Texas Legislature

Lizzie Chen for KUT News

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond testified in the ongoing school finance trial yesterday, saying that Texas businesses can’t find applicants that have the academic and professional skills required. Hammond says that the most educated segment of Texas’ workforce is the soon-to-be retired.

ruthmcclendon.org

New attention could be coming to a bill filed by a State Representative out of San Antonio. Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon filed the bill in November but the topic is timely.

McClendon says House Bill 205 would increase the availability of mental health beds provided by the state.

She says, right now, Texas provides one pool of funding for beds for two main categories of people in need of mental health services: those unable to make sound decisions and those detained for mental evaluation after a crime.

KUT News

The 83rd Texas Legislative Session begins Tuesday. Let’s go over a short list of the expected session priorities.

It's Always the Budget

The recession and Republican opposition to raising taxes ended with about $15 billion cut from the last budget.

Now state revenues are up, but Governor Rick Perry and other leading Republicans are calling for a constitutional amendment to restrict how quickly the budget can grow.

Texas Tribune

The state of Texas launched its Women’s Health Program this week. Texas is funding the program on its own because the federal government pulled money after the state blocked Planned Parenthood from participating.

The Texas version still serves low income women who would qualify for Medicaid if they became pregnant. It will cover about 110,000 women between 18 and 44 years old with free well-woman exams, basic health and certain family planning services.

flickr.com/charlenesimmons

Fish is routinely held up as a healthy alternative to other meats. But some experts might urge you to rethink the catch-of-the-day,  because of what else might be lurking on the plate. 

The Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs heard testimony this morning about the condition of the state’s seafood industry. The Catfish Institute's Jeff McCord testified that he was concerned about importing fish to Texas.

Most of the catfish found in restaurants is imported from China. McCord says China doesn’t have the same kind of regulations the U.S. does, so banned substances can easily enter the food supply. A group of chemicals called nitrofurans is on this list. Fish farmers use them to rid the water of certain microbes, but they’re mostly banned by the FDA. “It’s been shown to cause cancer,” McCord says, “and it also disrupts human cell reproduction.”

Texas State Cemetery

Longtime Texas politician Bob Gammage has died. He was 74. A family member told the Associated Press that he died of an apparent heart attack.

Gammage was a Houston native and represented the area in both the Texas House and Senate before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976.

Gammage fought corruption as part of a group of Texas legislators known as the “Dirty 30,” which led a rebellion against scandal-ensnared Texas House speaker Gus Mutscher in 1971. 

Bob Daemmrich / Eric Kayne, Texas Tribune

This might be kind of awkward.

Usually, when candidates with seemingly every advantage blow their political races, they retreat into the holes they crawled out of.

In fact, until this year, Texas never had to contend with statewide officeholders serving after being rejected by the voters.

Now we have two.

City of Austin

City to Break Ground on Boardwalk

Today the City of Austin and The Trail Foundation will officially launch the Boardwalk Trail Completion Project for the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake.

The project will close a 1.1-mile gap in the trail. The boardwalk will be over land and over the lake. Construction could be done by early 2014.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, city officials and Trail Foundation officials will take part in today's groundbreaking. The ceremony will take place at International Shores Park near the trail. The Austin Fire Department will shoot off celebratory water cannons at the park to commemorate the project’s launch.

Caleb Miller for KUT News

The House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures met Wednesday to take a look at streamlining the alcoholic licensing and permitting process.

According to the Texas Tribune, interim Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) director Sherry Cooke told the committee that her agency wants to consolidate the processes for beer and liquor licenses.

The issue is that there are two separate processes for receiving a beer license and liquor licenses. Some of the applications for those permits can be processed through TABC, but others have to involve county courts.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Texas agencies have their marching orders as they put together budget requests for the 2013 Legislative Session.

Monday the Legislative Budget Board sent instructions to agency heads letting them know budget deliberations in 2013 would start at the same amount of money each agency was given in the current budget. Each agency is also required to turn in a separate budget request reflecting a 10 percent cut over the the two year budget.

Governor Rick PerryLt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus issued statements today on the new instructions.

Photo by KUT News; Photo by Lizzie Chen for KUT News; Photo by D.Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty

Austin Animal Center Achieves 90 Percent Live Outcome Rate

The Austin Animal Center put down 10 percent of animals in May, achieving a 90 percent live outcome rate. That is up two percent from this time last year, but down one percent from April.

The shelter took in more than 2,237 animals last month, including hundreds of kittens. The shelter expects to be just as busy this month.

Gov. Perry called on legislators to back his "Budget Compact" today.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Governor Rick Perry is calling on state lawmakers to cut spending and keep taxes level in the state’s next budget. Perry unveiled details of the “Texas Budget Compact” in Houston today.

“By keeping this tight rein on spending, we can build a more solid, predictable economy that doesn’t put off tough decisions until, in some cases, it’s too late to deal with them,” Gov. Perry told the crowd in Houston. In details noted on the Governor’s website, Perry also called to “preserve a strong Rainy Day Fund” and “cut unnecessary and duplicative government programs and agencies.”

The state is in the middle of a two year budget passed by lawmakers in 2011. That budget cycle cut spending by $15 billion.

A fund used to compensate victims of violent crime is not meeting its benchmarks, lawmakers learned today.
Image courtesy Office of the Texas Attorney General

The state fund used to compensate some crime victims is facing major financial problems.

That's what members of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard today. Lawmakers learned that court fees going into the fund have fallen in the past three years – creating a short term deficit and threatening the long-term survival of the fund, according to the Associated Press.

The Crime Victims' Compensation program assists those affected by violent or traumatic crimes, offering up to $75,000 in cases of “catastrophic injuries resulting in a total and permanent disability.” 

Photo by Ben Philpott for KUT News

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has begun to hear reports on five state agencies this morning at the Capitol. Those agencies will be up for review during the 2013 legislative session.

The state's sunset laws require all state agencies to be reviewed. Then the Sunset Commission sends recommendations for changes or even elimination.

Highlights of the meeting are expected to be presentations on the state Ethics Commission and the Higher Education Coordinating Board. But the meeting got kicked off with staff letting the Sunset Commission appointees know that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct denied access to all of the commission's processes.

Image courtesy flickr.com/hapal

The Texas House Committee on Human Services will meet this morning to discuss how the state can best support the needs of the elderly.

Photo by Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

In the battle between state leaders and the Obama administration over Texas’ decision to oust health care providers affiliated with abortion clinics from a five-year-old contraception and cancer-screening program, both sides believe they are the victims.

The Obama administration says Texas is violating federal law by limiting where poor women can seek health care, and it announced last week that it was cutting off financing for the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which does not pay for abortions and received $9 in federal financing for every $1 the state contributed.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/mvjantzen

Earlier today, KUT News reported the Department of Justice has refused to preclear Texas' voter ID law, arguing it would disproportionately impact Latino and Hispanic voters. Here's a roundup of lawmakers' reaction to the decision. 

Gov. Rick Perry

 "Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters. The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration's continuing and pervasive federal overreach."

Photo courtesy flickr.com/texasgovernor

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has refused to clear Texas’ voter ID requirements, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011.

The state and the DOJ have been at odds over the issue for months, with the feds requesting additional information to ascertain whether the law would have a disproportionate impact on minority citizens.

Texas is one of the Southern states covered under the Voting Rights Act; Section 5 of the act requires the DOJ to “pre-clear” any electoral changes states make that might impact minority voters.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman / Chris Chang, Texas Tribune

This is a squeeze play.

The state’s Hispanic population is blooming, and its black population grew faster than its Anglo population. But Anglos still dominate the political maps, and Latinos dominate the part of the political maps controlled by minorities.

When the Legislature drew political lines, minority groups were in widespread agreement that the maps didn’t reflect the growth — there were not enough seats where minority voters had the ability to decide elections.

Texas outgrew the other states in the country, so much so that it added four seats to the 32 already in its congressional delegation.

Photo courtesy of the Darrell K Royal Fund for Alzheimer’s Research

A Texas initiative to fight Alzheimer’s disease was announced today, featuring some familiar faces.

The Darrell K Royal Fund for Alzheimer’s Research was unveiled today at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Alzheimer's Disease at the Texas Capitol. On hand was former Longhorns coach Royal and his wife Edith Royal, flanked by Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and actor Matthew McConaughey.

The idea behind the Royal Fund is to kickstart Alzheimer’s research in the state. A press release characterizes the fund as “a vehicle that funds collaborative research in Texas, and promotes sharing of discoveries and treatment strategies nationwide.”

wikipedia user 350z33

The Associated Press reports the Supreme Court has dismissed the map of Texas electoral districts redrawn by a court in San Antonio. The districts were reworked by the San Antonio court amid complaints an earlier map drawn by the Texas Legislature in 2011 created gerrymandered districts and didn’t allow minority voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.

Photo by Erik Reyna for KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry has opened a whole new realm of campaign finance.

Perry is taking advantage of a wrinkle in state law that allows a state officeholder to collect a pension while also collecting a paycheck. For the governor, that’s a $92,376 annual pension on top of a $150,000 annual salary.

Sweet, right?

Old news, too, so let’s move on to 2014, and how this figures into that year’s elections. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is running for Senate, and a number of his political colleagues figure his state job will be open in 2014 whether or not he wins in 2012. Four or five current state officials are talking openly or semi-openly about that race, sniffing around for support and letting the money people around the state know they’re interested.

A humbled Rep. Joe Driver, the Garland Republican who illegally pocketed state travel money, pleaded guilty to felony abuse-of-office charges Tuesday and agreed to five years' probation.

As part of his plea agreement, Driver will get five years deferred adjudication, avoiding jail time as long as he doesn't violate the terms of his probation. After spending about an hour at the Travis County Courthouse waiting to enter his plea, Driver made a brief statement to reporters.

“Basically, my family and I are thankful that this has been resolved,” Driver said. The longtime lawmaker’s attorney, Dan Guthrie, said Driver may have more to say after his sentencing on Dec. 19.

Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) celebrates GOP victories on Election Night
KUT News

Over the last few days there have been reports of campaign phone calls being made to voters in Dallas and San Antonio telling Republicans the "Christian" thing to do would be to elect a new speaker.  Supporters of current Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) say the calls are anti-Semitic...since the speaker is Jewish.

This afternoon speaker  candidates Ken Paxton (R-McKenny) and Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) released a statements rejecting the idea that faith has anything to do with the race.  You can read Chisum's statement below.

 

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