November 24, 2020      4:37 PM

Bipartisan push begins for full insurance coverage of telehealth services

The health plans push back, saying the proposals would “do nothing to remove the regulatory barriers that everyone says they do”; supporters of the legislation say “doctors deserve to be paid for their services,” plain and simple

Two bills filed in the Texas House would expand insurance coverage to mental health providers and require full reimbursement for telehealth services. Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Dallas, authored HB 522. Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Houston, authored HB 515.

The identical bills would require insurance plans to pay the same rate for telemedicine services as they do for in-person sessions, also known as pay parity.

By James Russell

November 23, 2020      5:13 PM

Amid budget shortfall and with growing bipartisan support, marijuana reform may get a boost in Texas

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, opened the virtual Texas Marijuana Policy Conference with his own conversion story. Moody was an El Paso prosecutor when he joined the Texas Legislature in 2013.

“I was an assistant district attorney,” Moody told conference attendees. “I’ve put people behind bars for marijuana possession.”

But the words of one of his constituents – someone who gave him a real-life look into his world – convinced Moody to switch sides.

By Kimberly Reeves

November 23, 2020      4:23 PM

Walmart Rejected by Supreme Court on Texas Liquor Sales

The latest via Bloomberg News:

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a bid by Walmart Inc. to start selling liquor at its Texas stores, leaving intact for now a state law that bars such retail sales by publicly owned companies. The rebuff, which came without comment, sends Walmart’s challenge back to a federal trial court, where the world’s largest retailer will have to show that Texas is intentionally discriminating against out-of-state commerce with the 1995 ban.

Walmart said it shouldn’t have to show intentional discrimination because the Texas law has the effect of excluding virtually all out-of-state retailers, violating the Constitution. The company says 98% of liquor stores in the state are wholly owned by Texans. The ban “operates to block anyone in a position to compete with Texans in the retail liquor market from doing so,” Walmart argued in its unsuccessful appeal.

November 23, 2020      10:38 AM

McCaig: It is time for a serious GOP investment in the Rio Grande Valley

In this opinion piece, Houston GOP activist Mark McCaig argues the Republican Party can win in South Texas if real work is done there, not just the photo ops embraced by Texas GOP Chairman Allen West

The historic gains made by President Trump and other Republicans in the Rio Grande Valley has been one of the most widely reported stories to come out of the recent election. While President Trump outperformed other Republicans in this region, the coattails of his success were experienced in other races as well.

For example, Monica de la Cruz Hernandez came within less than three points of achieving a monumental upset against incumbent Congressman Vicente Gonzalez in a district anchored in Hidalgo County. Additionally, Republicans picked up two seats on the 13th Court of Appeals that had been held by Democrats.

While unexpected by many, the success of Republicans in the Rio Grande Valley should come as no surprise. Culturally, the Rio Grande Valley is similar in many respects to the rural regions of Texas that are now the backbone of Republican dominance in Texas despite having been Democratic strongholds a few decades ago.

By Mark McCaig

November 20, 2020      10:20 AM

People on the Move

Lobby power moves, shuffling the staffer deck ahead of session, and a fond farewell to a scribe

A week of online and in-person gatherings is in the rear-view mirror now.

The Texas House GOP Caucus retreat had good attendance, I’m told, at Barton Creek on Thursday and unlike last year it’s been pretty much drama free. It was good to see folks at the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce virtual luncheon and the Texas Watch online gala earlier in the week headlined by Matthew Dowd. Some guy named Braddock was the warmup act.

Many of you seem to be in holiday mode already, taking this week or last week off. Everyone could use a breather even if you don’t go anywhere. Here are Buzz Central, we will sort of be in holiday mode next week, but news updates will keep coming your way as warranted. The News Clips will be off Thursday and Friday of next week, returning the following Sunday.

Meantime there are career moves to tell you about, of course. You can let the Texas Capitol community know what’s up anytime by sending your moves – or the ones you heard about – to ksbraddock@gmail.com and use POTM in the subject line.

Here’s the pre-Thanksgiving edition of People on the Move.

By Scott Braddock

November 19, 2020      5:38 PM

Abbott promotes distribution of new COVID drug, defends state choices in local closures

“There’s an overestimation as to exactly what a shutdown will achieve, and there’s a misunderstanding about what a shutdown will not achieve…if you lock people down, and try to prevent any movement whatsoever, there are now known severe medical consequences of that.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has rejected the call for stricter lockdown measures in Texas, even as he touts new COVID-19 remedies in Texas and calls for caution in gathering as the Thanksgiving holidays approach.

By Kimberly Reeves

November 18, 2020      8:34 PM

Despite narrative about South Texas Latinos who voted for Trump, experts note vast majority of Texas Latinos live in urban centers and support Democrats

“There is no scenario where the Latino electorate costs Dems anything…however, there is a lot to unpack.”

Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Rafael Anchía wanted to make a few things clear during an event hosted by the caucus today.

The first point was that no one on the five-person panel, held virtually, would use the word “monolithic” to describe the Latino community. “We're making a swear jar for anyone who uses the term ‘monolith,’” Chair Anchia said. “In Texas, projections show that 2.2 million Latinos voted in the presidential election with approximately 67 percent voting for Vice President Biden and 31 percent voting for President Trump.”

The second thing was that the panel would use the word “Latino” somewhat cautiously. Why’s that?

By James Russell

November 18, 2020      3:09 PM

Lawmakers call for Texas to ditch STAAR this year

Morath and Abbott hold firm while members write: “At most, any administration of the STAAR exam during the 2020-2021 school year should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions under the current A-F accountability system.”

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is getting the pressure from all sides – House lawmakers, teacher groups and even State Board of Education members – but continues to hold firm on the idea that accountability can happen this year, even under some unspecified modified format.

By Kimberly Reeves

November 18, 2020      8:33 AM

Couple shot in an El Paso home identified as OAG employees

The news from KVIA TV in El Paso:

The victims in a weekend shooting at a central El Paso home have been identified, both were lawyers who worked for the Texas Attorney General's Office. Georgette Kaufman was shot and killed, while her husband 47-year-old Daniel Kaufman remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition but was expected to recover.

November 17, 2020      8:36 PM

AP: FBI opens investigation into Paxton

Two sources tell Associated Press the bureau is looking into allegations made by former top AG stuff

November 17, 2020      4:43 PM

Texas House General Investigating Committee sets meeting for Monday about an apparent workplace harassment complaint

The posting for the meeting says they received a complaint under House Rule 15, which is about workplace harassment

The meeting will be held in Dallas. Here is the committee posting. Of course, these proceedings are confidential.

November 17, 2020      4:40 PM

Costs of new school finance law continue to climb

Some funding adjustments took more money than expected; some took less. The gains and losses were fairly even until it came to formula transition grants

The cost of protecting House Bill 3 – the massive school finance and tax relief law passed last session – appears to have grown significantly in the first year of implementation.

The rough back-of-the-napkin estimate, from the materials presented by Education Commissioner Mike Morath to the Texas Senate Education Committee, would suggest the bill has cost the state $351 million more than projected.

Before we get to that additional cost, let’s tie down some specifics Morath mentioned as he attempted to outline progress on House Bill 3:

By Kimberly Reeves

November 17, 2020      4:37 PM

Amid allegations of an affair and corruption, Paxton says he makes no apologies

“Unfortunately, I know a little something about being falsely accused and being forced to counter allegations that are the result of overreach by prosecutors and law enforcement,” Paxton said in a statement to the Statesman

From the report by Tony Plohetski and Chuck Lindell:

Paxton’s relationship with investor Nate Paul — including his decision to hire an outside prosecutor to investigate Paul’s claims — is at the center of allegations that Paxton improperly worked on Paul’s behalf.

“I make no apologies for being a fierce investigator and defender of individual rights in the face of potentially unreasonable and authoritarian actions,” Paxton wrote. “Doing so is not favoritism. It is doing what the people of Texas expect from every law enforcement agency, their attorney general, and the staff of this office.”