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Photo by Liang Shi/KUT News

Republican lawmakers in Texas, unfazed by state governments across the country opting out of a controversial immigration enforcement program, are instead seeking to expand it here.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune

State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) is continuing down the path of what looks like an inevitable run for the U.S. Senate. Last month, Patrick announced he was creating an exploratory committee to kick the tires on a run to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. If he runs, he could be a stiff challenge for Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who is considered the front runner in a crowded field, thanks partly to the personal fortune he could spend to run a campaign.

Photo by Nathan Bernier/KUT News

GOP lawmakers have gone to great lengths to force Planned Parenthood out of Texas’ Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which provides family planning and reproductive health care — but not abortions — for more than 100,000 low-income women every year. They’ve considered legislation and passed budget riders. They’ve asked for opinions from the Texas attorney general. A hearing at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) Thursday is expected to try to seal the deal by clarifying regulatory language to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state program.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Gov. Rick Perry has added controversial immigration and homeland security measures to the agenda for the special legislative session that began last week.

Perry added abolishing “sanctuary cities,” the common term for entities that prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status, to the special session "call" — the list of items he’s asking lawmakers to address. The item was the only one of six "emergency items," so designated by Perry, that didn’t make it the governor’s desk during the regular session that ended last month. The governor has also asked lawmakers to address matters relating to the federal government’s Secure Communities program, which is administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The initiative compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a federal database to determine if the individual is eligible for deportation under current immigration laws. Additionaly, the call includes matters relating to “the issuance of driver’s licenses and personal identification certificates.”

Photo by Liang Shi for KUT News

A bill that would give school districts the power to furlough teachers and unilaterally cut their pay cleared a major hurdle in the Texas Senate today. SB 8 was approved on second reading 18-12.  The proposal will require a final vote to move out of the Senate.

Many Texas school districts have already been planning on such measures clearing the Senate to help them deal with $4 billion in cuts to public education.  Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley-Abram with the Austin Independent School District said in this budget presentation that enacting two unpaid furlough days would save the district about $4.2 million. 

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Governor Rick Perry must be enjoying the presidential rumors swirling around him these days, because he just did something to escalate the speculation. The Texas governor is inviting his counterparts from 49 other states to attend a prayer rally in Houston’s 71,500-capacity Reliant Stadium in August. His invitation is on the front page of a website for the event, TheResponseUSA.com:

Photos by KUT

Early voting starts today in a runoff for a seat on Austin’s City Council. Elections were last month, but in the Place Three seat, challenger Kathie Tovo was three percentage points shy of the simple majority needed to oust incumbent Randi Shade.

Photo by Technolibrary2010 http://www.flickr.com/photos/52512222@N02/

Funding for K-12 education in Texas remains in limbo as lawmakers try to hash out a funding solution during the special legislative session that began on Tuesday.  The uncertainty has prompted teachers and parents to hold another rally this weekend at the State Capitol.  Here's the press release we received this afternoon.

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

The Senate Finance Committee made quick work of the omnibus fiscal matters bill SB 1 yesterday, kicking it out in the mid-afternoon after several hours of testimony from the usual round of superintendents and school associations.

Photo by alancleaver_2000 http://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/

Texans may soon have to pay sales tax on many of the products they buy online, despite an attempt by Governor Perry to stop that from happening. Last week, Governor Perry vetoed a bill that would have required internet retailers with a physical presence in Texas to charge sales tax.

But now that same provision has found its way into House Bill 1, a sweeping fiscal matters bill being considered during the special legislative session. Perry would not have line-item veto power on House Bill 1, so he would have to veto the entire spending bill to block the internet tax provision he already vetoed when it was House Bill 2403.

Photo by Harley Pebley http://www.flickr.com/photos/hpebley3/

Attorney General Greg Abbott is expected to file an amicus brief this afternoon challenging a court ruling that forbids prayer at a Medina Valley High School’s graduation.

Photo by KUT

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last week upholding an Arizona law that punishes employers who hire illegal immigrants may give Texas lawmakers some newfound momentum to file immigration-related legislation with the hope that the governor adds the topic to the special session now underway.

Photo by Justin Dehn

Under a new congressional redistricting map unveiled Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, would lose 60,000 residents who voted for President Barack Obama in 2008. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune talked with Doggett about the proposal, which the longtime congressman said "plunged a dagger into the heart" of Travis County.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

There’s a sort of collective disbelief within the Texas political establishment about Gov. Rick Perry testing the uncertain waters of a presidential campaign.

Here’s a guy, once derided as “Governor Goodhair,” whose central claim to fame used to be that he was the politician who followed George W. Bush into the Texas governor’s office. This is the candidate who limped to re-election in 2006 with 39 percent of the vote. Today, even a poll in Perry’s own Texas shows he’s barely a blip on anybody’s White House radar, running behind well-established declared GOP candidates like Mitt Romney and even fellow Texan Ron Paul.

Image courtesy of the Texas Legislative Council

Leaders of the Texas House and Senate Redistricting Committees would split Travis County into six congressional districts in a map  proposed Tuesday (for a PDF click here). Many, like Jason Embry over at the Statesman,  see the redistricting as an attempt to leave Austin with four Republican Representatives in the U.S. Congress and one Democratic Representative.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Hey, Texplainer: How does a Legislative special session work?

Consider a special session the legislative overtime in Texas. If both the House and Senate reach a stalemate on key issues or if the governor decides the legislative show must go on, he or she can call for a special session. 

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

A new name is figuring more prominently in the national discussion over who might seek the Republican presidential nomination. Governor Rick Perry last week said he would “think about it” after the state legislature adjourned. That propelled his name into the headlines over the long weekend.

Newsweek tried to explain the “sudden conservative crush” on our Texas governor.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune

The 82nd session of the Texas Legislature adjourns Sine Die tomorrow. But there are already at least a couple of items Governor Rick Perry thinks lawmakers will need to address this summer.

Capitol Portrait courtesy of the Texas State Preservation Board. http://www.tspb.state.tx.us/spb/gallery/govs/49.htm

Former Texas Governor William "Bill" Clements has died. He was 94.

Clements was born in 1917 and served in the Nixon and Ford Administrations in Washington as well as two rounds as Texas Governor.  His first election was historic - he became the first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction.

The 2012-13 budget has been approved by both the House and the Senate, and now, with less than two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers have to pay for it by passing one more piece of legislation that raises $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" and revises school finance law to allow the state to reduce aid to public schools by $4 billion.

photo by KUT News

Many thought this was the year. But Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, acknowledged on Saturday that a measure establishing a statewide smoking ban in Texas is dead. 

Crownover blamed its failure on a "handful" of Senate conferees who refused to keep a smoking ban amendment on Senate Bill 1811, a sweeping fiscal matters bill. She said the amendment would have saved taxpayers $30 million in Medicaid spending over the next biennium. 

Photo by KUT News

The House and Senate will take up SB 1811 tomorrow. The bill creates about $2.5 billion for the state budget, while also cutting public education by around 4 billion.

How that money will be cut from individual schools wasn't known until this afternoon when the House put out what's called the district runs. The spreadsheet shows how funding in each district will change in 2012 and 2013.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

he House and Senate must agree on how to distribute the $4 billion reduction in state public education funding by 5 p.m. today, say Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks.

"The thing that I'm most concerned about is, if we don't come up with something, what are the schools going to do?" Shapiro asked. "We really are in a very precarious period of time."

After rejecting an initial proposal from the House late last night, the Senate sent a counteroffer back across the dome, which members there are currently considering.

Photo by monsieurmellow http://www.flickr.com/photos/51786391@N00/

Tayyeb Afridi is visiting KUT from the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, a region that borders Afghanistan. He is on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists.

It looks like the Taliban in Pakistan has changed its strategy after the killing of Osama bin Laden. The group used to target civilian places like Mosques and public places for bombing to punish the government for supporting the so-called War on Terror. 

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller, Texas Tribune

Senate Democrats may have ousted avowed creationist Gail Lowe as chairperson of the State Board of Education, but the move will do little to reduce the influence of social conservatives on the elected 15 member board.

Democrats control twelve of the 31 seats in the Texas Senate, but only eleven votes are needed to block a nomination. And all twelve Democrats were unwilling to confirm Lowe.

Photo courtesy of the Texas Trubune.

Friday might not have gone exactly as Houston State Senator Dan Patrick planned. 

In the morning he was on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's talk show announcing a possible run for the US Senate.   He quickly followed that up with a press release, all in caps, quoting his statement from the show:

Photo by Chris Kosho for KUT News

Texas Governor Rick Perry says he will consider running for the White House after the legislature adjourns. Our political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune, says Perry was at a signing ceremony for a controversial voter ID law when he made his boldest remarks yet on the issue.

"I'm going to think about it," Perry said. He quickly added, "I think about a lot of things."

Perry, the longest serving governor in the United States, was speaking to reporters after a signing ceremony marking the passage of a bill requiring Texans to show photo ID before voting. A reporter noted that Hispanic Republicans in the Legislature were urging him to run and had already endorsed him. Perry repeated his most recent mantra that he wouldn't be distracted by presidential talk while the legislative session is ongoing.

Political analyst Harvey Kronberg of the Quorom Report told KUT News that Perry has been running a “non-campaign campaign” for at least a year now.

“As soon as he formally announces, he has to lawyer up, create organization and start complying with federal law,” Kronberg said. “Right now, he’s in the absolute perfect position to shoot from the sidelines, and be seduced into running. But as soon as he declares, all of the sudden he’s subject to scrutiny that he’s not subject to now.”

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller, Texas Tribune

His nickname around the Texas Capitol is “mucus.”

It’s a play on Michael Quinn Sullivan’s initials — MQS — but the moniker is fitting on at least two levels: It underscores how much of an irritant the conservative activist has become to politicians who dare buck his Tea Party orthodoxy. It also says something about Sullivan’s staying power in Republican-ruled Texas.

They can’t get rid of him.

Picture courtesy Harold Heard

No, it's NOT Governor Rick Perry. It's Frisco businessman Harold Heard. He joins fellow Texan, Congressman Ron Paul in the battle for the GOP nomination.

Heard is Chief Technology Officer at Chapman Fusion, a cloud computing software company. He calls himself a Constitutional Conservative who, "...wishes to put the power of the government firmly in the hands of the United States Citizens."

Photo of Women's Health Program website by KUT

The Women's Health Program — long believed to require legislative renewal — lives on, at least for now, in the form of a budget rider.

Jose Camacho, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, said the rider directs the Health and Human Services Commission to renew the program. But he said recent opinions by the Attorney General's Office would apply — which means that Planned Parenthood and other clinics "affiliated" with organizations that provide abortions would likely be forced out.

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