September 3, 2015      1:33 PM

TLR endorses Bryan Hughes in SD1 race

May be first endorsement for tort reform group of candidate that has practiced plaintiffs law

In explaining their endorsement, TLRPAC Chair Dick Trabulsi said, Rep. Hughes is a steadfast conservative and a hard-working member of the Texas House who is committed to good public policies, including lawsuit reform, which strengthen the Texas economy and create jobs. Rep. Hughes voted in support of the landmark medical liability reforms of 2003, which included the constitutional amendment allowing a cap on non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits. He also has voted in favor of other major TLR-backed initiatives, including the bill that ended attorney-driven lawsuits against the companies that dredge Texas’s economically vital ports, the bill that reined in the explosion of lawsuits that made the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) insolvent, and several anti-barratry bills to punish 'ambulance chasing.'”

September 3, 2015      12:55 PM

Abortion law challenge filed with Supreme Court

The nation’s highest court could take up the case as early as November

Those supporting abortion rights and opposing Texas’ recent abortion law have now filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn what they call “the most devastating restrictions since Roe v Wade.”

This was the next expected step after the Supreme Court granted not one, but two, stays to Texas law. Attorneys expect the case could be before the highest court by November, and that this case will be the one taken up to settle the constitutionality of 300 laws passed across the country to limit abortion since 2010.

The nation’s highest court could take up the case as early as November, said the attorneys. It would tackle the issue whether laws that indirectly restrict abortion –requiring expensive ambulatory surgical centers, adding doctor admitting privileges, expanding the number of times a woman has to see a doctor to get the procedure – are a medical necessity or a trumped-up rationale to limit abortions.

By Kimberly Reeves

September 3, 2015      11:55 AM

David Simpson Senate campaign says his first media buy is $50,000 of broadcast during early voting

Simpson's consultant Luke Macias tells QR that "We fully intend to compete at every level of this campaign and are blessed to be in a position to make this investment so early in the campaign."

September 3, 2015      11:09 AM

Speaker Straus says Planned Parenthood harvesting of baby body parts is "abhorrent"

Straus said the Texas House stands with Gov. Abbott on the issue and said there will be more done in the 2017 session to crack down on abortion

September 2, 2015      4:55 PM

HK: The possible politics behind the Abbott anti-abortion initiative

Abbott team watches as Patrick promises not to engage in Senate races and then does so anyway

Governor Greg Abbott last Friday announced a new anti-abortion initiative cleverly called LIFE—an acronym for his four-part plan. The details of the acronym can be found here. Given the Republican anti-Planned Parenthood drumbeat galvanized by the release of heavily edited videos successfully designed to inspire outrage, it is not surprising at all that yet another elected official is working to lead the charge.

But, while Republican presidential candidates are stumbling over each other to own the issue, the timing and nature of the Abbott initiative had at least some tongues in the Texas Capitol community wagging about other motives.

Ever-diligently looking for the subtext behind a political maneuver, the Friday afternoon news drop did not seem intended as a bold new policy idea meant to reframe the argument to the general public – or at least that’s the way the political conversation around town went. There were no new ideas in the initiative and the outrage has apparently not been sufficient to drive the Governor to call a special session.

The most subscribed-to motive in this tight little community is that Abbott’s LIFE initiative is as much about Lt. Governor Dan Patrick as it is about Planned Parenthood.

By Harvey Kronberg

September 2, 2015      4:51 PM

Press Releases: Announcements, appointments, a retirement, people on the move, and more

September 2, 2015      4:48 PM

Some observers contend Texas motion on Voter ID an attack on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act

Critics say Texas’ language seems to be one step short of suggesting Section 2 should be tossed altogether.

Some who closely follow challenges to the Voting Rights Act suggest a Texas motion last week to put the state’s Voter ID law before the full Fifth Circuit is nothing short of an attempt to close any and all avenues for minorities to protect their right to vote.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed his petition to re-hear the challenge to Senate Bill 14, the 2011 Voter ID law, last week. In early August, a three-judge panel remanded the case back to U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos, asking her to suggest a broader way to comply with the intent of the law, which was to address voter fraud.

In a 28-page petition, Solicitor General Scott Keller argued the Fifth Circuit’s opinion was inconsistent with other circuit decisions from last year; was based on conjecture rather than actual proof that voters faced substantial obstacles to vote; and represented a “novel interpretation” of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

By Kimberly Reeves

September 2, 2015      4:29 PM

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon will not seek reelection

September 2, 2015      4:16 PM

RRC Inquiry: The full examiner's report

XTO Energy gets pass (so far) on Azle earthquake swarm

A Texas Railroad Commission inquiry concludes that evidence does not support, contrary to peer-reviewed findings of a scientific team at Southern Methodist University, that a disposal well operated by XTO Energy Inc. likely contributed to seismic activity in the Azle area of North Texas, according to a preliminary report from the agency’s hearings division.

That preliminary finding of hearings examiners, dated Aug. 31, 2015, isn’t final until the commission’s three elected commissioners sign off on it and doesn’t become effective until 20 days after a party is notified of the order.

The full report is available in the Texas Energy Report.

September 1, 2015      7:09 PM

Texas Supreme Court listens skeptically as the state argues to take the courts out of school finance

Chief Justice Hecht suggested the outcome of such an argument would make the article in the constitution around the purpose of public education “a dead letter.”

Attorneys for the state on Tuesday offered a curious defense before the Texas Supreme Court in the school finance case this morning, arguing the judiciary had no standing to decide the constitutionality of a system best left to the legislature.

An argument to kick the courts out of the Texas school finance system likely would win kudos from hard-right conservatives in the statehouse, but it would seem an odd pitch to the bench, given the state’s highest court has agreed to take a school finance case not once or twice, but seven times in recent memory.

In fact, John Culberson has failed, repeatedly, to take the courts out of school finance, both in the Texas House and in the U.S. House. Still, Attorney Ken Paxton firmly reiterated the defense in a statement after this morning’s arguments.

“For more than three decades, school finance in Texas has been mired in lawsuit after lawsuit, filed by those attempting to use the courts to accomplish what they couldn’t accomplish through the legislature,” Paxton said in his statement. “In fact, a child who started kindergarten in 1984, the year this rash of lawsuits began, would be 36 years old today – 18 full years out of high school. Throughout it all, one thing has remained true: this issue is best dealt with by the legislature, the elected representatives of the people of Texas, and not by the courts. Texas education must be about properly educating students, not endlessly battling in court.”

The only justices who appeared inclined to entertain the argument were Justices Phil Johnson and Don Willett. Willett noted the never-ending rounds of school finance litigation had simply become a process of putting one Band-Aid on top of another. More skeptical, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht suggested the outcome of such an argument would make the article in the constitution around the purpose of public education “a dead letter.”

By Kimberly Reeves

September 1, 2015      5:24 PM

Appropriations Chairman tells QR the House and Senate have worked out an agreement on Racing Commission

Agreement will allow for full funding of the agency's administrative costs for three months, Rep. John Otto says. An agreed to letter should be signed as soon as tomorrow, he said.

September 1, 2015      4:39 PM

Press Releases: New laws in effect, nominations, campaign announcements, and more

September 1, 2015      4:31 PM

AG Commissioner Miller asks LBB to fully fund the Texas Racing Commission

“Upwards of 100,000 Texans who work directly or indirectly in the racing industry would lose their jobs, and I’m just not okay with that. These folks will be forced to move to other states and will further strain the equine industry in our state," Miller said.

September 1, 2015      4:00 PM

Bernsen: Perry, Hall, Nelson and the Politics of Intimidation

From the right: Conservative James Bernsen argues that the criminal justice system is being used in Texas to keep conservative elected officials from keeping their promises

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, our conservative columnist Eric Bearse moved on and Quorum Report is now on the hunt for a new voice on the right. James Bernsen now offers his thoughts for our readers’ consideration – SB

There are some people who just can’t accept the conservative ascendancy in Texas. And I’m not talking about liberals. No, it’s the interest groups on all sides who just can’t believe that there are conservatives who actually believe all this stuff about free trade, low taxes and limited government. What to do? If you can’t beat ’em, intimidate ’em.

There have been plenty of victims of late. Most notable is Governor Rick Perry, indicted for vetoing a bill, or more accurately, threatening a veto, then doing what politicians aren’t supposed to do, and actually follow through on a principle. The case was pushed by Texans for Public Justice, the group that took down Congressman Tom DeLay’s career. Never mind that DeLay’s conviction was overturned. In war, the point isn’t to kill the enemy, it’s to get him off the battlefield, and wounding him is good enough.

The complete column from James Bernsen is in the R&D Department.

By James Bernsen

September 1, 2015      2:41 PM

Appropriations Chairman is hopeful Racing Commission standoff can be resolved in the next few days

Rep. Otto said has not heard from Gov. Abbott, who would have to be involved under the temporary fix floated by the Senate; meantime, horse racing interests want a public LBB meeting on the issue

Now that the Texas Racing Commission – along with the race tracks it regulates – has shut down amid a standoff revolving around the agency’s funding and a type of gambling known as “historical racing,” the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee tells Quorum Report he is hopeful the dispute can be resolved in a day or two.

Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, said he’s not quite sure what all is involved in the Texas Senate’s proposal to allow the agency to move money within its budget so that it can stay open for three months. But, Otto was certain Gov. Greg Abbott would have to sign off on the shifting of funds proposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Senate officials.

As of midnight Tuesday, the agency closed its doors and notified race track operators they would have to shut down as well.

Nearly 40,000 Texans work at those tracks.

By Scott Braddock

September 1, 2015      1:20 PM

Tim Dunn personally defends Ken Paxton

In op-ed, Dunn bypasses his usual spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan to argue that the felony charges against Paxton are an abuse. Dunn also rails against Speaker Straus’ coalition government: “The House coalition retains power by projecting the illusion that the House is controlled by Republicans, by spreading lobby cash to House coalition members, and by bullying any Republican who won’t play along.”

You can the op-ed authored by Empower Texans Chairman Tim Dunn in the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

August 31, 2015      8:38 PM

Amid standoff over funding, Racing Commission notifies industry it is ending oversight

“At this time, the agency must cease all operations.”

Here’s the letter from the Texas Racing Commission.

August 31, 2015      6:32 PM

School finance showdown set for Tuesday at Texas Supreme Court

“Lawsuits in this domain alter only the rules of engagement; they never settle the underlying issue…too much is at stake.”

Attorneys for plaintiffs, the state, and intervenors will appear Tuesday before the Texas Supreme Court to make their arguments on the issue of school finance – and the words written by one expert more than two decades ago still ring true.  

Ten years before he would join the University of Texas system as chancellor, then-UC Berkley professor Mark Yudof opined on the likelihood that any school finance solution could provide a permanent fix to the voracious appetite of the Texas public education system and its evolving student population. “Lawsuits in this domain alter only the rules of engagement; they never settle the underlying issue,” wrote Yudof in a piece published in 1991. “Too much is at stake.”

At the time, Yudof did not put much stock in the first of a series of Edgewood school finance opinions, which opened the door to what was then called “fiscal neutrality.” Yudof labeled the decision “mundane” compared to other states. But the court’s concept of substantial equity – that school finance must be driven by the wealth of the state and not individual school districts – has driven three decades of litigation.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 31, 2015      6:31 PM

Despite announced deal, House and Senate leaders are at odds over Racing Commission which is set to shut down tomorrow

“We have been looking for a way to avoid a shutdown,” said Sen. Nelson in announcing a plan to keep the agency open for 3 more months; House Appropriations Chairman John Otto says not so fast

There have been some fast developments this evening surrounding the tense standoff about the future of horse racing in Texas. And what is absolutely clear right now is that despite a deal announced by Texas Senate leaders, there is no agreement with the lower chamber and this could all fall apart before the Racing Commission is set to shut down as soon as tomorrow.

The first thing that came to light was Senate leadership announced a deal had been reached to keep the agency funded through the first quarter of the 2016 fiscal year.

Critics, though, were quick to tell QR that the announced deal is really aimed at forcing the agency to move money around to try to stay open, so there’s no guarantee that this won’t fall apart. It also appears Gov. Greg Abbott would have to approve the Senate deal as it is constructed.

Sources within the horse racing industry tell QR that they could start laying off people as soon as this week.

By Scott Braddock

August 31, 2015      6:30 PM

Press Releases: Blue Bell day, appointments, and more

August 31, 2015      6:29 PM

Ten years later, Katrina reshapes how Texas deals with disasters

“So much has been learned, but with all crisis situations in life, there is always more to learn.”

Opinion is mixed whether the country is in a better place to coordinate emergency management today than it was 10 years ago when Hurricane Katrina landed on the shore of New Orleans, according to a CNN poll released late last week.  

The CNN poll noted nearly half of Americans do not think the country is any better prepared for a disaster on the scale of Katrina, a storm that took 1,800 lives and sent tens of thousands of people to Texas, many permanently. While much of last week’s coverage focused on New Orleans, the response from Texas leaders was a key in getting storm survivors back into work and on their feet.

Some of the changes that came out of lessons learned from Katrina are tangible and obvious, such as the contraflow lanes out of Houston to address evacuation. In a report on the Texas Department of Transportation’s “lessons learned” from Katrina, the Texas Transportation Institute recommended upgraded communications, contraflow lanes and the use of the 511 traveler information phone system, which was new at the time of Katrina and Rita.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 31, 2015      3:57 PM

Houston Chronicle: Impasse over Racing Commission could get a temporary fix

Newspaper report squares with what sources have been telling QR today: A stopgap measure is in the works and could be agreed on as soon as this afternoon

The Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal got the scoop, which you can read here.

Not long after the newspaper reported that development, Jan Haynes, President of the Texas Thoroughbred Horsemen's Partnership, released this statement:

"While we are pleased with reports that our industry will be open for business tomorrow, this sort of uncertainty is almost as bad as shutting us down now.  The horsemen's only crime is disagreeing in public with Jane Nelson and Dan Patrick.  No other business group in our state would tolerate such small thinking from ‘Legislative Leadership’

"They didn't want the bad press for shutting us down so they subvert the process further with more behind the scenes dealings and send a clear message to horsemen in this state: "You are not welcome.""

August 31, 2015      11:57 AM

After less than a year on the job, HHSC COO John Scott is leaving for the private sector

“I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to John Scott for his steadfast commitment and service to the State of Texas,” said Gov. Greg Abbott.

Health and Human Services Commission COO John Scott is stepping down from that role at the agency.

 HHSC Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor on Monday announced Scott will return to the private sector, "where he is known as one of the top civil litigation attorneys in Texas History." Scott joined HHSC in January, where he served as the chief architect behind the agency's internal ethics and contracting reform, Traylor said.

“The impact of John’s sound assistance, advice, and counsel cannot be overstated,” Traylor said. “He brought with him to the HHS system the legal acumen and the commitment to excellence necessary to affect immediate change during one of the most difficult periods for any state agency in recent memory. He is a dedicated public servant, he is a friend, and he will be missed.”

August 29, 2015      10:33 AM

SB: Texas is officially sending mixed signals to business

General Electric reportedly drops Dallas as possible site for its HQ; Sen. Cruz and crew complicate the efforts of Gov. Abbott to attract jobs

General Electric reportedly delivered a blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s economic development efforts on Friday as Bloomberg let us know that GE “dropped the Dallas area as a site for a possible headquarters move because of concern that Texas’s political climate is unfavorable to the company’s business.”

The specific problem is Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies’ fight against the Export-Import Bank, the report said. General Electric is a huge exporter as are many Texas businesses.

During the same speech on the US Senate floor in which Sen. Cruz called the leader of his party in the chamber a liar, Cruz said that average folks have no clue what the Ex-Im Bank even is. “The what?” is what he claimed average folks would say. Cruz pointed to one other senator as someone he could applaud for their stance on the issue: Self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.

By Scott Braddock

August 29, 2015      10:31 AM

Smith: Celebrating Labor Day in Texas While Gov. Abbott Says Adios and Escapes to Mexico

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith urges us to celebrate the American worker and the accomplishments of the Labor Movement on Labor Day, even while Gov. Abbott abandons us for a weekend in Mexico.

When a Donald Trump supporter this week yelled “Get out of my country!” at a distinguished Latino journalist, who knew Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would say “okay” and make plans to head to Mexico? I don’t think he was talking to you, Governor.  

Of course, it’s another matter altogether that Abbott decided to plan his Mexican escape for the Labor Day weekend, thereby signaling to Texas and American workers just how much he thinks of them. I don’t remember another time a Texas governor scheduled a foreign trip for the weekend we celebrate the contributions of hard-working Americans.

Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. You might wonder why it’s not celebrated on May 1, Mayday or International Workers Day, like it is in some 80 other countries. That’s because President Grover Cleveland didn’t want the holiday associated with the deadly Haymarket Riots in Chicago in early May 1886.

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

By Glenn W. Smith

August 28, 2015      5:14 PM

Educators push for broader deployment of fiber through rural Texas

"If Texas wants to maintain its competitive advantage and ensure our students have the necessary skills to meet workforce demands, it's imperative that all our public schools are connected to the modern Internet."

Federal officials are meeting with state leaders at the Texas Capitol to discuss how to leverage new federal dollars to close the state’s digital divide.

Fifteen years since the first report was drafted to define the goals for connecting classrooms to technology, access to the Internet is almost universal, at least for teachers. But the integration of that technology into classroom lessons, and the teaching of digital citizenship, still lags behind the ideal, according to the progress report the Texas Education Agency presented to lawmakers last session.  

Today, the Texas Computer Education Association invited technology leaders, education groups and elected officials to meet with representatives of the Federal Communications Commission to discuss new rules for E-Rate that could flow additional money to smaller projects and more rural areas.

Since 1998, Texas has pulled down $4.14 billion from the E-Rate program to connect Texas schools and libraries to the Internet, according to TCEA’s estimates. The average annual commitment to the state is $235 million, drawn from the universal service fund fees on phone bills. TCEA is encouraging the state to leverage additional funding, broader rules and participation requirements to build the additional bandwidth necessary to serve schools, universities and hospitals.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 28, 2015      4:53 PM

Press Releases: EPA reactions, dueling statements about Planned Parenthood, confederate statues and more

August 28, 2015      9:42 AM

Sen. Jane Nelson's press secretary Megan Hanson is departing to work for America Rising in Colorado

August 27, 2015      5:47 PM

Johnson: A GOP tax assessor-collector weighs in on the Austin property values lawsuit

In this op-ed, Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson argues that the entire property tax system needs reform and a lawsuit against the Comptroller is not the right way to get change that is needed

This week’s news about the City of Austin filing suit over property values compels me to comment.

As an elected county tax assessor collector, former elected school board trustee, both voting and non-voting director on a county appraisal district AND former real estate appraiser, I am appalled by the action of the City of Austin with regard to the commercial and land property tax situation.

The property tax system is unfair – it has been from inception – but this action is not the proper one. Reform of the entire system is needed. The Texas Legislature and state leadership need to acknowledge the need and accept the responsibility.

The complete column from Galveston County Tax Assessor Collector Cheryl E. Johnson can be found in the R&D Department.

By Cheryl E. Johnson

August 27, 2015      5:40 PM

AAS: Judge denies temporary injunction to relocate UTs Confederate statues

August 27, 2015      4:51 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, re-election announcements, overdose awareness, deceptive editing, and more

August 27, 2015      3:08 PM

ACT participation up in Texas, college readiness remains flat

Texas, unlike many states, has not collected course-level data for students until now, so it has been difficult to track changes in the requirements for a high school diploma

A record number of Texas graduates took the ACT college admissions test last year, but gaps in data make it difficult to assess what is going to keep those students on track for being ready to complete a certification or college degree. 

Just over 40 percent of the Class of 2015, or 124,764 students, took the ACT. Numbers for the SAT, out typically in October, are expected to be larger. Because the SAT and ACT are a component of the state’s indices on college readiness, the majority of students do take one test, or both. For the Class of 2013, it was 66 percent, although the percentage can be as high as 98 or 99 percent for a high school such as Westlake in Eanes or Memorial in Spring Branch.

What hasn’t changed is the overall performance on the exams.

Texas, unlike many states, has not collected course-level data for students until now, so it has been difficult to track changes in the requirements for a high school diploma. For instance, it is not clear whether Texas’ requirement of four years of science and math made a significant impact on the scores on college admission tests.  

By Kimberly Reeves

August 27, 2015      11:45 AM

Ken Paxton pleads not guilty in Collin county

"I am innocent. ... It is a travesty that some would attempt to hijack our system of justice to achieve political ends."

The Austin American Statesman’s Chuck Lindell has this report.