News of the Week
A Green Light for Pension Hikes, Double Dipping
In the span of a few minutes on Monday, the Texas House gave the green light to pension increases for state elected officials and then watched the effort to ban “double dipping” by politicians crash and burn without a vote. The measures were contained in two separate amendments to Senate Bill 1459, a pension overhaul bill designed to shore up the Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Texas.
Texas House adds some teeth to political disclosure law
The House added some bite Monday to a bill aimed at improving the state Ethics Commission by shining a light onto practices and people lurking in the political shadows. The bill, passed 133-14, includes some of the most substantial changes in state disclosure laws in years.
Budget Agreement Hinges on Key Legislation
Despite looming deadlines, the House postponed on Monday a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would allow voters to decide whether to set up a fund for water infrastructure projects. The budget deal conferees reached on Friday hinges on that legislation, which must be approved by the House on Tuesday.
House Democrats kill welfare drug testing bill, and about 50 others
House Democrats killed a bill Tuesday night that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug screenings and potential drug tests to receive benefits. By raising five points of order, filing amendments and drawing out debate, Democrats chewed up more than two hours of precious time on a night when all Senate-approved bills would die without an initial vote before midnight.
House OKs ban on Medicaid expansion
The Texas House gave final approval Tuesday to a Medicaid reform bill that includes an amendment rejecting Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said his amendment takes away authority for the head of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate Medicaid expansion with the federal government.
Dewhurst calls for quick special session on failed GOP measures
Angered by the demise of key bills considered priorities by conservatives, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared in an interview Thursday that Gov. Rick Perry should quickly force lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session after adjournment Monday.
House Halts Attempt to Expand Lawmakers’ Gun Rights
Many self-proclaimed gun enthusiasts in the Texas House aren’t ready to expand their own gun rights if they can’t do the same for their constituents. Members of the lower chamber erupted on Thursday when Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, attempted to concur with an amendment the Senate tacked onto House Bill 508 that would’ve given lawmakers permission to carry concealed handguns where others cannot.
Some lawmakers fear ‘conservative’ scorecard
With the 83rd legislative session nearly over, some have begun to look back at the hundreds of votes cast, attempting to analyze the wins and losses and decide whether this session yielded results that are good for Texas. Looking at the breakdown of votes on key issues, a common theme emerges: the voting record of a contingent of the Texas House matches, nearly identically, the directive of a certain special interest group, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, headed by Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Texas cities again lead nation in population growth
The Texas growth machine is still running at high speed. Eight of the 15 fastest-growing U.S. cities and towns for the year ending July 1, 2012, were in the Lone Star State, according to population estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Texas also stood tall in total growth, with five of the 10 cities that added the most people over the year — No. 2 Houston, No. 4 San Antonio, No. 5 Austin, No. 7 Dallas and No. 10 Fort Worth.
Lack of Income Tax in Texas Draws Out-of-State Envy
When Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana wanted to sell his plan to replace his state’s income tax with a higher sales tax, he pointed to Texas as both the problem and the solution. Too many Louisiana residents are moving to Texas, because that is where the jobs are, he said. The jobs are there, he argued, because Texas does taxes right.
Drug testing approved for jobless aid, but not welfare applicants
Hours after a barrage of Democratic delaying tactics scuttled a drug-testing program for welfare recipients, Texas House Republicans grabbed a consolation prize Wednesday, approving a similar program for some Texans who apply for unemployment benefits. Democrats fought both measures as unnecessary, costly and mean-spirited, but the end-of-session calendar favored them only in fighting the proposal to require welfare applicants to undergo drug screening and follow up testing if there is “good cause to suspect” substance abuse.
Sugary drinks and disease in Texas
Obesity brings with it myriad health problems, not the least of which is diabetes. These problems can be short-circuited with early intervention. Which is why we view a legislative initiative to eliminate sugary drinks in elementary and middle schools as an important step.
CSCOPE to No Longer Offer Lesson Plans to Texas Schools
The era of CSCOPE lessons has come to an end, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said Monday at a news conference. Since November, the state-developed curriculum delivery system used by 70 percent of Texas school districts has generated hours of testimony in multiple hearings before legislative committees and the State Board of Education. The debate comes as a result of concerns about a perceived anti-American agenda in its optional lesson plans and a lack of transparency behind its operations.
Senators grill Perry’s nominees to UT board
State senators sharply questioned three nominees to the University of Texas System Board of Regents on Monday regarding a long-running controversy about governance of the Austin flagship and the job security of its president, Bill Powers. One senator said during the confirmation hearing that he would vote against the nominees because he believes they are “on a mission” to dismiss Powers. But several other senators said they were pleased by the nominees’ assurances that they had no such intentions.
Lawmakers to Negotiate Key Details of Education Bills
For all the lengthy hearings, heated floor debates and tense behind-the-scenes deliberation that have already occurred, the next four days will probably be the most important for the fate of the 83rd legislative session’s two major education bills. Over that period, House and Senate lawmakers will meet privately to work out their significant differences on House Bill 5and Senate Bill 2 in conference committee.
Bill Reducing Testing for Lower Grades Clears Senate
Elementary and middle school students will take fewer standardized exams under legislation approved by the state Senate on Tuesday — if Texas can get a waiver from the federal government. Under House Bill 866 by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, which passed the Senate on Tuesday night, students who do well on state exams in third and fifth grades could skip exams in fourth, sixth and seventh grades.
HB 2824 passed: High Performance Schools Consortium districts get to experiment with accountability
If Gov. Perry signs the bill, a law that several North Texas school districts have been working for will kick in. To recap: After increasingly bitter complaints about TAKS and then STAAR, the legislature agreed two years ago to create a way for districts that had demonstrated success with the tests to try to come up with a better system. Thus was born the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium.
Charter school, testing bills will pass or die together
The fates of two major education bills that would reduce standardized testing and allow more charter schools have become inextricably linked, and it appears they will either cross the legislative finish line together or not at all. Negotiating teams from the Texas House and Senate have until Saturday night to reconcile their differences on House Bill 5, the testing measure, and Senate Bill 2, the charter school legislation.
STAAR exemptions won’t help students, schools or parents
This newspaper has been open to compromises regarding the number of STAAR exams required for high school students, but legislators are going too far in their decision that high-performing students don’t need to take all of the state reading and math exams currently required in grades three through eight. The Texas Legislature is on course to become the first state to petition Washington to stop annual testing of some students in those grades.