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September 2, 2014      5:09 PM

Seeking a path forward for open-source textbooks in Texas

Effort has lagged because of a lack of vision and insufficient infrastructure

Foundations have pumped millions of dollars into building a university-driven open-source textbooks library for Texas schools, but much of the effort has lagged due to a lack of vision and insufficient infrastructure.

Just last month, the John and Laura Arnold Foundation donated $9 million to Rice University’s non-profit OpenStax, an effort touted to bring peer-viewed high quality instructional materials to Texas students. To date, OpenStax has spent its time creating college textbooks, which it estimates has saved students $13 million.

Unlike the printed textbook, the OpenStax digital textbook is personalized to the individual student, co-opting the concept of personalized instruction through participant choices, not dissimilar to the search and suggestion engine Google and Amazon now used to predict buying patterns.

"We can help teachers and administrators by tapping into metrics that they already collect -- like which kind of homework and test questions a student tends to get correct or incorrect -- as well as things that only the book would notice -- like which examples a student clicks on, how long she stays on a particular illustration or which sections she goes back to reread,” said Richard Baraniuk, a Rice engineering professor who founded OpenStax.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

September 2, 2014      5:08 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, education plan critiques, taxpayer rights, and a solution to the gubernatorial debate stalemate!

September 2, 2014      3:57 PM

Bearse: Silly Season

From the Right: Our conservative columnist argues Sen. Davis has made the classic Tony Sanchez mistake of going negative way too early instead of attacking in the fall from a position of greater strength.

Lock up the women and children, election season is upon us. With Labor Day behind us, we begin the nine-week sprint to Election Day. Or as most Texans consider it, a marathon of horror flicks disguised as political ads. Only Wendy Davis started it early, successfully raising her own negatives with an ad that should have received an NC-17 rating.

Coming soon to a mailbox near you are smarmy looking felons on a playground (if Republicans produce it, they will be white guys so Democrats can’t play the race card.) You will see babies crying. Seasoned citizens with an angry scowl. Political opponents with crazed eyes like the Uzo Aduba character in “Orange is the New Black.” By November 4 you will think you are choosing between crooks and communists. Or both.

Advertising has become so targeted that campaigns can buy satellite time that targets the individual home regardless of what channel you are watching. If you want to be stalked on the Internet wherever you go, keep your cookies on, enable Location Services on your iPhone and back up your private photos to iCloud. If you’re confused, ask your grandchildren.

But if you needed a reminder that the silly season is upon us, look at the coverage of Guard personnel supposedly starving on duty. Wendy Davis actually found a reason to campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, filling goodie bags for soldiers.

The complete column from Eric Bearse can be found in today’s R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

September 2, 2014      3:01 PM

Updated: Apparently seeking new venue, MQ Sullivan moves to Denton County and files Ethics appeal in North Texas

Sullivan now resides in Denton County after leaving Austin, his attorneys say

Note: This story has been updated throughout as of 3:01pm – SB

Attorneys for Midland oilman Tim Dunn's spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan have filed in Denton County, not Travis County, to appeal the Texas Ethics Commission’s finding that Sullivan is indeed a professional lobbyist who has failed to register.

When asked why Denton County is the venue for this, Sullivan’s attorney Joe Nixon told Quorum Report “That’s where Michael resides.” That assertion of fact is also in the filing for a “de novo” appeal.

Nixon said he did not know the exact date Sullivan moved from Austin to Denton County but he said it was prior to August 22, which is the day the appeal was filed.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

September 2, 2014      2:33 PM

Whitmire says criminal complaint against him "has no legs"

Conservative group argues that if Perry committed a crime trying to influence Lehmberg, Whitmire did likewise by influencing U of H president

A conservative group says that if Gov. Perry committed a crime in trying to influence the Travis County DA, then Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, is also guilty of a crime for influencing the president of the University of Houston. But, the veteran lawmaker told Quorum Report Tuesday afternoon the criminal complaint filed against him is "much ado about nothing."

"My situation doesn't even deserve comment because it has absolutely no semblance of the Perry allegations,” said Whitmire, the Dean of the Texas Senate. “Sounds like some lawyers with too much time on their hands.”

In a criminal complaint filed with the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Conservative Action Fund argued that Sen. Whitmire exerted influence over a public official, in this case U of H President Renu Khator, when he pressured her to kill a plan to require freshmen to live on campus.

Text messages between Whitmire and Khator were published in The Houston Chronicle.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

September 2, 2014      11:30 AM

New Hegar web video: Hard Work

Republican nominee for Comptroller touts farming business background

September 2, 2014      9:36 AM

New Abbott TV ad: Garage

Demonstrates story of overcoming adversity that Abbott told at RPT convention

September 1, 2014      8:06 AM

LAJ: Delwin Jones hospitalized in critical condition

Thirty year House veteran and SD28 candidate at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock

The Lubbock Avalanche Journal story can be found here.

August 31, 2014      11:08 AM

Stanford: Perry gets his photo ops while National Guard begs for food

From the left: "It’s a cliché to work “oops” into any story about Rick Perry, but shouldn’t it tell us something that the word always fits so well"

Texas has a new refugee crisis on the border, and this time it’s not a bunch of kids. When Rick Perry deployed the National Guard to the border, he remembered to go on Fox News, pose with assault weapons, and brag to Republicans in Iowa. But he forgot to make sure that our National Guardsmen and women got paid and were fed. Now they are turning to food banks to eat, underscoring how Perry’s big fake invasion of south Texas is really just a political put-up job.

Responding to the humanitarian crisis, Perry called up the National Guard and ordered them to the Rio Grande Valley to help deter drug smugglers. In a much-touted foreign policy speech, he even warned that ISIS may very well have snuck over the border to kill us all.

And while he’s been getting a lot of attention he forgot about the troops he deployed. The guardsmen and women have been in the Valley since August 11 and won’t get their first paychecks until after Labor Day. Now our troops need to eat, so they’re turning to local charities set up to help the residents of one of the poorest areas in the United States.

The rest of Jason Stanford's weekly column can be found in today's R&D Department.

By Jason Stanford

August 30, 2014      10:50 AM

In abortion ruling, Yeakel criticizes State’s witness coaching which undercuts Texas' future appeal

“That the State suggests that these seven or eight providers could meet the demand of the entire state stretches credulity,” Yeakel wrote.

US District Judge Lee Yeakel, in a startling blow to the state’s efforts to uphold its new abortion law, struck down two key provisions of the bill that would have all but guaranteed closure of the majority of the state’s abortion clinics: hospital admitting privileges for doctors and upgrades to ambulatory surgical centers for clinics.

What made Yeakel’s judgment even more striking occurred in the conclusions of his 21-page opinion. In a pre-trial memorandum, Yeakel instructed the two sides he was inclined to consider a geographic-centric ruling: one that focused on an undue burden upon women seeking abortions in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso.

That’s how the three-part conclusion in his opinion starts: the ambulatory surgical center requirement was an undue burden upon women and should be severed from the Act; hospital admitting privileges, as applied to the plaintiffs, should be enjoined from McAllen and El Paso abortion clinics; and an ambulatory surgical center requirement, in practice, was unnecessary and an undue burden for early abortions induced by medications.

Then, in the final paragraph of his opinion, Yeakel noted the two provisions, when taken together, “create a scheme that effects the closing of almost all abortion clinics that were operating legally in the fall of 2013.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 30, 2014      10:06 AM

District Judge John Dietz Decision: The Cliff Notes Version

We paraphrased and condensed 383 pages into 1,200 words so you don’t have to

Dietz’s rationale for his decision the Texas system of school finance was unconstitutional, boiled down for the lay reader:

We start this opinion at the point of the last school finance ruling in 2005, West Orange Cove v. Neeley. At the time, the Texas Supreme Court’s main finding in favor of the plaintiffs was that school districts lacked meaningful discretion to set their own tax rates, creating an de facto state property tax. That’s illegal. The state’s top court noted “a drift toward unconstitutional adequacy” but stopped short of declaring the school finance system unconstitutional.

Almost a decade later, the kids are poorer, the standards are higher and the system has less funding. Dietz pinpoints the initial decline to the passage of House Bill 1 in 2006, the state’s solution to local “meaningful discretion” over tax rates. The bill, which compressed tax rates by a third and added a revised business margins tax, created a recurring $10 billion structural deficit each biennium.

Texas avoided immediate system failure by plugging $12 billion in federal stimulus funds into the system in 2009, masking the fact state revenue pumped into the school finance system dropped by $3.2 billion over the biennium. The subsequent session, in 2011, state lawmakers cut $5.3 billion out of the system and Texas Education Agency, resulting in “significant harm” to students, according to Dietz.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 29, 2014      6:48 PM

Updated: Sen. Carona slams Abbott for decision to pull out of WFAA debate

“Greg Abbott is wrong to do this to the voters of Texas.”

We're learning more now about just how disappointed a veteran Texas Republican was Friday afternoon when he learned that his party's nominee for governor was pulling out of the only scheduled statewide televised debate between AG Greg Abbott and Sen. Wendy Davis.

In a strongly worded email to WFAA Television, which was set to host the debate, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said he was very concerned and that Abbott "is wrong to do this to the voters of Texas."

The rest of the story, subscribers only

August 29, 2014      6:33 PM

HK: Apparently negotiating with himself, Abbott agrees to new debate

Davis campaign: "Abbott's commitments don't mean much"

It is supposed to be the Davis Campaign that is in disarray, but to all current appearances, it looks like the Abbott Campaign is the one that can’t shoot straight.

At least Rick Perry used the subterfuge of refusing to debate Bill White until he released years of tax returns. Under the cover of the long Labor Day weekend, the Abbott Campaign unilaterally cancelled a debate to which it had previously agreed with Democrat Wendy Davis and without even the pretense of a subterfuge. They simply cited unstated problematic format issues … to which they had previously agreed.

Taking incoming from even their own Party and looking an awful lot like Clayton Williams refusing to shake Ann Richard’s hand, the state’s lead litigator apparently hurriedly set up another debate format and then announced it.

Unfortunately, the Davis Campaign confirms that they had no prior notice of the cancellation or the Abbott declaration of a “new debate”.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Harvey Kronberg

August 29, 2014      5:03 PM

Yeakel rules admitting privilege and ambulatory surgical center requirements unconstitutional

In addition, ASC requirement for medication induced abortions also undue burden and therefore unconstitutional

The Yeakel ruling can be found here.

August 29, 2014      4:56 PM

Abbott backtracks, accepts new debate invite

Rather than WFAA outlets, this debate will be broadcast without restricting carriers.

It is unclear what “format details” were problematic in the conversationally designed WFAA debate and how the game has changed in this new format.   Will it be conversational or the one minute canned answers format Rick Perry preferred?  We will publish as it becomes clear.

In the meantime, this is the statement from the Abbott campaign“Texans for Greg Abbott today confirmed the acceptance of an invitation from KERA, NBC5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39 and The Dallas Morning News to participate in a statewide televised debate on September 30, 2014 at 8 p.m. This is in addition to a statewide televised debate scheduled for September 19th, 2014 in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Abbott campaign accepted the debate invitation after withdrawing from a proposed debate hosted by WFAA-TV and the Texas Tribune due to an inability to agree on a suitable format. The September 30th debate will be distributed statewide without restriction to TV and radio stations, and all media will have the opportunity to stream it online.

Campaign Manager Wayne Hamilton released the following statement:“Voters deserve a thoughtful and substantive policy discussion on how the next governor will lead Texas. Greg Abbott looks forward to sharing his vision for Texas’ future and participating in the upcoming debates.”

August 29, 2014      3:56 PM

Some National Guard troops on the border turn to charity for help with food and gas

Rep. Oliveira of Brownsville is “appalled”

From Action 4 News in The Valley:

“’We were contacted that 50 troops that are in the Valley don't have any money for food and gas and they need our assistance,’ said Food Bank RGV Executive Director Terri Drefke.

They've turned to the Food Bank RGV for help since they won't get paid until September 5th and have been in the Valley since August 11th. Drefke told Action 4 News they are more than ready and willing to assist the military personnel. ‘We have fresh, boxed, and frozen food available,’ Drefke said.

Local lawmakers got wind of the issue when Action 4 News contacted them with our questions. Texas State Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) said he is appalled. 'It's embarrassing that our troops have to stand in a food pantry line,’ Rep. Oliveira said. ‘This is the fault of the state.’”

August 29, 2014      3:45 PM

Despite court challenge, Racing Commission approves "historical racing" machines

Bingo hall operators, who opposed the new gambling machines, are considering their legal options

The battle over what some have criticized as an unconstitutional expansion of gambling in Texas played out on two fronts Friday – both in a Ft. Worth courtroom and at the Capitol in Austin.

Attorneys for Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to convince a Tarrant County judge that the Texas Racing Commission should be stopped from moving forward with a rulemaking on what are called “historical racing machines.” Those are the terminals that look similar to slot machines and allow gamblers to bet or horse races that have already been run. See the video at the end of this story for a demonstration.

The judge denied a request from Krause’s attorneys Tony McDonald and Trey Trainor, who may sound familiar to QR readers because they also work with and for Michael Quinn Sullivan. The judge set a September 10 hearing for Krause’s attorneys to try to get a temporary injunction.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

August 29, 2014      3:07 PM

AG opinion puts Austin bag ban at risk

Abbott deems bag fees to be subject to court challenge

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office issued an opinion this afternoon that says Austin’s plastic bag ban and fees likely would be struck down in court because a city is prohibited from managing solid waste under the state’s health code.

Nine Texas cities, the largest being Austin, have enacted plastic bag bans. Chair Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, used a section of the Health and Safety Code to ask in March whether local jurisdictions were prohibited from regulating containers and fees. His request, with the section of the health code, can be found here.

In a five-page opinion, the attorney general’s office wrestled with what is considered to be the legal definition of container; if the legislative intent of the law, as debated on the floor of the House, involved plastic bags or Styrofoam containers; and whether a fee, as it applied to recyclable bags, was legal.  

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 29, 2014      2:55 PM

Sen. Carona says Abbott's decision to pull out of debate is "embarrassing"

"I'm a staunch Republican, but this is one more embarrassing move by a Republican candidate that either can't or won't defend his position on the issues," - Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas

August 29, 2014      11:06 AM

WFAA: Abbott backs out of only statewide televised debate with Davis

Campaign cites an "inability to agree on specific details of the format," but TV station posts letter confirming the campaign had previously agreed to terms

AG Greg Abbott’s senior campaign advisor Robert Black told WFAA Television in Dallas/Fort Worth: "Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate.”

But, the campaign had previously agreed to the debate format. WFAA posted the letter confirming that fact, which you can see here.

August 28, 2014      5:18 PM

Reactions roll in as Dietz affirms school finance system is unconstitutional

The constitutional rights of disadvantaged and Hispanic students are not being met, judge says

State District Judge John Dietz has given school districts a sweeping victory in the school finance case despite the efforts of lawmakers last session to pump another $3.4 billion into the school system to minimize school funding cuts.

Dietz announced his ruling from the bench in February and reaffirmed it with his ruling and findings today. School districts won on almost every point, with the exception of the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition’s fair and uniform tax claim, which he did not address in his ruling.

The biggest winner out of the ruling today will likely be school districts in the Edgewood plaintiffs. These were the school districts, mostly small and economically disadvantaged, that have found that taxing at maximum capacity still does not yield the kind of funding seen in larger, wealthier districts.

That means the Texas Supreme Court, where this will likely be appealed in the next month, is going to have to face the question of academic gaps between white and non-white students head-on when the case is finally heard next year. Attorney David Hinojosa of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said Dietz’s indictment of the system last time was broad; this time, it’s specific.

In short, Dietz agreed the gap in funding between poor Hispanic-majority districts and their wealthier neighbors is too large; the amount provided is insufficient to address disadvantaged students and English language learners; and even if those school districts maxed out their tax rate, they couldn’t catch up with their peers.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 28, 2014      5:17 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, endorsements and school finance reactions galore!

August 28, 2014      4:22 PM

Rep. Krause files suit to try to block "historical racing"

Racing commission has gambling expansion proposal on its Friday agenda

The fight over a controversial proposal to expand gambling in Texas is heading to the courthouse. That’s after Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, on Thursday said he filed a lawsuit in Tarrant County against the members of the Texas Racing Commission to try to keep them from adopting rules that would allow for what are called "historical racing machines." Krause is also trying to get a temporary restraining order, he said.

“Historical racing machines” look similar to slot machines but what they actually do is allow people to bet on horse races that have already been run. The way that works, supposedly, is the horses have been stripped of all identifying markers so the gamblers have no way to know how the race is going to turn out even though it has already happened.

Welcome to the future where we can bet on the past.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

August 28, 2014      3:12 PM

Dietz: "Consequently, the Court enjoins further funding under the system until the constitutional infirmities are corrected."

August 28, 2014      2:53 PM

The gist of the Dietz ruling-funding system fail on multiple counts

Fails to provide meaningful discretion in application of property taxes so that it can not provide a constitutionally adequate system of education. Students do not have substantially equal access to educational funds.

“On the final day of trial, this Court orally announced its ruling on the plaintiffs' claims, finding the Texas school finance system unconstitutional in several respects. Before this Court entered its findings of fact and a final judgment, the 83rd Legislature passed several bills that potentially affected the claims in this case. On June 19, 2013, the Court granted a motion to reopen the evidence to consider the impact of the 2013 legislation, and held a ten-day evidentiary hearing beginning on January 21, 2014.

“Based upon the competent evidence admitted at trial (both the main trial and upon the reopening of evidence), the arguments of counsel, and this Court's contemporaneously-entered Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (incorporated herein by reference), 8 the Court finds that the Texas school finance system effectively imposes a state property tax in violation of Article VIII, Section 1-e of the Texas Constitution because school districts do not have meaningful discretion over the levy., assessment., and disbursement of local property taxes. The Court further finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated, and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren.

“Further, the school finance system is constitutionally inadequate because it cannot accomplish, and has not accomplished, a general diffusion of knowledge for all students due to insufficient funding. Finally, the school finance system is financially inefficient because all Texas students do not have substantially equal access to the educational funds necessary to accomplish a general diffusion of knowledge. Consequently, the Court enjoins further funding under the system until the constitutional infirmities are corrected.”

August 28, 2014      2:45 PM

HK: MQS takes incoming from pro-life activist Pojman

Dismisses MQS claims of free speech suppression in lobby-registration

One of the great sideshows of the summer has been the unfolding melodrama as Tim Dunn operative Michael Quinn Sullivan has defended his refusal to register as a lobbyist asserting it violates his free speech rights and those of myriad volunteers and activists.

In a blogpost yesterday, Texas Alliance for Life’s Joe Pojman took aim at Sullivan’s claims and summarily dismissed them as either misguided or misleading.  He specifically argued that the lobby registration law neither limits anyone’s free speech nor prevents volunteer activists from robustly advocating for their cause without registering.

Pojman is no newbie to the cause.  He has been a stalwart in the pro-life trenches for 27 years and has built a grass-roots operation that has earned the respect of allies and opponents alike.  Unlike some who carry the mantle, Pojman’s word is his bond and he has a reputation for negotiating in good faith like colleague Kyleen Wright.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Harvey Kronberg

August 28, 2014      2:25 PM

School finance decision is out

Judge Dietz’ ruling linked below

The School Finance Final Judgment

The School Finance Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

Analysis to follow

August 28, 2014      10:46 AM

Battleground Texas features House candidate Kim Gonzalez in new web video

Gonzalez faces Rep. J.M. Lozano, who takes heat in the video for his party switch

August 27, 2014      4:43 PM

HK: Perry legal team maneuvers leave some white collar defense attorneys puzzled

The shelf life of an indicted politician is short, so why pursue slower strategy?

Armchair lawyering is about as productive as backseat driving but watching the Perry legal defense-apalooza has piqued our curiosity so this observer started talking to a handful of high profile long-time white collar defense attorneys.

So, with full knowledge that this layman is stepping into the minefield of thousands of attorneys armed with an actual legal education, here we go:

The most significant observation is how short the shelf-life of a criminally indicted elected official is.  The single most dominant imperative is quick resolution before the cycle gets too far down the line and the defendant is mired in quicksand.

So at least one attorney with whom we spoke was puzzled that the defense decided to seek dismissal based on dozens and dozens of constitutional habeas challenges to the indictments.   All of those challenges are appealable by both sides once the judge rules which may simply prolong the process.  The sheer volume may have been intended to overwhelm the limited resources of the special prosecutor, but again, any delays of proceedings may ultimately produce success in court but does not automatically translate to a political victory.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Harvey Kronberg

August 27, 2014      4:42 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, appointments, making college more affordable and minding the Rainy Day Fund

August 27, 2014      4:21 PM

School finance ruling expected Thursday, Judge Dietz's office confirms

Expected to favor plaintiffs, with a quick appeal to the Supreme Court

August 27, 2014      4:21 PM

Local control as unfunded mandate? TxDOT considers returning 6900 miles of roads to locals

Negotiated letter of understanding defuses situation

The Texas Department of Transportation managed to avert one publicity crisis during the interim while a recent legal opinion has led to more work for lawmakers next session as to how to fund new roads.

Chair Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, reviewed a number of the interim charges for his House Transportation Committee. First up was TxDOT’s so-called “turnback program”, which is intended to return TxDOT’s low-traffic roadways from the highway grid back to local control.

Cities, in particular, were vocally opposed to the proposal last year which was intended to take up to 6,900 miles of non-freeway lanes in urban areas off the state’s books. Letters sent out to local officials last August by then-TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson emphasized the program would be a “cooperative venture between TxDOT and local jurisdictions to increase local control.” The letter ended with an exhortation of “each of us doing our part” to maintain the state’s road system.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 27, 2014      4:15 PM

New Clean Water Act definitions could raise costs exponentially for state and local governments

"Albrecht’s interpretation of the new definitions, as applied to Kansas, would move the state from regulating 32,000 miles of streams to 134,000 miles of streams"

Revised definitions circulating for the Clean Water Act could add hundreds of millions of dollars to local and state budgets, a lawyer predicted at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Minneapolis last week.

The concern centers on expanded definitions in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which was released in March. Under the rule, waterways that must be regulated and tested could double, triple or even quadruple within state boundaries, with oversight falling to local and state government.

“You think you know what the definition of water is until you try to regulate it,” said attorney Virginia Albrecht of Hunton & Williams LLP. “These regulations are broad, they’re not clear, and it’s probably going to cost a lot of money.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 27, 2014      4:14 PM

Texas incentives for filmmakers are defended in House hearing

Texas Enterprise Fund continues to draw fire

A Hollywood executive and others told Texas lawmakers on Wednesday that the state is doing the minimum right now to be competitive in the film industry. Economic incentives for filmmakers who ply their craft here were the focus of hours of testimony Wednesday during a House select committee meeting, the latest in a series of hearings about Gov. Perry’s prized Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, as well as other programs designed to lure business.

Heather Page, the Director of the Texas Film Commission, said $128 million has been rebated to companies over the last 7 years through the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program and those companies have injected about $958 million into the state’s economy. It’s also created about 15,000 fulltime jobs in that time, she said. Meantime states like New York, Michigan, and Louisiana have gotten much more aggressive in recent years with their incentive programs for filmmakers, Page said.

As of last fiscal year, the program had a 657 percent rate of return, Page said. "That number is determined by the documentation that we receive from the applicant, how much money they spent, of which we will incentivize a percentage of that," she said and added that unlike the Texas Enterprise Fund – which grants money to companies up front after they’ve agreed to certain terms – the film incentives require private investment first. "They have to spend in the state well before they see a rebate from us," Page said.

The fund has been criticized by some self-identified Tea Party lawmakers and others as unnecessary and “outside the core functions of government.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

August 27, 2014      12:27 PM

Ruling on Texas abortion law could come as soon as today

Federal judge has demanded data, not anecdotes, on access to procedure

US District Judge Lee Yeakel could issue a ruling on the challenge to Texas’ new abortion law as early as today, opening the door to one more appeal before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.  

On Tuesday, parties that have challenged the Texas law noted the convergence of challenges to it. In Alabama and Mississippi, the Center for Reproductive Rights has seen some narrow wins. New rulings are expected out of Texas and Wisconsin this week. And new requirements go into effect in Louisiana and Texas next week and in Oklahoma in November.

Abortion clinics in Texas, represented in part by attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights, have brought two of the three likely challenges to the law: Hospital admitting privileges for physicians who perform abortions and the requirement to upgrade clinics to ambulatory surgical centers. The last expected challenge would be to the 20-week cut-off for the performance of procedural abortions.

The challenge before Yeakel, filed by Whole Woman’s Health, is narrowed to the legal concept of “undue burden” on women but only in specific areas of the state. If the requirement of ambulatory surgical centers is upheld in Texas, the number of abortion clinics would drop drastically to probably no more than eight or nine across the state. Yeakel’s primary directive to lawyers was to argue whether such requirements would put an undue burden on women who are hours from a clinic, in the Rio Grande Valley or El Paso.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

August 27, 2014      11:48 AM

Opponents of Houston equal rights ordinance take their case to Texas Supreme Court

Legal tussle continues over whether there will be a public vote to overturn protections for LGBT community and others

Conservative activists who want to see residents of Houston vote on whether to keep the city’s recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance have now filed with the Texas Supreme Court in what some might call a longshot bid to get the issue on this fall’s ballot. A judge in Houston has already rejected an attempt by opponents to get immediate relief and that judge set a January trial date.  

Former Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill and conservative activist Dr. Steve Hotze argue that the City Secretary ruled opponents had gathered enough valid petition signatures to force a vote on the issue but was then illegally overruled by the City Attorney and Mayor Annise Parker.

Woodfill said on Wednesday that that his group is hoping to get a public vote “as soon as possible.”

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August 26, 2014      5:44 PM

Ethics Commission requesting more resources to deal with MQ Sullivan case

Battle could take years and potential conflicts raise the need for outside counsel

The executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission said on Tuesday that the agency will be asking for an additional $150,000 for outside counsel as it foregoes the assistance of Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office in the agency’s ongoing legal battle with Tim Dunn spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan.

So far, the agency has spent about $14,000 of a $20,000 contract with Houston-based law firm Beck Redden.

Abbott’s office is normally charged with defending state agencies in legal matters but there are conflicts in this case. As Express-News reporter David Rauf reported over the weekend:

"The move to hire an outside law firm adds a new layer of political intrigue to a case that's already become one of the most highly publicized in the commission's roughly two-decade history.

For more than two years, the commission investigated Sullivan, recently fining the president of the anti-tax and limited-government group Empower Texans $10,000 for failing to register as a lobbyist in 2010 and 2011.

Now, the commission is girding for an appeal that could takes years to play out in district court. And the hiring of outside counsel is significant considering the case is flush with political overtones.

Abbott, a Republican, is the front-runner to replace Gov. Rick Perry as the state's top elected office. Sullivan is a central figure in the Texas tea party movement and derives vast influence as the head of one of the largest grass-roots organizations in the state. He's also endorsed Abbott's gubernatorial run, calling him an 'intellectual conservative who will speak out boldly for a stronger Texas.'"

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August 26, 2014      5:24 PM

Press releases: Endorsements, Women's Equality Day, campaign attacks and more!

August 26, 2014      5:21 PM

Bearse: Bra burners

From the right: QR's conservative columnist argues that some in the Texas press corps are twisting themselves into pretzels to make the case that Perry's indictment is more serious than it really is

Have you tried driving on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin lately? No longer can you travel in the right lane, because that’s for buses and bikers. In the left lane, proceed at your own risk. If you get stuck behind a left turner, good luck getting back into the middle lane, because we have now jammed 80 percent of the traffic into that one middle lane. For those turning right, you have to dart over to the right lane in last-minute fashion instead of doing it with the flow of traffic blocks earlier – all so buses and bikers get their own lane.  

This is what happens when we elect social engineers. A generation ago, they were burning bras. Now they are banning bags. And if they could ban the combustible engine they would do that too. I am just hoping that the forces behind the city’s Prop 1 don’t defeat the statewide Prop 1 due to voter confusion about which one was put on the ballot by the nanny state caliphate.

Remember when the Ron Paulites came up with the idea of Paulville, where like-minded libertarians could live together in Hudspeth County? I think we ought to do the same with the Austin City Council. Put it on TV and call it, “Survivor: Goofy Edition.” Let them experiment with their social engineering schemes without hurting the rest of us. They can have their own trolley line, buses ¼ full, and bike lanes known also as car lanes. I am willing to give them Native American reservation status, so they can assemble peacefully and smoke peyote without the cops touching them. Let them legalize pot, and give out tax credits for soy milk and vegan products. They can even form their own unarmed police force.

We have not only elected a generation of hippies, but their children who grew up in the hippie commune. And apparently we sent a bunch of them to journalism school too.

I can only laugh at some in the Texas press, horrified that for the only time in Gov. Rick Perry’s life, the New York Times editorial page has agreed with him. And Alan Dershowitz and David Axelrod too. After a couple days of nationwide denunciation of the indictment of Governor Perry, some in the Texas press are working overtime to turn the narrative. They are disgusted that the big feet have weighed in so ignorant of the facts. They have called the special prosecutor a Republican when he was nominated by Obama and signed off on by Lloyd Doggett. They have ignored a story about a grand jury member attending the Texas Democratic Convention while she was empanelled, and posting a picture where she attended an event with a key witness. They want readers to think there really might be merit to the indictment, if you only knew as much as they do.

The complete column from Eric Bearse can be found in today’s R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

August 26, 2014      11:09 AM

Former McCain adviser joins Perry legal team

“This is serious, we’ve got to handle it with the appropriate measures”

Via Politico:

“Republican strategist and former John McCain consultant Steve Schmidt has joined the team helping Texas Gov. Rick Perry with the strategy around his indictment, POLITICO has learned. Schmidt is the latest addition to a team that Perry has been expanding with legal hands.

The Republican governor, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has been indicted for allegedly abusing his power by vetoing funding to the office of a Democratic prosecutor who wouldn’t resign after a drunken driving arrest. ‘We’re bringing in the best of the best to help us handle this … this is serious, we’ve got to handle it with the appropriate measures,’ Perry spokesman Jeff Miller said.”