete column from Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

February 27, 2015      4:12 PM

SB: Quorum Report welcomes Jackie Wang as contributor for session coverage

Talented writer, now at UT, becomes the newest member of the Texas Capitol press corps

The team here at Buzz Central is pleased to announce this Friday afternoon that Jackie Wang, an up-and-coming journalist at the University of Texas at Austin, will be joining the Quorum Report as a contributor during the 2015 legislative session.

Jackie has helped organize political forums involving candidates from both sides of the aisle, including Democratic former Houston Mayor Bill White and Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Jackie writes for The Daily Texan and has been a contributor to the El Paso Times. She studies Journalism and Government at UT, where she also works at the on-campus research library and museum, the Harry Ransom Center.

More about Jackie is available on her website.

By Scott Braddock

February 27, 2015      2:05 PM

Buddy Barfield sentenced to more than 7 years for embezzling $1.8 million from Dewhurst

Barfield could have received nearly 30 years behind bars; had said he was “ready to take the full punishment."

February 26, 2015      4:50 PM

Former Ethics Commission Director Reisman becomes HHSC Ethics Officer

Janek says "I created this position to help increase our emphasis on ethical behavior"

The head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Kyle Janek, on Thursday announced he's tapped former Ethics Commission Director David Reisman to be the internal ethical watchdog for HHSC.

"I created this position to help increase our emphasis on ethical behavior," Janek said. "As public servants, we must hold ourselves and our programs to high standards,” he said. Janek said the agency’s leadership wants “strong policies” and a “good training program to make sure our employees know the rules, and a culture where people can elevate and discuss issues.”

The agency, of course, has been rocked by questions about a huge no-bid contract that went to an Austin tech company called 21CT. That company has ties to former HHSC general counsel Jack Stick, who quit his post after revelations about the contract.

After his stint as executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission, Reisman worked at the scandal-plagued Cancer Prevention and Research Institute where he created a monitoring system for $1 billion in grants.

February 25, 2015      5:41 PM

Transportation plan is moving to the Senate floor despite huge reservations from GOP senators

Sen. Fraser is worried about tying the hands of future legislatures; tells newly elected Sen. Huffines to slow down a bit: "You've only been here about a month."

Two conservative Republican senators on Wednesday voiced great concerns about the Texas Senate leadership’s transportation plan before voting in committee to send it to the full Senate for a vote as soon as next week.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made it a priority to constitutionally dedicate roughly half the state’s motor vehicle sales tax collections to roads. He has promised Senate action on it as soon as possible.

But, both veteran Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and newly elected Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said they are very worried about several aspects of the plan put forward by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

During the committee’s morning hearing, Sen. Fraser said he had a "huge reservation" about tying the hands of future legislatures by removing their discretion over more than $2 billion to $2.5 billion in collections that currently flow into general revenue. "I have a real concern about us doing something that obligates a future legislature," Fraser said.

By Scott Braddock

February 25, 2015      5:40 PM

Press Releases: Transportation, Pre-K, windstorm insurance, tax relief, and more DHS positioning

February 25, 2015      4:16 PM

Rep. Farney backs vouchers in a limited fashion in speech before PTA

Before crowd that is anti-voucher, Former state board member says parents have right to options

Rep. Marsha Farney, a former State Board of Education member, offered her qualified support of vouchers in a speech at PTA Rally Day at the Capitol.

Farney, R-Georgetown, a former teacher and counselor, walks a fine line in politics. She considers herself a public school supporter, signed on to a bipartisan bill on pre-kindergarten with Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, and is serving her second term on the House Public Education Committee. But Farney also has clearly identified herself as a conservative, especially when it comes to schools considered to be failing.

For instance, Farney told the audience she proudly maintained her PTA membership, even as a grandmother.

“It’s so easy to criticize the public schools, but if you want to make a difference, the first place you go is to the PTA,” said Farney, drawing applause. “PTA absolutely is the life blood of what goes on in our schools.”

February 25, 2015      3:54 PM

Bearse: Is Anyone Paying Attention

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says President Obama is dangerously downplaying the threat from ISIS.

This is what happens when you elect an elitist college professor as the leader of the free world. Here we have a terrorist organization with a vision to return the world to the 7th Century, beheading reporters, filling mass graves with infidels, and vowing to rid the earth of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who don’t conform to their fanaticism, and our president denies both their religious roots and the severity of their threat.

They have declared a caliphate over land larger in size than the United Kingdom. The severity and religious nature of their threat is recognized by the leaders across the Muslim world, and yet the president lectures America about passing judgment when so much evil was done in the name of Christ some 800 years ago.

Worse than the president’s refusal to call the enemy by its name is his inability to articulate a plan to defeat them. But thank God for Undersecretary of State, Richard Engel, who is committed to winning the war against ISIS over twitter. He declared a few days ago, “these guys are not BuzzFeed; they’re not invincible on social media.”

The complete column from Eric Bearse can be found in the R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

February 25, 2015      3:28 PM

Top Senate budget writer promises to address shortfalls in TRS Care as well

Leadership in both chambers now seem to be in full agreement about retired teachers’ health coverage

Finance Committee Chair Sen. Jane Nelson said:

“It is important to several members, myself included, that we devote resources to TRS-Care and our teachers. The Senate Finance Committee is working very hard on these and other budget issues."

February 25, 2015      11:27 AM

Updated: House Leadership commits to fully funding TRS Care

"This is going to give us two years...to help our teachers permanently."

Texas House leadership on Wednesday committed to fully funding health care for retired teachers across the state for the next two years. “The House appreciates retired educators,” Speaker Joe Straus tweeted shortly after Quorum Report broke the news.

House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, initially made the promise toward the end of the morning meeting of his powerful committee.

Later in the day, on the House floor, Otto talked with Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, about the fact that doing this is a commitment to teachers but is in no way a final solution to TRS Care’s financial situation. "This is going to give us two years...to sit down and work with you to come up with what we can look forward to to help our teachers permanently,” Keffer said.

On Tuesday, Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, included TRS Care’s needs as one of the reasons he cannot yet support a $4.6 billion tax cut proposal laid out by Senate leadership. He estimated about $800 million was needed to shore up the system.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association pegs the price tag at $762 million.

February 25, 2015      10:52 AM

Texas earns dubious distinction, 3rd worst state for taxes inflicted on average Americans

Current tax cut bidding war means nothing to most Texans

While the Senate and House are in a bidding war for the biggest headline number of tax cuts that most Texans will not feel, the online financial publication Marketwatch named Texas the third worst state for taxes inflicted on average Americans.

The analysis reports that the Lone Star State has the fifth highest effective tax rate on the state’s bottom 20% at 12.5% and the 8th lowest rate on the top 1% at an effective tax rate of 2.9%.

From the story, “…the state relies heavily on sales and excise taxes. These consumption taxes accounted for nearly 32% of the state’s revenue, the ninth highest nationwide in fiscal 2012. The state also doesn't provide low-income residents with any tax credits, which help offset sales, excise and property taxes in other states.”

The story can be found here.

Lest these numbers be dismissed as delirium from some left wing think tank, it should be noted that Marketwatch is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp and is a sister publication of the the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s

By Harvey Kronberg

February 25, 2015      10:41 AM

Senate Transportation recommends full Senate pass Nichols transportation plan

Floor vote on SB 5 and SJR 5 expected next week

February 25, 2015      9:18 AM

Key Democrat: Nearly a conflict of interest to hold off on funding of corruption watchdog

"Even under the most conservative leadership, i.e. Tom Craddick (as Speaker), we funded the public integrity unit.”

A key Texas House Democrat on Wednesday said it is “almost a conflict of interest” for lawmakers to make funding of the state’s corruption watchdog contingent on a potential restructuring of the Public Integrity Unit housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

The House base budget proposal funds the PIU to the level requested by Travis County prosecutors: about $6.6 million. But, as proposed, the money cannot flow to the agency unless changes are made through legislation to address the concerns of critics who say the office engages in “partisan witch hunts.”

House Appropriations Vice Chair Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said during a committee hearing that in his quarter century as a lawmaker, he’s never seen an agency funded in this manner. Huge problems with the Juvenile Justice Department did not keep its funding from being made available in the budget while lawmakers eyed reforms, Turner noted.  

By Scott Braddock

February 25, 2015      8:38 AM

Appropriations Chairman Otto says the House will fully fund TRS Care

The amount requested is $800 million. Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, said Wednesday "The House will fully fund TRS Care"