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January 20, 2017      5:49 PM

Battle brewing over statewide access to court documents

Chair of committee respects clerks but says "the public has the right to their court records, and there are clerks that charge an arm and a leg to get a record."

A fight is getting underway now over statewide access to court documents.

Under the charge of the Texas Supreme Court, county and district courts will soon have to allow attorneys and members of the public to access documents and filings online through a site called re:SearchTX, a statewide system aimed at uniformity to the process. But while the shift has been met with concern from many county and district clerks, on a state level the transition seems largely supported.

The conflict was highlighted at Judicial Committee on Information Technology meeting Friday where members of the committee were at odds over how best to implement the access system.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Eleanor Dearman

January 20, 2017      5:47 PM

Houston Chronicle: DOJ seeks to delay Texas voter ID hearing

“Within hours of Donald Trump becoming president, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice late Friday asked to postpone a scheduled Tuesday hearing in the Texas voter ID case.”

The Houston Chronicle’s Mike Ward has the scoop.

January 20, 2017      5:31 PM

Press Releases: Trump inaugurated, public safety threats, budget priorities, and more

For all the latest releases, click the Pres Releases button above

January 20, 2017      5:22 PM

Smith: We Will Respect Trump When Trump Respects Us

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Trump’s disdain for many Americans is reason enough to undercut his policies

On the morning of Donald Trump’s inaugural (shudder), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews tweeted, “I love what @alfranken said about the role of democratic opposition this AM. It’s to challenge Trump – not undercut him.”

I didn’t hear Sen. Al Franken say that, but I assume he must have. But whatever in the world could Franken and Matthews mean?

Isn’t it the righteous work of the Democratic opposition to undercut policies we view as anti-human and anti-democratic? Isn’t undercutting Trump the most patriotic service we can provide to our nation?

The full column by Glenn W. Smith is in our R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

January 19, 2017      5:58 PM

HHSC navigates the independence of Inspector General in midst of large-scale consolidation

Oversight Co-Chair Four Price is concerned about the ability for the Inspector General to complete investigations: “I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the independence of the office.”

Executive Commissioner Charles Smith will have to walk a careful line to keep some autonomy in the Office of Inspector General, even as he continues to consolidate the Health and Human Services Commission into an agency with almost 40,000 employees.

The legislative oversight committee charged with following the agency’s state-mandated consolidation met this week, the first of four meetings scheduled this year. Co-Chair Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, opened the meeting emphasizing the reason for consolidation: Ease of use.

“The reason we embarked on this consolidation was a more efficient system easier to navigate, for the people who rely on it,” said Nelson, who leads the committee with Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo. “We’re already seeing progress to that goal, but we still have a long way to go.”

The second phase of HHSC consolidation, which will finish taking the five agencies down to three, will be a far larger task than the first phase. Smith said the consolidation, to be completed this September, will be about six times larger than the first phase.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

January 19, 2017      5:56 PM

Press Releases: Perry confirmation hearing reactions, Innovations in Government, budget commentary and more

Click the Press Releases button above for more

January 19, 2017      5:46 PM

Senate Higher Ed Chair Seliger takes aim at college tuition

"Tuition relief and predictability is necessary for Texas students and families”

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed three Higher Education bills Thursday aimed reducing costs for college students through several measures that regulate tuition.

The first, Senate Bill 18, would repeal a state law that necessitates institutions of higher education set aside a portion of a student’s tuition for financial aid, which can be used by other students in need of financial assistance.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Eleanor Dearman

January 19, 2017      5:44 PM

Texas Senate Republican Caucus Hires First Ever Executive Director

Caucus taps Rachel Dawson White, former Heidi Cruz Chief of Staff

The full announcement from the Senate GOP Caucus is available here.

January 19, 2017      5:24 PM

The new faces of the Legislature

Public Blueprint offers this handy guide for new membership

David White of Public Blueprint points out that "As each new legislative session begins, there are always some new faces around the Pink Dome. In an effort to help political and legislative professionals as well as any other interested Capitol followers learn a bit more about all the new members, we've created this New Member Booklet as a resource that contains some high-level biographical information and other quick facts about each new representative and senator."

Check out their booklet here.

January 19, 2017      3:46 PM

Federal judge temporarily blocks Texas from kicking Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid

January 19, 2017      11:55 AM

Details on some big-ticket items absent from budget proposals

Budget brinksmanship begins early with some fundamentally different visions and questions about the future of school finance, CPS, and more

The initial House and Senate budget documents are perhaps better noted by what they don’t say within their pages rather than what budget writers have put down on paper.

The two documents were released within hours of each other, even before Speaker of the House Joe Straus has named his new Appropriations Committee chair. The House touts a pro-child budget, putting money into public education, behavioral health and foster care fixes. The top line on that budget suggests the lower chamber may be willing to tap the Rainy Day Fund.  

The upper chamber’s budget, unveiled by Finance Chair Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, proposes some smaller ticket spending items for education, provides small bumps for pre-kindergarten and graduate medical education and dedicates funding to cut wait lists for community mental health care services. The Senate budget also suggests a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut for state agencies and declines to tap the Economic Stabilization Fund.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

January 19, 2017      11:53 AM

Video: During confirmation hearing, hilarious exchange between Perry and Franken

"I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch," Perry said.

January 18, 2017      6:32 PM

Senate Education Chairman vigorously defends A-F rating system for schools

Superintendents push back: “Why is so much of this about a label?…When are we going to start talking about what’s behind the label?”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, pushed hard to promote the unpopular A-F accountability system at the Texas Association of Business policy conference, saying a high school diploma in Texas needs to mean more than a participation trophy.

The impending A-F accountability system was not popular when it passed last session and it did not get any more popular when preliminary grades rolled out this month.

Superintendents across the state have rolled out a loosely coordinated campaign against the system, which has been made confusing in some cases because school leaders have recycled talking points from other states with A-F systems that are not identical to the Texas efforts.

“We’re going to set this thing up, and we’re going to set the goalposts in the ground,” Chairman Taylor told business leaders. “And right now, yes, it looks like a bell curve, but everything in life looks like a bell curve. But if you set the goal posts in the ground, and then you let everybody know what they have to do to get to an ‘A,’ it all starts moving toward the goal line.”

The state has continued to move from test to test and standard to standard, Taylor said. Teachers have complained about it all the time. Holding the passing standard steady will give school districts the idea of what might be necessary to cross the goal line, he said.

“We all get touchdowns. That’s the end of the day,” Taylor said. “Not to give everyone a participation trophy. Not ‘Hey, 12 years in a Texas public high school? Guess what? You’re ready to go.’ Then you find out you have to take remedial education or you won’t get that job.”

Taylor’s goalpost argument might be compelling to some.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

January 18, 2017      6:30 PM

Freshman Rep. Biedermann sends questionnaire to Muslims across the state about radical Islam

Biedermann’s survey went out in advance of Muslim Advocacy Day at Capitol

Freshman Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, sent a questionnaire to Muslims across Texas asking about their support for Shariah law, the Muslim Brotherhood and ex-Muslims. A copy of the survey was obtained by Quorum Report on Wednesday. The return address on it is Biedermann’s Texas Capitol office.

Copies of the survey, marked “URGENT REPLY ASAP” on the envelope and addressed to attendees of Muslim Advocacy Day slated for the end of this month at the Capitol, were sent to Muslims not only in Biedermann’s district in the Hill Country but as far away as North Texas.

The poll asks recipients to check whether they support three items: “Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement”; “Muslim Pledge for Religious Freedom and Safety from Harm for Former Muslims”; and “S. 2230 of the 114th Congress that requires the U.S. Secretary of State to determine the Muslim Brotherhood meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization.”

A spokesman for Rep. Biedermann said he would have a comment Wednesday evening.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By James Russell

January 18, 2017      6:29 PM

Texas Senate Committees are announced

It appears the only shift at the top of committees is the author of the bathroom bill, Sen. Kolkhorst, now chairs Senate Administration

You can download the committee assignments by clicking here.

January 18, 2017      5:57 PM

Judge appoints former Sen. Dan Shelley to oversee dissolving of American Phoenix Foundation

"The appointment of a receiver is an extraordinary remedy applied only because Joe Basel abused a nonprofit as if it were his personal play thing”

A state district judge in Austin has taken the next step in dissolving the American Phoenix Foundation – the group that “terrorized” members of the Legislature last session by secretly, then not-so-secretly, filming them at the Texas Capitol and elsewhere in Austin.

Former Sen. Dan Shelley has been appointed as “receiver” to take over and dissolve the foundation, which has been described by its founder Joe Basel as “defunct.”

Many QR readers may remember that Sen. Shelley served in both chambers and was Legislative Liaison to the Legislature for both Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry.

"The appointment of a receiver is an extraordinary remedy applied only because Joe Basel abused a nonprofit as if it were his personal play thing," said Steve Bresnen, the veteran lobbyist who filed suit to bring the finances of the Phoenix Foundation into the light.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

January 18, 2017      5:43 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, Right of Access, support for Perry at Energy, and more

Click the Press Release button above for the latest submissions

January 18, 2017      5:29 PM

Pauken: Here's to a productive legislative session

Former RPT Chairman Tom Pauken says fixing school finance, real property tax reform, and more should be accomplished during the 85th session

Lawmakers have convened in Austin and it’s time for them to get serious about doing the business of this state. One of the frustrations of the American people, which led to Donald Trump’s election, is that politicians are always talking about they are going to change things but nothing much gets done when they are in office.

Here are my thoughts on how to have a productive legislative session in 2017.

l. FIX SCHOOL FINANCE.

School finance in Texas has been broken for a long time. Ever since the passage of the “Robin Hood” school finance scheme in the early 1990s’ (where the state takes property taxes from the so-called property rich school districts and redistribute those monies to the property-poor districts), educational finance has been in a mess.

What started out as a $400 million transfer has morphed into a $1 billion shift of property taxes from some school districts to others. 

The complete column by Tom Pauken can be found in the R&D Department.

By Tom Pauken

January 18, 2017      1:54 PM

In TAB speech, Straus suggests Abbott should make clear his position on bathroom bill

On the Texas economy, Straus said “Contrary to popular myth, it is not a miracle. We want to continue that success and we want Texas to keep attracting the best and the brightest.”

House Speaker Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, was wary of the Senate’s “bathroom bill” during a speech at the Texas Association of Business conference on Wednesday, sharing his personal opinion that Senate Bill 6 could result in economic troubles.

“There’s been a lot of work put into our state’s economic success,” Straus said. “Contrary to popular myth, it is not a miracle. We want to continue that success and we want Texas to keep attracting the best and the brightest. One way to maintain our economic edge is to send the right signals about who we are.”

The speaker also appeared to be interested in getting a real stance on the issue from Gov. Greg Abbott, saying “the governor’s opinion on this can make a big difference too.”

“If you are concerned, and I know many of you are, now is the time to speak up,” Straus said, addressing conference attendees.  

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Eleanor Dearman

January 18, 2017      1:49 PM

Rep. Tan Parker reelected Chair of House GOP Caucus

Cindy Burkett is Vice-Chairwoman, Representative John Raney is Secretary and Dan Huberty is Treasurer

Here is the full announcement from the Texas House GOP Caucus.

January 18, 2017      10:06 AM

Rep. Dawnna Dukes indicted

Charged with Abuse of Official Capacity, Tampering with Government Record

Details from Spectrum News.

January 18, 2017      7:43 AM

Rep. Chris Paddie(R-Marshall)to have emergency appendectomy this morning

January 17, 2017      5:15 PM

Updated: Texas House budget is released with a focus on public education; increases spending by less than 1%

Child protection & mental health also get more funding; Speaker Straus said “We keep overall spending low while making investments in children and our future."

In contrast with the Texas Senate’s initial spending plan released earlier in the day that would cut spending 1.5 percent across-the-board, the Texas House rolled out a budget Tuesday afternoon that slightly increases spending by just under 1 percent without raising taxes. Bottom line: the two chambers are about $8 billion apart in their plans.

“We keep overall spending low while making investments in children and our future,” said Speaker Joe Straus as his office unveiled the lower chamber’s version of the budget.

The initial House plan appropriates $108.9 billion in general revenue, Straus’ office said. It would also cut administrative costs and discretionary programs across state agencies and eliminate one-time funding approved last session like capital and information technology projects.

This spending plan includes cost-containment efforts to rein in Medicaid spending by $100 million, the Speaker’s office said.

Unlike Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s list of more than 30 must-pass bills, Speaker Straus is keeping his priority list tight.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

January 17, 2017      5:12 PM

Press Releases: Planned Parenthood case, more bill filings, protecting taxpayers, and more

For all the latest, click the Press Releases button above

January 17, 2017      3:23 PM

Updated: Senate budget bill is filed with “1.5% across-the-board budget reduction, exempting the Foundation Schools Program"

Adds $2.65 billion to cover student enrollment growth, $260 million additional for CPS, maintains the additional $800 million for border security

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed the Texas Senate’s budget proposal, Senate Bill 1, Tuesday allocating $103.6 of the available $104.9 billion and calling for a “1.5 percent across-the-board budget reduction, exempting the Foundation School Program,” according to Nelson’s office.

Chair Nelson said the base budget is a starting point and earlier in the day said that the Finance Committee would begin meeting on Monday.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Eleanor Dearman

January 17, 2017      3:22 PM

Charles Butt contributes $100 million for school and leadership training

“So often today we get interested in policies and curricula and buzz words and ideas that have very little to do with the children sitting in the seats of our schools…We need to come back to square one.”

Grocery store magnate Charles Butt has provided Texas with the largest single gift for public education since the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation committed $130 million in 2007.

Butt’s $100 million gift will create The Holdsworth Center, a non-profit organization based in Austin to provide continuing support for school district improvement. Unlike the Gates Foundation money, which was rolled into the public-private Texas High School Project, The Holdsworth Center will function independently of state agency oversight.  

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

January 17, 2017      3:04 PM

Seana Willing formally announced as new TEC Executive Director

Chairman Untermeyer said "“As much as we regret losing the superb services and deep knowledge of Natalia Ashley, the Commission welcomes Seana Willing."

The full announcement about Seana Willing, who now served as executive director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, can be downloaded here.

January 17, 2017      2:43 PM

Lt. Gov. Patrick reports $13.6 million cash on hand after raising nearly $5 million

January 17, 2017      1:46 PM

Nelson plans to file Senate budget bill today

Also plans to start Finance Committee meetings on Monday.

Sen. Jane Nelson told reporters that she plans to file Senate Bill 1, the Senate budget bill, Tuesday afternoon, calling the legislation a “starting point” and saying she wouldn’t spend more money than what the state has.

Nelson was the Senate finance committee chair last session and is the likely pick for the spot this time around. Nelson said she plans to start finance committee meetings on Monday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was expected to announce Nelson will chair the committee Tuesday after the Senate went to recess, but left the floor before doing so.

By Eleanor Dearman

January 17, 2017      1:43 PM

Sen. Schwertner reports $1.6 million on hand

Georgetown Republican's campaign raised $650,000

January 16, 2017      5:01 PM

Abbott letter to Congressional leaders fails to extend block grant concept

Experts in the field call Abbott’s letter ideological, rhetorical fluff with little basis in policy or reality for how those decisions will affect patients and those who serve them

Editor’s note: A copy of Abbott’s letter is available to our subscribers at the end of this story – SB

Gov. Greg Abbott has offered his advice to Congressional leaders on the future of Obamacare, and it doesn’t vary a lot from then-Rep. Lois Kolkhorst’s, R-Brenham, floor speech five years ago touting the flexibility and superiority of state block grants.

Abbott, in a letter to Congressional leadership dated January 10, insisted Texas was hamstrung by federal regulations, leaving the state to deal with ballooning costs.

“I encourage you and your colleagues to consider transitioning the Medicaid program to a block grant program. The block grants should ensure states retain maximum flexibility in designing their own program and provide some mechanism to account for fluctuations in population growth, the economy and the rising cost of health care,” Abbott said. “Those components are necessary to a sustainable Medicaid program that produces greater health outcomes and protects taxpayers.”

The letter has not been met with much enthusiasm by a number of health care lobbyists.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

January 16, 2017      4:59 PM

Greenfield: On the Backs of Our Children

Our resident number cruncher suggests that a fiscal note for bills isn’t sufficient, there should also be consideration given to the real costs in the lives of children when certain policies are enacted

Along with their oath of office, I hope every member of the 85th Legislature also swears to not vote on any bill that adversely affects the children of this state. 

Why would I make such a statement? Hasn’t every member of every legislative session been concerned with the children of the state?  While one would hope they were, as has been well documented the ultimate “costs” of many of the bills enacted during the 84th Legislative session were borne by the children of our state. 

What, you ask, are you out of your mind?  My response is a definite NO, I am not out of my mind, and this analysis will document how actions by members of the 84th Legislature continued to impose costs on the backs of the state’s children.

The full column by Dr. Stuart Greenfield can be found in the R&D Department.

By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

January 16, 2017      4:49 PM

Press Releases: People on the move, spending cap, Cruz at TPPF, and more

Click the Press Releases button above for all the latest

January 16, 2017      4:48 PM

Texas clerks object to statewide court filing database

“Convenience is not a sufficient public policy rationale to take away local government control from clerks and commissioners' courts and certainly doesn't trump privacy concerns regarding confidential information.”

Texas county and district clerks are not happy about the development of the statewide court record database called re:SearchTX, according to a letter obtained by Quorum Report.

Last week, the County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas sent that letter, signed by association president Celeste Bichsel, to Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht.

The letter explains that since early last year, the database has collected and stored all filings submitted to county and district courts through the system E-file Texas, the statewide electronic filing system.

The documents are accessible for judges, though they’ll soon also be available for attorneys, according to the re:SearchTX website. The letter says the “intent is to ultimately provide access to attorneys and the public to view and purchase court records.”

Bichsel said this potential public access, and related privacy concerns, is one of the biggest problems for the association.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Eleanor Dearman