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May 25, 2015      5:18 PM

Senate appoints conferees on SB 1

They are Nelson, Hinojosa, Huffman, Nichols, and Bettencourt

May 25, 2015      2:56 PM

Updated: Texas Senate tentatively passes bill to restrict judicial bypass for minors seeking abortions

Democrats go to bat with points of order; Capitol observers say they've not seen this many POO's in the Senate in more than a decade; Gov. Patrick concedes he is setting new precedent with a ruling on one of them

After more than 3 hours of a thorough but somewhat subdued debate, the Texas Senate on Monday passed one of the biggest pieces of anti-abortion legislation still on the table this session. House Bill 3994 would make it much more difficult for a minor to go to a judge and get the green light to have an abortion in cases when a parent either will not or is not available to grant such permission.

Judicial bypass, as it is known, was first passed in Texas back in 1999 when it enjoyed bipartisan support and was signed into law by then-Gov. George. W. Bush. Other than banning insurance from covering “elective abortions” – a proposal that has new life in the Texas House and is set for debate Tuesday – this judicial bypass “reform” is one of the biggest prizes anti-abortion activists seek from the 84th Legislature.

The Senate sponsor, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, argued for hours that the bill would “protect” abused minors and give “clarity” to judges. The bill was passed to third reading on a vote of 21 to 10, with Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, joining with Republicans as he often does on anti-abortion legislation.  

Before Sen. Perry moved to bring the bill to the floor, Democrats unleashed two points of order, including one from Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, which ended up being precedent-setting in nature.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 25, 2015      1:54 PM

Texas House postpones PIU bill until Tuesday

May 25, 2015      12:16 PM

On eve of House debate, UT Chancellor McRaven outlines ways to change campus carry legislation

McRaven remains steadfastly against campus carry, but responds to questions about how to make it less bad than he believes it to be

As the Texas House prepares for a debate on campus carry scheduled for Tuesday, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, released a written exchange between himself and UT System Chancellor William McRaven in which McRaven makes suggestions for changing the legislation.

The problem with suggesting changes, of course, is that Republicans will try to move the bill through the House with no changes so that it can be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it.

In a letter dated April 20 and distributed around the Texas Capitol Monday morning, McRaven reiterated his staunch opposition to the proposal, arguing once again that campus carry will stymie efforts to recruit top-notch faculty and create new costs for campuses.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 24, 2015      11:35 PM

Calendars Committee reconsiders vote on anti-abortion bill, puts it on Tuesday calendar

SB 575 would bar insurance coverage for what Sen. Larry Taylor has described as "elective" abortions. Calendars previously in the evening rejected the bill, reconsidered the vote after 11pm

May 24, 2015      10:53 PM

Calendars Committee puts Campus Carry on the schedule for Tuesday

May 24, 2015      10:42 PM

House passes TWIA overhaul SB 900

May 24, 2015      10:15 PM

Rep. Stickland and Chairman Cook nearly come to blows on the House floor

Stickland upset because SB 575 to ban abortion insurance coverage died in Calendars

Security had to move to quickly to break up what almost became a fistfight on the Texas House floor between Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, and State Affairs Chairman Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

Stickland was upset with Cook after a bill that would have banned insurance coverage for abortion died in Calendars.

Earlier in the day, Stickland had agreed to pull down a controversial anti-abortion amendment during a discussion of a sunset bill. He had done so on the condition that SB 575 to ban insurance coverage for abortion procedures get a vote in the Calendars Committee. It did get a vote but it was not placed on the calendar.

Per Brian Rosenthal at the Houston Chronicle, Cook said he had promised Stickland that the bill would get a vote in Calendars, which it did receive. "You gave me your word," Stickland yelled.

"My commitment was to get the bill to Calendars,” Cook said. “What I can't do is interfere with other members' ability to vote their conscience."

May 24, 2015      9:40 PM

Senate passes HB 32 to cut franchise tax by 25 percent on vote of 24 to 6

Sen. Huffines loses another bid to try to phase out the franchise tax

May 24, 2015      7:23 PM

Texas House passes SB 1

Vote was 136 to 0

May 24, 2015      6:40 PM

House passes amendment gutting changes to Hazelwood that were made by the Senate

"We don't want to be messing with the veterans issue," Rep. John Zerwas said. "We need to protect the Hazelwood program." House leaders look forward to a conference committee with the Senate.

May 24, 2015      1:32 PM

Rep. Stickland will not force abortion vote in the House today

Stickland tells Quorum Report that he is pleased to see SB 575 is moving in the House now. That one would ban all insurance companies from covering abortion. What that means for today is there won't be an abortion showdown over the bill to restructure the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. He'll pull down his amendment, he said. Stickland is on his way to the House, by the way.

May 23, 2015      4:19 PM

Another long time Capitol hand, Bob Strauser passed last Thursday

Began as a Lege Council drafting attorney, helped form Texas Association of Taxpayers then moved on to lobby with Baker Botts

To have passings of two old Capitol friends in one week, especially during the home stretch of legislative process to which they were devoted forces one to stop for a moment and take a deep breath.

Strauser lost his battle with esophageal cancer.

Bob Strauser’s funeral will be at 10AM on Tuesday at St. Mark’s Episcopal on Barton Hills Drive.  His wife Teri wrote us, “Interment will be private, but we will have a reception at our house at noon.  Given that Tuesday is the last day for second reading of Senate bills in the House (and Bob would have been first in line to grouse about the inconvenience of a funeral at this time), we will be having a reception after session.”

Folks like Strauser and Doc Arnold didn’t just make a living in the legislative process.  Like most of us who spend any time at it, they became absorbed with this often oblique process and the depth and intensity of the community it spawns.  They always told it straight to this one time newbie and shed light on a process that never really stops. 

You can find Strauser’s obituary here.  It will also appear in tomorrow’s paper.

By Harvey Kronberg

May 23, 2015      11:39 AM

Former House member and lobbyist Doc Arnold passed away

Gordon "Doc" Arnold served in Texas House from 1983-1985; resigned to become aide to then Speaker Gib Lewis and subsequently lobbied

Long time participant in Texas politics, Gordon "Doc" Arnold passed away today. Originally elected to the Texas House, he represented Ellis and Kaufman Counties. He resigned during his second term to work for then Speaker Gib Lewis and later became a well regarded lobbyist.

As details about arrangements become available, we will post them.

May 23, 2015      10:43 AM

Anti-union bill is dead

Chairman Cook will not schedule a vote in State Affairs; he says the Senate sent it to the House in badly flawed form and there is simply not enough time left in the session to do it right

Texas House lawmakers will not vote on a bill that would weaken organized labor in the state even more than it already is, Quorum Report learned Saturday morning.

Today is the last day for Senate bills to be considered by House committees. House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, told us at Buzz Central that he will not schedule a vote on SB 1968 because it is badly flawed and the Senate sent it to the lower chamber for consideration way too late in the game.

The bill would outlaw the practice of government workers being able to have their union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

“There are serious problems with this bill,” Cook said. “I have a problem with the teachers unions not being exempted,” he said and pointed out that police, fire, and EMS were exempt from the bill as it was drafted in the Senate.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 22, 2015      10:10 PM

Updated: Texas Senate passes open carry after adding what critics call backdoor constitutional carry

Huffines is forced to apologize to law enforcement for misrepresenting their position on the issue; Sen. Huffman rises to the occasion as the former prosecutor grills Huffines about how this will endanger police officers; final vote was 20 to 11

After a debate that raged for hours and included apologies to law enforcement as well as a vigorous defense of police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, the Texas Senate on Friday night passed open carry legislation on a final vote of 20 to 11. Before it was over, one veteran senator would say that the debate created the “strangest” of political bedfellows he has ever seen.

In the early afternoon, senators were voting to table one amendment after another when the debate blew up as Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, offered an amendment that would prohibit law enforcement from asking a person to show their license solely because they are openly carrying a firearm. This is the same language that was slipped into the bill in the House by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, and Tea Party Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving.

Senate sponsor Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, stripped out that language in the State Affairs Committee. On the floor, Estes said he would leave it to the will of the body. The amendment was ultimately adopted on a vote of 20 to 10. Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, was originally marked absent on that one but then registered a "yes" vote.

When an impromptu filibuster of the Huffines amendment was staged by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and others, Estes postponed the legislation and the Senate stood in recess from about 3:30 until 6pm.

After they gaveled back in, Sen. Huffines said that he met with representatives from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas who informed him that they are steadfastly against his amendment. They needed to do so after Huffines completely misrepresented CLEAT’s position during the floor debate. He had said they were for it. Huffines publicly apologized to CLEAT for doing that.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 22, 2015      10:09 PM

Press Releases: Guns, guns, guns, fireworks taxation, memorial day statements, and more

May 22, 2015      5:30 PM

Updated: Standoff over open carry in the Texas Senate

Sen. Huffines falsely claims CLEAT endorses his proposed change to the bill, which critics have said would effectively create “Constitutional Carry” in Texas

An unexpected but not entirely unpredictable standoff unfolded Friday afternoon in the Texas Senate over the issue open carry and what form it will take when this session has concluded.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, grilled Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, for almost an hour over his proposed amendment to the open carry bill sponsored by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

During what effectively became a filibuster of Huffines’ amendment, Whitmire insisted that law enforcement agencies and groups across the state opposed and even feared the provision, which would bar police from asking citizens for proof of a handgun license solely because they had a visible weapon. This is an amendment that was added in the House but was later stripped out of the bill by Estes in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

When Huffines refused to believe Whitmire – a 42-year veteran of The Legislature – about police fears, Whitmire asked Huffines to delay a vote on the amendment for two hours to hear from law enforcement groups firsthand.

Huffines said this would be a waste of the Senate’s time.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Emily DePrang

May 22, 2015      4:46 PM

Compromise on homestead exemption addresses business and county concerns

“This solution does not create a situation where taxes are shifted from homeowners to business over time.”

A proposed $25,000 state homestead exemption will be reflected in tax bills that go out to homeowners in October, even though a vote won’t occur until November.

The Senate initially proposed a homestead exemption of 25 percent, tied to the median value of a Texas home. The business community, however, nixed that proposal early, fearful that rising property values would continue to shift more of the state’s tax burden to business, with no particular control over the growth rate.

“We much prefer the straight exemption over the median value,” said Dale Craymer of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “This solution does not create a situation where taxes are shifted from homeowners to business over time.”  

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 22, 2015      4:44 PM

Smith: Medical Marijuana and a Lesson in Political Morality and Courage

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that lawmakers too often treat real people as bureaucratic abstractions and recalls a lesson in political courage from 35 years ago that should give us pause.

The Texas Legislature – yes, that legislature – passed a limited medical marijuana bill that will give epilepsy sufferers access to cannabis oil. It is a small but important progressive step forward.

The passage of this bill reminded me of a 1980 story of judicial compassion and political courage I was lucky enough to break as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle.

Moved by the suffering of a cancer patient in Trinity, Texas, State District Judge Erwin “Ernie” Ernst ordered the Walker County sheriff to retrieve confiscated marijuana from the sheriff’s vault and give it to the cancer sufferer. Marijuana was known to relieve the extreme nausea of chemotherapy – but it’s use for even that purpose remained outlawed.

Before ascending to the bench, Ernst had been a tough prosecutor in Houston. Let’s just say he wasn’t known for coddling criminals. And the cancer patient he moved to help was certainly no criminal. He was a middle-aged East Texan who wouldn’t have known a marijuana plant if he’d stepped on one.

To read the complete column from Glenn W. Smith, click on the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

May 22, 2015      4:33 PM

Updated: Open carry showdown is unfolding in the Texas Senate

Sen. Huffines is trying to re-attach the amendment that would prohibit law enforcement from asking someone to produce a license solely because they are openly carrying; Dean Whitmire says he will ask Huffines questions on his amendment as long as he is able to stand. After a long discussion, the bill was postponed to 6pm.

May 22, 2015      2:24 PM

Proliferation of specialty plates not always a windfall

“We need to do a better job of publicizing the availability of these plates."

The state wants to remind you to Remember the Alamo, in case you might forget it.

For those who do want to remember, the state appears poised to create a specialty license plate to commemorate the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, with proceeds primarily going to the preservation of the San Antonio monument.

“As an iconic shrine of Texas liberty, the Alamo attracts people from around the world to visit the structure and experience its story,” according to the bill’s statement of intent. “Interested parties note that both the preservation of the shrine and the educational programs that help tell its story are costly and therefore contend that a new revenue source is needed to provide for educational programs and to improve visitors' experiences at the Alamo.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 22, 2015      1:58 PM

Hammond: It is Time to Get All Drivers Permitted and Insured

The Texas Association of Business would be happy to co-sponsor a debate about the issue between Norman Adams and Michael Quinn Sullivan

State Rep. Byron Cook has shown real leadership this session for pursuing a bill that would provide a conditional driving permit for undocumented workers.  He should be applauded for these efforts, not criticized. This legislation is critical for Texas, but there has been a lot of misinformation thrown around about the idea.  It is time we look at the facts and set the record straight.  

The ability to get a permit to drive legally in Texas is essential to make our roads safer and reduce insurance costs.  The ability to get a permit will not cause more undocumented workers to cross the border.  They come for economic and social reasons, not for the ability to legally drive a car in Texas.

A permit is not a driver’s license, but the requirements to get a permit are very similar.  Applicants must pass a test proving that they know the rules of the road in Texas, and they must show financial responsibility, meaning they must have insurance.  Applicants also would have to show a proficiency in reading and writing English, because the driving and written tests would be in English.

The complete column from Bill Hammond is in the R&D Department.

By Bill Hammond

May 21, 2015      5:53 PM

Budget compromise leaves Texas schools in the legal lurch

“It’s a small amount of money, but it’s not moving us forward toward the true cost of education.”

This session’s proposed budget compromise puts just enough money into public education to keep pace with enrollment growth but not enough to disturb the progress of the pending school finance lawsuit.

The practical outcome is that school districts anticipating a chance to give a robust raise to personnel may have to hold off for another year. The proposed $1.5 billion added to education funding yesterday will provide a one-time 2 percent bump to the basic allotment, more dollars than last session but hardly a windfall.

“That’s certainly not what school districts were hoping to see,” said financial consultant Lynn Moak of Moak Casey & Associates this afternoon. “It’s modestly disappointing but not surprising.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 21, 2015      5:27 PM

House Ways & Means passes $10,000 homestead exemption increase with election in Nov.

Formal deal on taxes hasn't been announced, but that is the last piece of that puzzle

May 21, 2015      5:26 PM

Press Releases: Gun safety, hunting and fishing, driver responsibility reform, and more

May 21, 2015      4:57 PM

Updated: So-called Pastor Protection Act overwhelmingly passes House with Democratic support

Democrats steal the thunder of conservatives hoping for a banner win on gay marriage

Near the close of a session that saw around 20 anti-LGBT bills fail, the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” was supposed to be conservative lawmakers’ one success on this front. It isn’t a very big prize—SB 2065 merely affirms, perhaps superfluously, that churches and clergy can’t be forced to perform unions that violate their religious beliefs, aka “gay ones”—but they won it by a landslide.

After about 45 minutes of passionate discussion, the Texas House approved the bill Thursday afternoon 141 to 2, with no amendments. After final House approval it will go to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

But the flavor of that discussion may have stolen a little sweetness from that win for Republicans, at least for its author state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and House sponsor, Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Emily DePrang

May 21, 2015      4:12 PM

Tea Party leaders say Patrick, Abbott, and Straus may all be failures this session

In letter, Tea Party leaders – including many on Patrick’s Grassroots Advisory Board – say Republican leadership has failed them so far on multiple fronts

Here is their letter.

May 21, 2015      2:20 PM

Texas House passes so-called Pastor Protection Act 141 to 2

Only two Democrats voted against it: Armando Walle and Terry Canales

May 21, 2015      11:51 AM

HC: Higher Ed critic Sandefer helped bankroll American Phoenix Foundation operations

Sandefer says he wants his money back from the group that claims to have secretly taped lawmakers

Here's the latest from David Rauf and Lauren McGaughey writing for the Houston Chronicle:

“A private foundation led by billionaire oilman and higher education critic Jeff Sandefer has given $200,000 in recent years to help bankroll a conservative nonprofit now at the center of a scheme to secretly film lawmakers and lobbyists, tax filings show.

Tax records for Sandefer's Ed Foundation, a philanthropic tax-exempt organization that spreads cash to dozens of causes, provide the first connection to a funding source for the group that over the last six months has strapped hidden cameras onto a band of operatives to track the state's political elite.

Reached for comment Thursday, Sandefer said he was not aware of the group's plan to secretly film lawmakers and was unhappy with his investment after he received no feedback on how the group was using his money.

‘I was unaware that they were planning to film politicians. Our intent was that they were going to train journalists," Sandefer said. "We were unhappy with a lack of progress in training journalists and asked for the money back. And we did not receive any money back.’”

May 21, 2015      10:20 AM

Anti-union bill receives abbreviated hearing in House State Affairs

Chairman Cook leaves it unclear as to when and if his committee might vote on SB 1968; there was talk that teachers would be exempted but that has not happened

With pressure mounting on Texas House Republicans to pass a bill that would weaken organized labor in Texas even more than it already is, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Byron Cook on Thursday split the difference between simply holding a quick vote or holding the kind of marathon hearing his panel is sometimes known for.

Two hours of testimony was heard in his committee. That's after union organizers said that roughly 250 showed up to testify, most of whom were not heard.

"This bill came over severely flawed," the Corsicana Republican said of SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. Cook said that the Senate version was so badly drafted that if it was on the floor of the Texas House, a freshman lawmaker would be able to kill it easily on a point of order.

The bill would outlaw the ability of government employees to have their union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Police, fire, and EMS employees are exempt from the bill as it is currently drafted. There has been some significant chatter that teachers unions might be taken out of it as well, but that has not happened.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 20, 2015      5:05 PM

Updated: Backers of high-speed train and Sen. Schwertner do battle over budget rider to block project

Schwertner using budget process to block Dallas to Houston rail line that has so far not been blocked through other legislation

Editor’s note: As of 5:51pm, this story has been updated to include comment from Sen. Schwertner – SB

Budget negotiations between the House and Senate hit what some described as a major snag on Wednesday as conferees argued over a rider designed to block construction of a proposed bullet train connecting the Houston area and the DFW Metroplex.

Meantime the company behind the train, Texas Central Railway, launched a campaign to get the rider deleted from the budget.

The company has promised it will not take public dollars for the train, but it argued on its website that the rider by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, would kill the project because it would keep TxDOT from doing things necessary for the development.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 20, 2015      5:04 PM

LBB posts budget conferees' decisions

Read along with us as the recommendations are laid out in committee

The budget documents are here.

May 20, 2015      5:04 PM

New Rick Perry Video: Our Best Days Are Ahead

Slick video unveiled with Perry tickling the ivories

May 20, 2015      4:27 PM

Press Releases: Surveying tornado damage, consumer privacy, TRB celebration, and more

May 20, 2015      1:32 PM

Anti-union bill has new life

SB 1968 is set for a formal meeting in State Affairs at 8am Thursday; House Republicans under pressure to pass bill that would outlaw union dues deductions from government paychecks

May 20, 2015      12:23 PM

Updated: Franchise tax compromise heads to full Senate, homestead exemption expected

All eyes turn to Dennis Bonnen to drop last piece of tax relief in place this session

Lawmakers appear to have landed on a franchise tax compromise, leaving the one missing part to tax relief this session the potential homestead exemption.

The Senate Finance Committee passed out its franchise tax relief bill this morning, combining House Bill 32 and House Bill 33 and passing out House Bill 32 on a vote of 8 to 2. The combination of actions – a 25 percent across-the-board cut and an increase in the E-Z rate threshold – is expected to cost $2.56 billion.

"For our economy to continue to thrive, for businesses to grow and for jobs to be created, we have to support our businesses," Nelson said. "This is a smart investment, not just for our economy but also for young Texans to grow up in a state with jobs and opportunities."

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 20, 2015      11:26 AM

Texas could be an ideal candidate under possible state match program for high-quality pre-K

Proposal rolled out in Congress; Texas could stand to gain if state lawmakers agreed to match the federal grant

Members of the US House have rolled out a proposed 10-year state match grant for high-quality state pre-kindergarten programs.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would provide grants for Head Start, child care and pre-kindergarten programs that recommended guidelines: well-paid highly qualified teachers; small class size and low child-to-staff ratios; developmentally appropriate instruction; and comprehensive services for both child and family, including family engagement and health screenings.

If the bill sounds familiar, that’s because a similar bill was rolled out two years ago by then-Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. The bill never made it to the floor, however.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 20, 2015      11:24 AM

Bearse: Survivor Austin, Slow-witted, Slow-played

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse wants to know whatever happened to simply defeating your political opponents on the merits of the issues

I don’t know why the American Phoenix Project is spending some rich guy’s money to secretly videotape lawmakers, when there is so much good material on the House Floor each day for all the public to see.

You could film a “Survivor: Austin” episode right here in the Texas Capitol in the final weeks of the session, with the slogan: “Slow-witted, Slow-played…” (dang it, slow-lasted is not a word!)

You can tell the slow-witted ones by a telltale sign: the ones that open their mouths. Not all of them of course. And I am not about to name names. Those who slow-play, that’s easy: check and see if they have a D by their name.

The full column from Eric Bearse is in the R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

May 20, 2015      9:40 AM

Senate Finance passes permanent 25 percent cut in franchise tax

The substitute from Sen. Nelson for HB 32 makes the 25 percent rate cut in franchise taxes permanent. Nelson merged HB 32 and 33 into one bill and Finance voted it out 8 to 2.

May 20, 2015      9:18 AM

Sen Nelson subs out HB 32 to increase franchise tax cut to 25 percent

Committee substitute would also increase e-z rate revenue threshold from 10 to 20 million and decrease e-z rate from .575 to .331 percent

May 19, 2015      6:01 PM

Sen. Seliger takes exception to misleading immigration email about him from Sen. Hall staffer

"If someone on my staff was doing that, I would fire them,” Seliger said.

A freshman senator’s staff has raised the ire of a veteran lawmaker after emails were sent out incorrectly claiming that the longtime senator is one of the reasons that a ban on so-called “Sanctuary Cities” has not come to the Texas Senate floor.

That ban and repeal of in-state tuition rates for undocumented students – both quite contentious immigration measures – have been blocked in the Senate because neither has sufficient support to overcome even the lowered three-fifths threshold for bringing bills to the floor.

Libby Goins, who works for Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, sent an email in which she incorrectly stated that Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is one of the lawmakers who will not vote to bring the immigration bill up for debate on the floor.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 19, 2015      5:29 PM

Texas continues to tinker with eminent domain

Brief fight breaks out among Houston-area senators as Sen. Bettencourt nearly derails Sen. Whitmire’s eminent domain legislation

Today’s minor skirmish among the Harris County delegation in the Senate over jurisdiction of eminent domain cases was a reminder that for every session Texas lawmakers complete, there are multiple eminent domain bills that will be filed and then forgotten.  

Sen. John Whitmire’s, D-Houston, House Bill 2536 was almost derailed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, after Bettencourt attempted to attach a tangentially related eminent domain to Whitmire’s effort. That decision earned Bettencourt a mild rebuke from the author of that other bill, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

After asking Bettencourt if he had attended any of the hearings to negotiate the terms around Senate Bill 824, Huffman said thank you, but no thank you.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 19, 2015      5:20 PM

Press Releases: Contracting reform, compassionate use, supporting kids in foster care, and more

May 19, 2015      4:52 PM

Tax bills from the House hit Senate Finance Committee

Oil and Gas lobby presses for simplification of qualifying for school district tax breaks

A slew of Texas House tax bills arrived in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, including one to simplify qualifying for school district tax breaks.

A bill to combine school district jurisdictions for the purpose of qualifying for Chapter 313 agreements generated the most interest. Heath DePriest, representing Phillips 66, said the company’s $3.5 billion project crossed three school districts, a combination of pipeline, storage and export facilities.

Over the next five years, Phillips 66 anticipates spending another $15 billion, primarily around the Central United States and primarily in Texas, DePriest said.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 19, 2015      2:24 PM

Anti-union bill in jeopardy in the Texas House

Bill does not win sufficient support to suspend posting rules for a hearing in State Affairs Committee

A bill that would outlaw the ability to government employees to have their union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks ran into a serious problem in the Texas House Tuesday afternoon.

As State Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, was asking the House to suspend the posting rules so that SB 1968 could get a hearing before Saturday's deadline, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, challenged the motion. Saturday is the last day for Senate bills to be kicked out of House committees.

Because the motion to suspend the rules requires a two-thirds vote of members who are present, a pretty dramatic verification of the vote was conducted. A few names had to be stricken when it was discovered some representatives were not present.

In the end, the vote was 91 to 48 in favor of suspending the rules so that a hearing could happen, but that’s not enough.

After the verification, Rep. Cook was asked by Quorum Report whether that meant the bill is dead.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

May 19, 2015      1:37 PM

House passes Sen. Nelson's contracting reform bill SB 20

Vote was 123 to 0

May 19, 2015      10:28 AM

Campus carry bills failing in state legislatures all over America, groups point out

As open carry moves to the floor of the Texas Senate - and some worry that campus carry could be added as an amendment - two groups note that campus carry is being shot down in one state after another

Click here to see the rundown provided by "Moms Demand Action" and "Everytown for Gun Safety."

May 19, 2015      10:19 AM

Bill to address mail-in ballots draws support in Senate committee

Online voter registration went down under pressure this session, but the omnibus bill to address mail-in ballots snafus remains in play

The current oversight of mail-in ballots in local elections is nothing short of a criminal offense, Alan Vera told the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Online voter registration went down under pressure this session, but the omnibus bill to address mail-in ballots snafus remains in play. On Monday in the Senate State Affairs Committee, Chair Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, introduced House Bill 1927 and rolled in language from House Bill 1308, House Bill 2384, House Bill 2724 and House Bill 3056, all dealing with the mail-in ballot issue.

Vera and his wife Colleen are active in Harris County Republican politics. Alan Vera told the committee that local election officials often ignore annual mail-in ballot requests that go to county election officials. In many cases, homebound or disabled voters do not know how or whether to vote in local elections, Vera said.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

May 18, 2015      7:01 PM

Texas House passes bill legalizing cannabis oil for epilepsy patients 96 to 34

May 18, 2015      5:55 PM

Chairman Geren and Wayne Smith request permanent revocation of the TABC license for Twin Peaks in Waco

Here is their letter to TABC.

May 18, 2015      5:48 PM

Press Releases: HB 40 is signed into law, Abbott speaks on Waco shootings, property insurance, and more

May 18, 2015      5:44 PM

Updated: Open carry passes out of Senate committee following huge gun battle

Opponents warn against attaching campus carry on Senate floor

A clearly emotional Sen. Brian Birdwell told the Senate State Affairs Committee this afternoon the focus of yesterday’s Waco shootout should be the masterful execution of local responders and not the ability of people to carry handguns.

A total of 170 suspects were booked for a shootout at the Waco Twin Peaks restaurant yesterday that left 9 dead and 18 injured. Today, bond was set at $1 million and the restaurant franchise license was revoked. Police said all those injured and killed were in rival biker gangs and not restaurant patrons.

Birdwell praised the law enforcement officers who handled the scene on Sunday.

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By Kimberly Reeves

May 18, 2015      4:43 PM

Stickand says DPS informed his attorney that investigation of him by DPS is closed

His attorney, Trey Trainor, said “I was told that the investigation was over and that I would not be hearing from DPS anymore.”

Here’s the statement from Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s office.

May 18, 2015      3:19 PM

Senate State Affairs sends Open Carry to full Senate on vote of 5 to 1

May 18, 2015      1:55 PM

Greenfield: Tax cuts or state services, that is the question

Quorum Report’s number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says Comptroller Glenn Hegar is wise to emphasize critical infrastructure and services while lawmakers have tax cutting fever

Following the release of revenue and expenditure data for April, sine die is fast approaching and critical decisions concerning both expenditures and taxes need to be decided. A conference committee is now figuring out how the state will spend and what tax reductions should be enacted. 

Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent a letter to the state’s leadership in which he said wanted to “emphasize that in addition to tax cuts, it is also important to consider the long-term challenges affecting the state's balance sheet and credit ratings."

One would expect that underlying Hegar’s concern is the substantial decline in the growth rate in state tax collections. With the most up-to-date information on state revenue, lawmakers can set priorities and allow the rest of us to look over their shoulders.

Information on tax revenue collections through April is important not only for this fiscal year (FY15), but they also influence estimated revenue for the coming biennium. The positive growth (1.2 percent) in sales tax collections continues for the 61st consecutive month.

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

By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

May 18, 2015      12:24 PM

Senate sends to Gov. Abbott a bill to regulate sales of E-Cigarettes

Vote was 27 to 3

May 18, 2015      11:35 AM

Updated: TEA Announces ETS will carry majority of state $340 million testing contract

ETS picks up STAAR and program integration; Pearson carries TELPAS, alternate exams.

The Texas Education Agency has announced it will split its four-year $340 million assessment contract between Education Testing Service and Pearson.

This would be a second big contract win for ETS in as many months. In April, California decided to remain with ETS as its vendor on its new three-year $240 million assessment contract, despite objections from Pearson.

According to a nine-page memo from top Texas Education Agency staff, the proposed bids from ETS and Pearson were almost identical on the bulk of the standard STAAR assessments, only varying by about $100,000. The agency awarded that portion of the contract to ETS, for a total of $280 million.  

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May 18, 2015      11:10 AM

Richardson: BP Rider offers $1 billion train wreck for Coastal Texas

In op-ed, Quorum Report founding Editor Tim Richardson argues that Texas could do best if Gov. Abbott is allowed to operate with BP funds

A rider to HB 1 intended to grant allocation authority to the Legislative Budget Board, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House over BP’s Deepwater Horizon fines received by Texas misconstrues how 80% of the oil fund funds will awarded. 

Rider Sec. 6.24 “Deposit and Approval Requirement for Certain Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Funds” would create a special account in the Texas Treasury overseen by the State Comptroller and used for intended purposes by state agencies after proposed project expenditures are studied by the LBB (no time limit is set on the study) and approved by the chairs of Senate Appropriations, House Appropriations the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor after review for 30 business days (which is 6 weeks if there are no holidays).

The biggest problem with this scenario is that only about 20% of all BP funds will seem like a “grant to Texas” that can be mulled over and allocated.  Eighty percent of the funds will be either competitively awarded among the five states (each voting in real time at RESTORE Council meetings) or overseen by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in the case of the criminal settlement funds.

The complete column from Tim Richardson can be found in the R&D Department.

By Tim Richardson

May 18, 2015      9:21 AM

SB: Emily DePrang joins QR as contributor

Award-winning, nationally recognized writer is ready to tackle coverage of the Legislature and state government for Quorum Report

Management at Buzz Central is pleased to announce the addition of a new Quorum Report contributing writer. Starting today, you'll see Emily DePrang on the floors of the Texas House and Senate and looking for news in the halls of the Texas Capitol. 

Most recently, DePrang was the Houston correspondent for the Texas Observer, where her coverage garnered national attention of police brutality issues faced by the Houston Police Department.

She's the recipient of numerous awards for her writing, including the Anson Jones, MD, Award for Excellence in Health Communication from the Texas Medical Association and the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. She was also a finalist for the National Magazine Award and is a John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Reporting Fellow.

By Scott Braddock