December 1, 2015      5:49 PM

Lt. Gov. Patrick leans on Racing Commission Chairman to repeal historical racing

"...unwind historical racing and return the Commission to its statutory purpose of enforcing the Texas Racing Act and its rules to ensure the safety, integrity, and fairness of Texas pari-mutuel racing."

The future of the struggling Texas horse racing industry is once again in the spotlight as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday leaned on the chairman of the industry’s regulator to repeal what’s known as “historical racing.”

“Historical racing” is a kind of betting that allows gamblers to watch videos of previously-run horse races and bet on the outcomes. Supporters say it’s an extension of already legal pari-mutuel betting. But, conservative critics of the Texas Racing Commission have said it is an illegal expansion of gambling and the agency acted outside its constitutional authority in approving it.

“As I have previously stated, I believe the decision to publish rules for the implementation of historical racing was not an appropriate action for the Commission,” Patrick said in a letter commission Chairman Robert Schmidt. “The move runs afoul of the Texas Constitution and the express desire of many members of the Texas Legislature, including me.”

By Scott Braddock

December 1, 2015      5:07 PM

Texas and the Obama Administration on track for SCOTUS immigration showdown before the next general election

Lawyers were notified today that Texas has until the end of the month to respond to the feds, meaning a ruling could come next summer

From the Associated Press story about the Texas-led challenge to President Barack Obama’s latest executive action on immigration known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents:

“Since the administration filed its appeal of the case to the Supreme Court in late November, Texas and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli had been embroiled in a procedural tussle over timing. Texas, the lead plaintiff in 26 states' suit against the executive actions Obama announced last year, had been seeking to delay consideration of the appeal, while Verrilli argued that a delay was unwarranted.

Supreme Court clerk Scott Harris said Tuesday in a notice to lawyers for the parties that Texas would have until Dec. 29 to respond to the administration's appeal. This effectively puts the dispute on track to be considered at the justices' Jan. 15, 2016, conference.

If the court agrees to hear the case following the conference, its rules would allow briefing to take place in February and March and oral arguments in April. A ruling would likely come down in June -- several months before the presidential election.”

December 1, 2015      4:52 PM

Press Releases: Next level crazy, water project grants, endorsements, and more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

December 1, 2015      4:05 PM

The Hill: Negotiators strike deal on five-year, $305B highway bill

"Transportation advocates praised Congress for moving to end a string of temporary road funding patches."

From the story:

House and Senate negotiators struck an agreement Tuesday on a $305 billion highway bill that would extend federal transportation funding for five years, setting up an eleventh-hour dash to win approval in both chambers.

The resulting 1300-page bill, paid for gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, comes just days before transportation spending is set to expire on Dec. 4.”

November 30, 2015      7:54 PM

Updated: Proposal to allow out-of-state money for Paxton legal defense is panned and delayed

“It would open a Pandora's box that invites corruption from a source already under indictment for alleged securities fraud. This serves nobody but Ken Paxton.”

The Texas Ethics Commission on Monday voted to create a subcommittee to further study the issue of whether Attorney General Ken Paxton can accept money with no Texas ties to fund his legal defense.

Unlike former Gov. Rick Perry, Paxton is barred from using campaign funds for his attorneys because the allegations against him of violating state securities laws are not related to his official duties in office. State law also prohibits the AG from accepting benefits from those who could be regulated by the attorney general.

A draft opinion, as first reported by David Rauf in the Houston Chronicle, circulated ahead of Monday’s TEC meeting laid out steps for an employee of the AG’s office to take to avoid gift-giving laws while accepting a benefit from a donor.

By Scott Braddock

November 30, 2015      7:53 PM

Press Releases: Campaign attacks, people on the move, more of the refugees fight, and reactions to Colorado shootings

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 30, 2015      7:49 PM

Congress promises to push final bills on education, transportation through before end of session

But the vagueness of statements on transportation are worrisome

Members of Congress are back in Washington, D.C., after a Thanksgiving break, expected to address transportation, education and the budget by year’s end.

Monday momentum would indicate lawmakers have a good chance of passing the Every Student Succeeds Act, the overdue redraft of No Child Left Behind. Today, the National Governors Association threw its support behind the reconciled draft, the first vocal support in two decades, to move control back to the states.  

“This is a significant step in the right direction in our work to ensure state control of education policy. This bill reinforces that accountability and responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states,” said NGA Chair Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert. “It is a clear example of cooperative federalism, which is a core tenant of this association. It emphasizes that states and localities have the freedom to provide students the world-class education they deserve.”

This is one area where Republicans in the Senate and school officials can find true harmony. Ruben Longoria of the Texas Association of School Boards is hopeful for passage. He says there is much to like in the compromise: the end of federal dictates on Adequate Yearly Progress and Highly Qualified Teachers but offers resource to local school districts to meet the goals set out in the original bill.

Hard-core conservatives in the House may be the only impediment to the bill’s passage over the next two weeks. Even so, House Republicans on the education committee sent out a message this morning, praising the bill for its elimination of “Common Core mandates.”

By Kimberly Reeves

November 30, 2015      2:52 PM

Advocates focus on quality over quantity in governor's signature pre-k program

“When people complain about capping this at $130 million when we cut $200 million in 2011, it’s only telling half the relevant story.”

A hearing to review the proposed rules around Gov. Greg Abbott’s high-quality pre-kindergarten initiative on Tuesday is getting plenty of scrutiny among the state’s early education advocates.

Support for pre-kindergarten funding – even bipartisan support -- has come and gone in past sessions, to greater or lesser success. To move the needle, this signature effort out of the governor’s office must focus on success over funding, said Jason Sabo, the lobbyist who worked with the broad philanthropic consortium that backed early childhood education funding last session. 

“The school districts that got the grants in past sessions were not necessarily the ones with the best programs. There were ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’” Sabo said. “When people complain about capping this at $130 million when we cut $200 million in 2011, it’s only telling half the relevant story. This is about quality, not quantity.”

Sabo compares Abbott’s quality focus to peewee football season.

By Kimberly Reeves

November 30, 2015      12:32 PM

High speed rail effort enlists Holly Reed to lead external affairs

In addition adds two heavyweights in construction and finance to leadership team

In addition to already securing $75 million in initial funding from private Texas investors, Texas Central Partners, LLC ratcheted up its commitment to the high speed rail project between Houston and north Texas with some significant staffing announcements today. 

QR readers will be most familiar with Holly Reed as the new managing director of external affairs.  Reed is a twenty five year veteran of ATT, most recently as regional vice-president of external affairs.  She brings a wealth of experience with the political landscape at both the state capitol and the metroplex.

November 30, 2015      12:31 PM

Rick Perry endorses Rep. Hughes for Senate

"Bryan has consistently stood to protect life and East Texas values."

"Bryan Hughes is a committed conservative fighting to secure our borders from illegal immigration," said Gov. Rick Perry. "Bryan has consistently stood to protect life and East Texas values.''

November 30, 2015      11:11 AM

Straus announces Patricia Shipton new chief of staff

Former Rep Allen Ritter to become senior advisor

The full release from Speaker Joe Straus can be found here.

November 30, 2015      10:41 AM

HK: The passing of Forrest Roan, friend and mentor

Roan was among the generation of those tough-minded politicos that helped shape QR

Forrest Roan passed away peacefully on Saturday. For the new generation of Capitol players, it is not a name that may mean much, but for the old-timers, Roan was both a formidable lobby adversary and a loyal friend. For this observer, he was one of a dozen or so mentors that took a young guy who had stumbled into a job at a political newsletter and helped him separate spin from political reality.

We sometimes say here at QR that our readers will forgive us for an occasional mistake but not for being naïve. Their names resonate with fewer and fewer at the Capitol but Forrest joins those that have passed including Gene Fondren (auto dealers), Mike McKinney (beer distributors), Harry Whitworth (Chemical Council), George Christian (bigger than any business affiliation), Olan Brewer (campaign analyst), Bob “Big Daddy” Johnson (founder of Lege Council and only one I know of to serve as parliamentarian in both chambers), Tommy Townsend (realtors then trial lawyers) and Reggie Bashur (campaign consultant who passed way too young)—all of whom made it their mission that this publication told the truth as seen by the players who made the process work.

By Harvey Kronberg

November 25, 2015      4:45 PM

Texas Catholic Bishops respectfully disagree with Catholic Gov. Abbott on Syrian refugees

“The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good.”

In a split with the first-ever Catholic Governor of Texas, the Texas Catholic Bishops on Wednesday afternoon called for "strength and mercy" in the Syrian refugee crisis.

While Gov. Greg Abbott has said Texas should not allow Syrian refugees to relocate here, the bishops took another view.

“The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good,” church leaders said in a statement.

By Scott Braddock

November 25, 2015      4:44 PM

Happy Thanksgiving from QR

Editor's note: We'll be mostly shut down for the holiday weekend but will still bring you any breaking news of significance. Newsclips will return Sunday morning.

November 25, 2015      4:27 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, fighting Obamacare (still), a presidential disaster declaration, and more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 25, 2015      3:39 PM

Reality Check from Nate Silver: Most voters barely paying attention nominating contests

Silver argues that a full 80 percent of Iowans still do not know who they’ll prefer when the caucuses start

While many in the political chattering class start to panic about the seemingly unstoppable candidacy of Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump, statistician and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver says we all need to take a deep breath.

Silver said "Right now, he (Trump) has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.)"

Iowans – who get the first crack at the nominating process – are notoriously late in settling on their preferred candidate, Silver noted.

“If even by New Year’s Day (a month before the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled for Feb. 1) only about one-third of Iowa voters will have come to their final decision, the percentage must be even lower now — perhaps something like 20 percent of voters are locked in,” Silver said.

Which means a full 80 percent still do not know which candidate they’ll support when the caucuses start.

Silver’s full analysis can be found here.

November 25, 2015      3:37 PM

Feds issue generally favorable audit of TxDOT's new role in environmental reviews

It’s the first of several audits over the next few years under an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration

The Texas Department of Transportation’s oversight of the federal environmental review process made “reasonable progress” with some observations for improvement, according to an initial audit from the Federal Highway Administration.

TxDOT contractors have raised delays in federal environmental reviews as a top concern at the annual Texas Transportation Forum. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, TxDOT signed a memorandum of understanding last December to assume those reviews. According to the Act, TxDOT completes environmental reviews and deals with various federal agencies, with FHWA acting as program oversight and review.

The initial audit, conducted on site in April, notes TxDOT’s efforts are appropriately focused on establishing policy, training staff and assigning roles. The report was filed Nov. 19 with no substantial comment. This is the first of a number of audits over the first two years under the memorandum of understanding.

By Kimberly Reeves

November 24, 2015      5:36 PM

New grading system for schools could lead to huge changes not anticipated by lawmakers

Budgets, technology, special programs don’t matter if “Texas doesn’t clearly define what is most important to you and the future of this state and the children who reside here.”

During a recent Texas visit, Florida officials laid out their A-F accountability system for individual schools at a business group’s meeting and it became clear that the ramifications for this state are far bigger than ever discussed during the legislative session.

School officials in Texas roundly opposed the labels while lawmakers were in Austin, as part of the larger House Bill 2804, but arguments usually devolved into complaints that no parent or child could take pride in a “D” or “F” school. The final record vote in the House was 119-17-2. The only senator to vote “no” on May 30 was Royce West, with a final tally of 30-1. It was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“I hear school superintendents talk all the time about the lack of parental involvement in schools,” Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business wrote in an opinion piece in March. “I would argue that nothing would get parents more involved in their child’s school than an A-F grading system, because, for the first time, parents would truly understand how their schools are doing. It would force schools to come up with an action plan to improve their grades and give parents new options to help their local schools become the best that they can be.”

The system, however, is not as simple as a set of labels.

By Kimberly Reeves

November 24, 2015      4:56 PM

Press Releases: Deaths at Fort Hood, transportation dollars, the climate accord, and the Texas Alamanac

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 24, 2015      1:09 PM

SBOE to tour Texas for feedback on assessment, accountability

Teachers or parents often dominate these with complaints about “teaching to the test” – this tour is intended to put parents, educators and business all equally at the table

The State Board of Education will travel the state this spring – the kind of tour it has not done in nearly two decades – to field concerns and prepare for its part in the “Next-Generation Assessment Commission.” It’s a commission intended to vet potential changes to the accountability and assessment system. The bill that created the 15 member panel, House Bill 2804, also institutes a yet-to-be-defined A-F rating system.

Board Chair Donna Bahorich put eight tentative dates on the calendar and set out a protocol that includes facilitated small group discussions. Three different groups of stakeholders – educators, parents and business – are invited to the discussion. But, unlike talks in Austin, Bahorich said no one group will be allowed to dominate the conversation.

“Decisions are typically made by those who are showing up in Austin,” Bahorich said. “We need to ask, ‘What are some of the unintended consequences? What are the benefits of what we’ve seen of what we’ve done so far? What are our goals? What are we trying to achieve? What do we expect to do for us?’ That kind of discussion will help us make better decisions.”

By Kimberly Reeves

November 24, 2015      1:00 PM

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jefferson says cost of legal services has grown to crisis proportions

New panel will focus on making legal services affordable for the middle class and small businesses.

The Texas Supreme Court has appointed a 18-member commission to address what Chief Justice Nathan Hecht calls the “growing justice gap.”

The court has tried to address indigent defense – the cost of representing those who can’t afford a lawyer – since the 1980s. Last year, that initiative cost an estimated $229 million, of which the state funds $27 million in formula and discretionary grants, according to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

But the gap between available lawyers and those who can afford legal services is growing. Hecht appointed panel to discuss how to make legal services affordable for the middle class and small businesses. The group will be known as the Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services.

By Kimberly Reeves