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Straus Names Otto as House's Chief Budget Writer

Todd Wiseman & Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

House Speaker Joe Straus released his committee assignments Wednesday, including new chairmen for the two high-profile committees that will take the lead on writing the budget and crafting tax cuts.

Straus picked state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which crafts the chamber's budget plan. Otto, who has served in the House since 2005, has been a member of the Appropriations Committee since 2007. He is the first certified public accountant to serve as the House’s lead budget writer in more than 25 years.

For the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles most tax-related bills, Straus tapped state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, as chairman. Gov. Greg Abbottsaid Tuesday that he would not sign a budget that doesn't include tax cuts for businesses.

“The work ahead is too important for this to be a status-quo session,” Straus said. “These appointments will allow some of our committee chairs to bring their perspectives and leadership to a fresh set of issues, and that new thinking will benefit the entire House. Many other Members are also moving into new positions of responsibility, and I am very confident in the work they’re going to do.”

The previous chairmen of the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees — Republicans Jim Pitts of Waxahachie and Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville — opted to not seek re-election. They were among 10 members who served as committee chairs in the 2013 session who are not back for this session.

Among other leadership changes, state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a supporter ofcontinuing the state's policy of providing in-state tuition rates for some undocumented immigrants, will chair the Higher Education Committee; Myra Crownover, R-Denton, a prominent supporter of a statewide smoking ban, will chair Public Health; Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, will chair Transportation; and Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, will chair Homeland Security.

Straus picked 27 Republicans and 12 Democrats to chair 39 committees. Thirteen of his chairs are minorities and nine are women.

State Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, who launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat Straus, landed spots on two committees: Government Transparency and Operation; and International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs.

State Rep. Molly White, a freshman Republican from rural Belton who drew national attention last week forcomments about Muslims, will serve on the Urban Affairs Committee and the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

State Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Jersey Village, will chair the Government Transparency and Operations Committee. Elkins, who is in the payday lending business, raised eyebrows in 2011 when he spoke on the House floor against proposed measures which he described as harmful to his industry.

Straus launched a new committee this session focused on issues of juvenile justice and family issues, two areas that were previously under the purview of the Corrections Committee. State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, will chair that committee. He also created two select committees, one on emerging issues in law enforcement chaired by state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, and one on state and federal power and responsibility, chaired by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford.

State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, will take over for Zerwas as chairman of the General Investigating and Ethics Committee, which has subpoena power. In the new House rules approved by the members last month, the committee was given greater authority to investigate state agencies and employees.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his committee assignments for the Senate nearly two weeks ago. 

See a full list of the House committees here.

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