Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report - Mobile

March 23, 2017      5:06 PM

Fallout from the Baylor sex assault scandal: Texas lawmakers are asked to protect victims

As a young victim says “Please stop protecting my attacker,” Sen. Birdwell said he is “profoundly concerned with the rights of the accused,” though he does support the legislation on the table

Survivors of sexual assault appeared before the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday, urging lawmakers to pass proposed measures that would work to improve reporting of such crimes on university campuses.

Among them were women from Texas A&M University, Trinity University, The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University. The women shared personal accounts of assault and explained why this legislation is so important to them.

“A little over a year ago I was assaulted by a guy who I’d just met,” said Paige Hardy, a sophomore at Baylor University to a panel of lawmakers. “My friends, my family society, have all told me that this was my fault. That because alcohol was involved, I deserved it. That ‘maybe’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘convince me.’ That if I didn’t call the police within minutes of my attacks, I must be lying.”

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By Eleanor Dearman

March 23, 2017      5:04 PM

Press Releases: Human trafficking, SB3 reactions, raise the age, and more

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March 23, 2017      4:54 PM

Greenfield: State Revenue Situation, Improving, but Not Great

As the House and Senate stake out their positions on the budget, our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield takes a look at the improving revenue situation. Tomorrow, he’ll look at the expenditure side of the equation

State revenue receipts, unlike Gaul, can be divided into two parts, General Revenue-Related (GRR) and non-GRR.  The former is the revenue stream that our legislators can appropriate with their complete discretion, while the latter, e.g., federal funds, is dedicated to a specific government activity, e.g., Medicaid, public education.

When Comptroller  Glenn Hegar released the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) for FY18-19 on January 9, 2017, all hands immediately turned to Table A-1 which shows the funds that the Comptroller certifies is available to the Legislator to appropriate.  Table A-1 shows $104.9 billion available for the 85th Legislature for discretionary spending.

This $104.9 billion is $5.4 billion less than the Comptroller stated in the Certification Estimate, released in October 2015, would be available for FY16-17 and $2.9 billion less than the amount for FY16-17 in the current estimate.  This reduction in available revenue was anticipated, and the Governor and Legislative Budget Board took actions, hiring freeze, to reduce state expenditures for FY17.

The complete column by Dr. Stuart Greenfield is in the R&D Department.

By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

March 23, 2017      1:05 PM

Texas GOP Chairman slams Texas Tribune story that suggested he improperly lobbied

Mechler said he’s done it all by the rules and “It comes as no surprise that the Texas Tribune, an organization with a history of bashing Republicans and Republican values while lifting up Democrats, is at it again.”

In response to a Texas Tribune story this week that suggested he may have improperly lobbied state officials about the oil and gas business, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tom Mechler on Wednesday told members of the State Republican Executive Committee he wanted to “set the record straight.”

“It is not surprising that Democrats and the liberal media are continuing to lob false accusations at Republican leaders across the state,” Mechler wrote in an email obtained by Quorum Report on Thursday.

“Over the past year, they have repeatedly used false allegations and fake news to try to discredit Republican leadership,” Mechler said.

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By Scott Braddock

March 23, 2017      10:19 AM

Former Chairman Keffer joins TAB for session

“Jim will be focusing on a number of areas, include our work against discriminatory legislation,” said TAB President Chris Wallace

The full release from the Texas Association of Business can be downloaded here.

March 22, 2017      4:59 PM

Updated: Looming showdown over budget draws comparisons to Enron, puts pressure on Hegar

Straus says the Senate is “cooking the books” as the Finance Committee pushes $2.5 billion in spending into the next biennium

Senate Finance is using a sales tax deferral to expand the capacity of this session’s budget, a last-minute maneuver that Speaker of the House Joe Straus equates to cooking the books.

Chair Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, unveiled the choice in a back-and-forth with Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in this morning’s Senate Finance hearing. Nelson said the committee substitute to Senate Bill 1, which passed the committee unanimously, only represented the appropriations side of the budget. Changes were occurring simultaneously on the revenue side, she added.

“For example, the comptroller has informed us that $2.5 billion of the $5 billion Prop 7 transfer can occur in September 2019 and therefore will not count against the fiscal year 18-19 biennium,” Nelson told her colleagues. “The substitute….”

Then Bettencourt interrupted the chair’s comments to provide the explanation of the transfer.

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By Kimberly Reeves

March 22, 2017      4:56 PM

Senate takes up limiting university tuition increases

U of H’s Khator said “These measures, there’s nothing wrong, we can tweak some of them to make them better for sure, and the flexibility is good…the trouble will come when we try to set specific targets.”

The debate over college tuition regulation returned to the Texas Senate Wednesday when the Higher Education Committee met to discuss a handful of bills dealing with limiting tuition increases.

The five proposals go about limiting increases in several ways. Senate Bill 250 by Charles Schwertner, R- Georgetown, would freeze tuition rates for a year. After that increases would be capped to inflation rates. Senate Bill 442 by Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, freezes an institution’s tuition at the 2017-2018 academic year level and requires, leaving it up to the legislature to permit increases.

Senate Bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would prohibit institutions from increasing tuition “except to make up any difference between core operational costs and state formula funding appropriations.”

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By Eleanor Dearman

March 22, 2017      4:51 PM

Press Releases: Medicaid reforms, firefighters, golf course fight, and more

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March 22, 2017      3:14 PM

Hegar weighs in on Senate sales tax deferral plan

"If the estimated $2.2 billion in sales tax collections in fiscal 2018 for the highway fund were transferred in September 2018, and the $2.5 billion in fiscal 2019 sales taxes were transferred in September 2019, then there would be a gain to certification of $2.5 billion for the 2018-19 biennium."

Comptroller Glenn Hegar's response to Finance Chair Jane Nelson can be downloaded here.

March 22, 2017      12:22 PM

Straus says Senate is cooking the books on the budget like Enron

“I’m not interested in cooking the books just to avoid a vote on the Rainy Day Fund,” Straus said

Arguing that the Texas Senate is double counting $2.5 billion in dedicated transportation funding in its budget, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday said "This is the Texas Legislature. We are not Enron."

“I want to be clear that counting money twice in order to balance the budget is not a good idea," Speaker Straus said.

“I’m not interested in cooking the books just to avoid a vote on the Rainy Day Fund,” Straus told reporters in the afternoon.

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By Scott Braddock

March 22, 2017      10:18 AM

Updated: Senate Finance votes out SB 1 15 to 0; vote on the budget by the full Senate expected Tuesday

March 21, 2017      9:46 PM

Under cloud of bogus school voucher letters, Senate holds late night hearing on vouchers

All the promises of miracles happening in private schools quickly start to sound like a multi-level marketing convention

Texans have probably never done more, spent more or hired more lobbyists to promote the idea that the state needs to move forward with school choice legislation.

At last count, Texans for Educational Opportunity had a dozen lobbyists on its payroll, including Mike Toomey, Bill Messer and John Colyandro. Thousands of endorsements – albeit bogus form letters – have gone out from Austin to lawmakers in both chambers. And supporters of school choice have spared no expense to put together a polished pro-choice message in front of lawmakers, a strategy that appeared to resonate with Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

The only bill on the agenda in Senate Education was Senate Bill 3. The committee is stacked this session with Republicans most favorable to a vote on school choice. Democrat Lucio, for one, also has warmed to the argument that disinterested parents will finally be involved with their children’s lives if they are given the right to choose.

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By Kimberly Reeves

March 21, 2017      6:29 PM

Rural Republican senators also receiving fraudulent school voucher letters

Sen. Seliger says his office discovered that a deceased person had been impersonated writing a letter in favor of vouchers; says lawmakers are being "defrauded"

Quorum Report has now learned that some Republican senators who represent large swaths of rural Texas are also receiving the same kind of “fraudulent” school voucher letters that were reported earlier by rural Texas House members.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is said to have received the letters and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, confirmed to QR’s Eleanor Dearman this afternoon that his office has received hundreds of them.

Sen. Seliger said one of the letters his office received recently came from a person his staff later discovered is deceased.

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March 21, 2017      6:28 PM

Rural GOP House lawmakers alarmed by "fraudulent" letters promoting school vouchers

“We've gone to complete new lows in public campaigns” said former Rep. Hardcastle; Rep. Clardy: “I’m going to defend the people of my district and protect their identity”

Rural Republican Texas House members are sounding the alarm after a significant number of them say they received letters promoting school vouchers from what at first appeared to be constituents but turned out to apparently be sent by someone in Austin. But the actual sender of the letters is a mystery.

The letters, described by members who received them as “fraudulent,” included the names and addresses of constituents but were not signed. And even though constituents’ addresses were used from places like Gatesville and Vernon, the envelopes had an Austin postmark.

One of the letters sent to Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, included the name and address of former Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who told Quorum Report that the tactic represents “a new low.” Hardcastle said Rep. Springer contacted him after receiving the letter with Hardcastle’s name on it. Hardcastle was taken aback that someone would impersonate him and completely misrepresent his opinion.

“I'm not a voucher guy and everybody knows I'm not a voucher guy," Hardcastle said.

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By Eleanor Dearman and Scott Braddock

March 21, 2017      6:26 PM

Press Releases: Property tax reactions, wrongful birth, Intelligence hearing, NASA, and more

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March 21, 2017      3:38 PM

SB 2 passes the Senate after attempt to amend by Sen. Seliger

Sen. Charles Perry said he feels he is letting down his rural district but voted for Patrick's property tax bill anyway

Bathrooms and school vouchers aside, the Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a bill centered on the defining issue in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s rise to power: Property tax “reform.”

When the dust had cleared after the debate on Senate Bill 2 – the measure by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, limiting local governments’ ability to control local property taxes – Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, was the lone Republican to join with the Democrats in voting “no.”

The final vote was 18 to 12 with one absent.  

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By James Russell

March 21, 2017      9:10 AM

The powerful Texas Association of Realtors supports SB 2

"When local elected officials hide behind increasing property values to justify larger budgets, taxpayers suffer. Senate Bill 2 goes a long way to fix this problem”

The press release from the Texas Association of Realtors can be downloaded here.

March 20, 2017      5:38 PM

Houston Mayor Turner faces tough questions from senators over pension plan

“Some are not as comfortable as we would like, but the reality is I can’t think of any other way to fix it,” Turner told the committee this morning. “There is no perfect pension bill.”

That victory lap Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was perhaps planning to take at Senate State Affairs Committee this morning felt a whole lot more like a slog, given the opposition mounting to is efforts to reform Houston’s pension system.

The failure of Houston’s municipal, fire and police pension plan is oft-told: erroneous actuarial calculations in 2001, underfunded payments, weak investment returns and, most perplexing, the city borrowing against its own pension fund for non-pension items. Turner came into office thinking he faced a $5.6 billion gap; all told, it’s closer to $8.1 billion.

Failure to negotiate a compromise would cost Turner’s budget an extra $134 million. So, Turner and his staff met faithfully with all three unions for months to craft a fix. By October, all three unions had agreed terms that were later blessed by the City Council.

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By Kimberly Reeves

March 20, 2017      5:37 PM

Press Releases: Gorsuch, health care bill, minimum wage, and more

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March 20, 2017      3:57 PM

Democrats clash with Texas House Republicans over proposals on minimum wage

“What we are asking for is something for the little dogs,” Rep. Thompson; Rep. Shine says a hike in the minimum wage would increase wage inflation

The minimum wage took center stage at a Monday House Business and Industry Committee meeting, where legislators heard nine bills aimed at bumping up the floor on how much a person can be compensated per hour in Texas.

Texas’ minimum wage is set at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Most of the proposals heard on Monday recommend that it be increased to either $10.10 or $15 an hour. Two would leave it up to local governments to decide.

“What we are asking for is something for the little dogs,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said while laying out her proposal to set the minimum wage at $10.10 an hour. “This is a little dogs’ bill.”

But several GOP members of the committee were not convinced, expressing concerns about potential negative economic impacts including for small business owners.

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Belton, was among them.  

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By Eleanor Dearman

March 20, 2017      3:56 PM

House GOP Caucus Chair Parker says third-party groups spreading misinformation on minimum wage

“Allowing the legislation to be heard in committee did not put it on any type of fast track, nor did it change the likelihood that this legislation would become law.”

Saying “there have been third-party groups engaging in spreading false and misleading information” about the minimum wage bills being heard today in the Legislature, Texas House GOP Caucus Chairman Tan Parker on Monday said he’d like to “set the record straight.”

“Last week, the House voted on a procedural motion to suspend the House Rules and allow a bill to be heard in committee without the usual five-day posting period,” said Parker, R-Flower Mound. “This is a courtesy that legislators from both parties routinely extend to one another.”

In this instance, he said, a Republican presented the motion on behalf of his committee chairman as a courtesy so that bills addressing the minimum wage could be heard today in House Business and Industry. “Allowing the legislation to be heard in committee did not put it on any type of fast track, nor did it change the likelihood that this legislation would become law,” Parker said. “In short, the legislation is no more likely to pass than it was before the vote was taken.”

Parker’s full statement is here.