July 22, 2016      5:30 PM

Chairman Cook pressed HHSC to change rules for disposal of fetal remains prior to SCOTUS abortion ruling, documents show

While Gov. Abbott now fundraises from it, documents show Chairman Cook quietly pressed HHSC to end what he calls “an abhorrent practice”

Editor’s note: Chairman Cook’s letters to HHSC are available to our subscribers at the end of this story – SB

Original reports about Texas’ proposed rule to require the cremation or burial of fetal remains suggested the change is being made in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down major provisions of House Bill 2, the sweeping abortion regulations passed in 2013. But newly-surfaced documents show that is not the case and instead a powerful Texas House chairman was working behind the scenes to get this done well before the ruling.

The change in the rules was initiated earlier this year. Correspondence obtained by Quorum Report reveals that – without fanfare of any kind – House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, was pleading with the Health and Human Services Commission to expedite the change in how fetal remains are to be legally disposed of in this state.

By Scott Braddock

July 22, 2016      5:26 PM

Smith: How the GOP can stop fraud – quit talking

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that if Texas GOP officials really want to stop fraud, they should just stop talking. Federal courts twice called them out for misleading the public and the courts – on anti-abortion and Voter ID bills.

What are Texas Republicans to do? First, a federal appeals court ruled that the state’s Voter ID law discriminated against minorities. Then, their favorite son, Sen. Ted Cruz, got in an embarrassing playground slap fest with Donald Trump, who they were busy unifying behind as their presidential candidate. The world is so unfair.

To make matters worse, Trump’s daughter Ivanka said Trump supported both government-backed childcare and mandatory equal pay for women. Who knew Trump was a Secret Socialist?

These contradictions can and probably will be tossed into the GOP’s muddy waters of denial and the forgotten. The loss of the state’s Voter ID law, the nation’s most severe restriction on voting, is another matter. That was their Great Wall against change in Texas.

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

By Glenn W. Smith

July 22, 2016      5:25 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, endorsements, charter schools, and more

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July 22, 2016      2:40 PM

Coordinating Board approves qualified expansion of vet schools in Texas

“We certain hope A&M and Texas Tech can work together to come up with a partnership,” Commissioner Paredes said. “It makes a lot of sense that these two great institutions work together.”

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has urged the Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University systems to work together on a non-traditional option for an additional veterinary school in Texas.

A traditional veterinary school can cost anywhere between $200 and 500 million, largely due to barn and hospital facilities. Texas has capacity for additional vets – and especially large animal votes in rural areas – but the rest of the country is producing an excess of veterinary graduates.

Chancellor Robert Duncan said Texas may have had enough vets, both those vets are in “maldistribution” across the state, especially in meat-producing areas. During a presentation at yesterday’s Coordinating Board meeting, Duncan said Tech was looking at a disseminated model of education.

By Kimberly Reeves

July 22, 2016      1:10 PM

Water panel moves out another $700 million in state projects

El Paso, Austin, and North Harris County are awarded hundreds of millions for infrastructure improvements

The Texas Water Development Board’s SWIFT fund continues to be on course and within budget with the distribution of another $700 million in water projects.

Three entities will pull the bulk of the affordable funding options out of the 2016 round of funds: The El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board, with a multi-year low-interest loan commitment of $150 million; a low-interest multi-year $167 million loan to the City of Austin to complete advanced metering infrastructure; and an additional $225 million in financial assistance to North Harris County Regional Water Authority to aid in the expansion of transmission lines.

By Kimberly Reeves

July 21, 2016      6:45 PM

KR: Texas appears more ready than ever to dismantle STAAR

Our education reporter writes that Texas appears to be closer than ever to demolishing its ailing assessment system, a strategy strongly supported by a community survey released yesterday.

The results of a State Board of Education-commissioned survey are grim: Better than 60 percent of the 27,200 respondents were in favor of scrapping the STAAR and replacing it with the SAT, ACT or Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Four out of five supported moving students to the next grade, even if they failed STAAR.

Chair Donna Bahorich, who discussed the results at yesterday’s State Board of Education committee session, stopped short of endorsing the results. Instead, Bahorich called the findings “a temperature gauge on the degree of comfort business leaders, teachers, parents and students have on these topics.”

The current degree of comfort with STAAR clearly is “very little.” Almost 90 percent of survey respondents, with the majority being teachers, preferred to reduce the weight of STAAR in teacher evaluations, which is currently 20 percent. And the survey had almost universal support of better ways to test students with disabilities, immediate release of test results and elimination of perceived trick questions.

By Kimberly Reeves

July 21, 2016      4:28 PM

Press Releases: More Voter ID reactions, water conservation dollars, prepaid tuition, and more

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July 20, 2016      6:05 PM

What is next in dealing with 5th circuit decision on voter ID

Does not void voter ID concept but Texas loomed perilously close to intentional discrimination

The Texas Voter ID law appears to be cast today into something akin to the Catholic Church’s version of purgatory – bound for neither heaven nor Hell, but somewhere in between in an act of absolution to satisfy the Voting Rights Act.

This afternoon, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, in an en banc opinion, vacated much of the opinion of Texas’ 2011 Voter ID law. The opinion, more than 200 pages long, instructs the state to craft a remedy before the November general election. As election lawyer Rick Hasen notes in his blog this afternoon, that remedy is something less than what Texas has right now, while still preserving the state’s right to put some form of voter identification in place to avoid voter fraud.

By Kimberly Reeves

July 20, 2016      6:02 PM

Rep. Helen Giddings Named Chair of Texas Legislative Black Caucus

“We face difficult issues and a tough political climate,” Giddings said. “Working together with our constituents will make Texas a better place for African Americans and every Texas resident.”

The announcement from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus can be found here.

July 20, 2016      5:57 PM

Press Releases: Voter ID reactions, Fort Worth restrooms, haze plan, and more

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July 20, 2016      2:09 PM

Fifth Circuit rules Texas Voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act

Case will be sent back down to district court to determine relief for the November Election.

Here’s the news flash from Reuters. Read along with us as we go through the opinion, which you can see here.

July 19, 2016      4:09 PM

Updated: Formal search for a replacement for Paul Hobby on TEC has yet to start

Rumors that anyone in particular has already secured the position are demonstrably false

Editor’s note: Late in the day, the Texas House GOP Caucus issued a statement on the situation and this story is updated to reflect that – SB

The resignation of Democratic Texas Ethics Commission member Paul Hobby will mean Texas House members of the minority party will have a chance to suggest possible replacements as Speaker Joe Straus mulls who to nominate for the panel that oversees campaign finance laws.

But that process has yet to begin, a source close to the Speaker told Quorum Report on Tuesday.

That source said Speaker Straus has not formally asked members for their input on who should succeed Hobby on the commission. That doesn’t mean, however, that some members do not already have ideas about who they would like to see in the job.

By Scott Braddock

July 19, 2016      4:07 PM

Press Releases: High speed rail opposition and not-back-to-school day

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July 19, 2016      4:03 PM

Trauma community proposes greater coordination for major disaster events

Questions are as fundamental as “How do we communicate to the paramedics how to take the patient to the right hospital at the right time for the right outcome?”

The recent horrific ambush of Dallas police hung heavily in the air as Rep. Four Price’s appropriations subcommittee took up the issue of trauma funding across Texas.

Surgeon Kenneth Mattax, who literally wrote the book on trauma care, told Price’s panel on Article II that the shootings in Dallas had Houston leaders conferring almost immediately about how the region would respond to a similar event. That only occurs because of the state’s regional collaborative network.

“As the tragedy in Dallas happened…at the two trauma centers in Houston, the leadership came together and said, what do we do when we’re overwhelmed? What do we do together?” said Mattax, chief of staff at Ben Taub Hospital. “And let’s prepare and be ready. Although, we’d just gone through drills in recent times.”

That regional response was not always the default plan of attack. Mattax admitted the hospital systems were known for their big egos before the regional advisory councils were created in 1989.

In her own testimony before the committee, Associate Commissioner Kathy Perkins – who spearheaded the creation of the regional network – said the state still faces challenges to create a seamless system, especially with the current pressure put on regional hospitals.

By Kimberly Reeves

July 18, 2016      6:20 PM

House budget writers appear to agree rail needs to be higher priority next session

“This is a water, road and rail combination that we’re talking about,” Rep. Larry Gonzales said.

Monday’s discussion in House Appropriations showed the state’s very real lack of focus on railroads and maritime ports when it comes to transportation funding.

In other words, roads have dominated the funding discussion in recent sessions, despite the expansion of the Panama Canal and a round of federal funding for rail under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, who chairs the subcommittee on Articles VI,VII and VIII, said he had taken his own time and effort to visit ports.

“I’ve been looking at this for a while. I’ve been traveling around. I know the Senate has a select committee on this, as well,” Gonzales told his subcommittee, which was joined by chairs Reps. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, and John Otto, R-Dayton. “So while others talk about roads and TxDOT, I really want us to ask questions about the other modes of transportation, and how they can help.”

By Kimberly Reeves

July 18, 2016      5:52 PM

Emmert: An Open Letter to Republican Trump Naysayers

As the RNC opens in Cleveland, former Dallas County GOP Chairman Wade Emmert writes, “I would have much rather had Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz as our nominee. But they didn’t win, so I’ll take it like a man and support our nominee.”

The Republican National Convention is getting underway in Cleveland now and with it a chorus of people proclaiming that the end of the GOP is at hand. If they are the chorus, then the verse is sung by those who claim, with a healthy amount of righteous indignation, that they are leaving the Republican Party for good.

To those two groups, I have a simple message: Get over it.

I’m reminded of the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.”

For the past six months, some in the GOP have offered nothing but whining. I’m looking at you, Bill Kristol. You all would have been satisfied had your candidate won, but he or she didn’t. Now Donald Trump is our nominee. That’s how the process works.

It’s called democracy. Look it up.

The complete column by Wade Emmert, former Dallas County GOP Chairman, can be found in the R&D Department.

By Wade Emmert

July 18, 2016      5:51 PM

Press Releases: Mourning Baton Rouge, regional haze regulations, sales tax holiday, and more

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July 18, 2016      5:44 PM

WaPo: The GOP nightmare moment on the convention floor

"…rumors that rump Republicans dissatisfied with the idea of Donald Trump as the party's presidential nominee would stage a protest vote swirled. On Monday, those disgruntled Republicans made good on their pledge — sort of.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza describes what happened on the floor of the RNC as anti-Trump Republicans made a failed bid to change the rules and unbound the delegates.

“’Roll call vote’ was the chant of the anti-Trump forces, a desire to have each state, one by one, announce their support or opposition not only for the rules package but, more broadly, for Trump.

Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack was — unfortunately for him — tasked with overseeing this chaos.  The first time he tried to declare that the "ayes" (pro-Trump) votes had it, he was shouted down and left the stage.  Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a leading voice of the anti-Trump movement, called that decision to flee ‘surreal’ and admitted that he had no idea what would come next.”

The full story is here.

July 18, 2016      1:24 PM

Jeff Moseley and Michael Moore join Texas Central Railway team

Former TxDOT Commissioner and aide to former Mayor Bill White join Houston leadership team for high speed rail

The full announcement from Texas Central can be downloaded right here.

July 18, 2016      11:23 AM

Abbott will ask lawmakers to give hate crime designation to the targeted killing of police

“While our state and the nation continue to mourn the heroes lost in Dallas, it is time for us to unite as Texans to say no more,” said Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday unveiled the details of what he is calling the Police Protection Act. It would include designating it a hate crime to kill police because of bias against law enforcement.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said in a statement.

“The proposal is punctuated by making it a hate crime for anyone to commit a crime against a law enforcement officer out of bias against the police,” Abbott’s office said. The Governor will ask lawmakers to pass legislation on this in 2017.

“The recent shooting in Dallas is not the first time law enforcement officers in Texas have been targeted,” he said. “Our goal is to do everything possible to make it the last.”

The full release from the governor’s office is here.

July 16, 2016      11:39 AM

Borris Miles to replace Rodney Ellis on Senate ballot

Tally was Miles-49, Thompson-30, Green-4

July 15, 2016      4:58 PM

Criminal justice could prove to be only big bright spot in finding savings in budget

“It wasn’t that long ago when (Williamson County law-and-order DA) John Bradley was the voice of criminal justice at the Capitol… we have a much stronger voice now for treatment and diversion.”

Criminal justice may prove to be the only bright spot going into a state budget cycle that already shows tension over rising expenditures.

The combination of proposed 4 percent budget cuts and unanswered budget demands make it easy to predict some of the budget battles ahead in 2017, especially given that the door already has been shut on supplemental budget requests, such as propping up the flagging teacher retiree health insurance pool.

That makes Marc Levin’s optimism on criminal justice reform next session all the more startling, especially given it might actually come with some savings in the budget. Last week, the Obama administration pushed hard on its own efforts to put criminal justice reform, one of its few bipartisan issues, back on track.

By Kimberly Reeves

July 15, 2016      4:57 PM

Smith: Unity, "With Actions and in Truth"

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that if Gov. Greg Abbott means what he says about unifying all Texans, he should demand repeal of the state Voter ID law, end the political ghettoization of minorities, and provide equal access to education and health care

On July 8, the day after the tragic murders of five Dallas police officers, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “In times like this we must remember - and emphasize - the importance of uniting as Americans." In an “Open Letter to Texas” released that same day an entitled, “A Time to Come Together,” Abbott repeated his call for unity.

Abbott was deservedly praised for his calming words in the aftermath of the Dallas attack on law enforcement officers. His comments were made all the more poignant when it became known he was suffering from second and third degree burns on his lower legs at the time. He had insisted on leaving a Wyoming hospital against physicians’ advice to be present in Dallas.

It is not too soon to ask whether Abbott meant what he said in Dallas.

The full column from Glenn W. Smith can be found in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

July 15, 2016      4:38 PM

SAEN: Perry used $2.65 million in campaign cash for legal defense in abuse-of-power case

Perry paid Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee's firm more than $1.2 million in the case

Here’s the scoop from David Saleh Rauf at the San Antonio Express-News.

July 15, 2016      4:36 PM

Press Releases: Patrick and Obama, condemning the terror attack in France, heading to Cleveland, and more

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July 15, 2016      1:00 PM

Senior staff changes announced at HHSC

"We are going to make the changes needed to create the best Health and Human Services agency in the nation,” Commissioner Smith said

The new leadership positions announced by Commissioner Charles Smith on Friday:

            Enrique Marquez, Director of External Relations

            Karin Hill, Director of Internal Audit

            Chris Adams, Deputy Executive Commissioner for System Support Services

            David Kostroun, Deputy Executive Commissioner for Policy and Performance

            Bryan Black, Director of Communications 

The full announcement from the Health and Human Services Commission can be downloaded here.

July 15, 2016      12:37 PM

Statesman: Paxton campaign raised about $945,000 in first half of the year

AG has about $3 million on hand.

July 15, 2016      12:36 PM

AG Commissioner Miller has $63K on hand after raising $123K so far this year

July 15, 2016      10:01 AM

Trump chooses Mike Pence as running mate

Here’s the latest from CNN.