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February 22, 2017      5:50 PM

Texas House rolls out its version of controversial A-F accountability system

A simpler version than has been discussed so far, three domains with no combined letter grade; no weighting of academic domains more than others; and no reward for better-than-required performance on the STAAR test

Former school board member Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, has filed what is likely to be the starting point for the discussion of the A-F accountability system in the House.

A handful of details about what shape the House alternative would take emerged after Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s recent meetings with superintendent groups: including a simplification of complicated formulas; and adjusting the importance of school climate.

After meetings with stakeholder groups, King has filed House Bill 2132, which his office emphasizes is the starting point of the discussion for accountability. The idea was starting from scratch, but it’s almost impossible not to point out the ways in which HB 2132 varies from Morath’s version presented in December: three domains with no combined letter grade; no weighting of academic domains more than others; and no reward for better-than-required performance on the STAAR test.

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By Kimberly Reeves

February 22, 2017      5:38 PM

Tuition set aside bill gets Senate committee approval

Sen Watson objects: “We fly in the face of the reason it was created, which is to provide protection for the families that end up having to pay.”

The Senate Committee on Higher Education passed Sen. Kel Seliger’s tuition set aside bill out of committee Wednesday 4-2, with Democratic Senators José Menéndez and Kirk Watson voting against it and Sen. Royce West not voting.  

The set aside in question requires that public universities put aside a portion of student tuition for financial aid. Seliger’s bill removes this mandate, though universities could choose to keep it in place.

“College affordability is an issue the legislature must address, but we should not do it for some students on the backs of others that may very well be of the same financial status,” Seliger said.

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 22, 2017      12:56 PM

Report: Draft Trump administration document revokes rules on transgender bathrooms

Revocation of Obama policy could kick the legs out from under Patrick's "bathroom bill" in Texas

The flash from Reuters is here.

February 21, 2017      8:26 PM

Updated: Rural lawmakers file nearly 20 bills pushing back on high speed rail

Chairman Cook: "If you're gonna do it, do it right"; Texas Central shoots back "it is ironic that the proposed legislation calls for more government regulation in trying to block a free market led project..."

Rural lawmakers gained momentum in their push against high speed rail on Tuesday, taking aim at the Texas Central Railway plan to build a connecting line between Dallas and Houston.

Several House and Senate legislators filed about 20 bills that, if passed, would effectively regulate and limit private entitles like Texas Central as they work to bring the high-speed system of travel to the state.

The bills would do things like prevent the use of state dollars for private high speed rail projects, restrict private entities from using eminent domain for such rails and prohibit private high speed rail companies from entering land to survey it – unless the company is deemed a railroad by TxDOT.

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 21, 2017      8:24 PM

In first hearing with the gavel, Chairman Huberty commits to school finance as priority

“…the Supreme Court ruled on school finance and they said that it’s lawful but it’s awful.”

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, led his first Public Education Committee meeting Monday, setting school finance reform as a priority early on.

Huberty told the committee that for the next two hearings the committee would take “a pretty hard look at school finance.” Next Tuesday, Huberty said he intends to hear from stakeholders on the issue and discuss possible improvements. The following week, Huberty said the plan is to post school finance bills. 

“I think all of you know that the Speaker talked briefly, not briefly, but a lot to us about the importance of and to focus on school finance as we move forward,” Huberty said. “And in 2016 we know that the Supreme Court ruled on school finance and they said that it’s lawful but it’s awful.”

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 21, 2017      4:59 PM

Federal judge says Texas cannot kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid

February 21, 2017      4:25 PM

Investors representing more than $11 trillion in assets oppose bathroom bill

“We seek a predictable, stable business climate in Texas where our portfolio companies can thrive. However, SB6 directly undermines the strong business-minded environment in your state.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Joe Straus on Tuesday were sent a letter from major investors representing more than $11 trillion in assets telling the Republican leadership of the state to reject Patrick’s “bathroom bill.”

The investors said they were writing out of their “strong belief that equality, diversity, and inclusiveness are fundamental elements of a successful workplace, community, and capital markets system” and said they were “closely monitoring” legislation across the country including Senate Bill 6.

“Bills that deliberately limit the human rights of LGBT people are not only unjustified and unfair, but may have troubling financial implications for the business and investment climate in states, including in Texas,” the investors wrote.

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By Scott Braddock

February 20, 2017      5:10 PM

After trying to force out a GOP Ethics Commissioner, Patrick drags feet on Democratic appointee

Wanting a “new direction,” Patrick leaned on Republican Commissioner Hugh Akin to leave before his term was up; Democrat Wilhelmina Delco’s term expired two years ago

After failing to entice a Republican member of the Texas Ethics Commission to step down last year, Quorum Report has learned Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been in receipt of recommendations from Senate Democrats for a replacement for the upper chamber’s Democratic appointee for months but has done nothing about it.

Under the Texas Constitution, the Texas House and Senate each get two commissioners on the panel that regulates campaign finances and lobby registration, one Republican and one Democrat each. Republican lawmakers make recommendations for the GOP member of the commission and the Democrats do likewise for the commissioner from their party, then the presiding officers of each chamber make a selection.

The governor appoints the balance of the commission.

Back in September, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus delivered a list of names for possible replacements for Wilhelmina Delco, whose term on the Ethics Commission expired in 2015.

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By Scott Braddock

February 20, 2017      4:41 PM

Press Release: Yuge endorsement of Patrick property tax plan, recognitions, and more

Click the Press Releases button above for the latest

February 20, 2017      4:37 PM

Murdock: Fastest growing populations have the lowest levels of education and income

County Affairs Chairman Coleman adds “How we fund our education system does make a difference to whether or not those individuals go to college.”

Demographer Steve Murdock, director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, told the House Committee on County Affairs Monday that the state’s future is tied to its minority populations.

“How well they do is how well we all do, “Murdock said.

The former official state demographer of Texas and former director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census laid out demographics data to the committee, hammering down that the data shows minority populations, particularly Hispanic populations, are growing the fastest, meanwhile those same people have lower levels of education and income.

“The fastest growing populations are those who have the lower levels of education, the lower levels of income, and if we want Texas to be greater we have to raise the income and the education that goes with that for our minority populations,” Murdock said.

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 20, 2017      12:17 PM

Video: ACLU launches "I Pee with LGBT" in opposition to SB 6

Director Richard Linklater helped put the video together

February 17, 2017      5:29 PM

Texas Supreme Court denies MQ Sullivan appeal on his residency

Sullivan has argued he lives in Denton; Supremes clear the way for a trial in Travis County on the merits of whether Dunn’s spokesman lobbied illegally

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday denied an appeal by Tim Dunn spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan in which his attorneys had argued he lives in Denton County, clearing the way for a trial in Austin on the merits of whether he has acted as a lobbyist without registering.

Sullivan’s attorneys could ask the Supreme Court to rehear his appeal on residency, but as of right now the case would be on track to be heard in Travis County.

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By Scott Braddock

February 17, 2017      5:27 PM

House Appropriations scratches surface on mental health care coordination

The House has proposed two increases in funding: About $62.6 million to reduce waiting lists and $95.6 million to streamline mental health services

This week’s presentation on behavioral health funding before the House Appropriations Committee barely scratched the surface of the work being done – and will be done this session -- to improve the use and coordination of such funding across 18 agencies.

Behavioral health is a top priority for the Texas House, and the suggested $95.6 million in the baseline House budget does not convey the vision set out in a five-year plan released during the interim: To ensure Texas has a unified approach to behavioral health services that allows Texans to have access to care at the right time and places.

Analyst Mike Diehl of the Legislative Budget Board laid out the high-level numbers at the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning.

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By Kimberly Reeves

February 17, 2017      4:47 PM

Press Releases: Bullet train rebuttal, battery recycling, protecting the vulnerable, and more

Click the Press Releases button above for the latest

February 17, 2017      1:50 PM

Smith: Sanctuary from GOP Lies About Sanctuary Cities

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that GOP leaders are misleading voters about so-called sanctuary cities and terrorizing Hispanic families and communities with unconstitutional actions.

U.S. Homeland Security Director John Kelly recently said he doesn’t “have a clue” what a sanctuary city is. It’s refreshing when someone in Donald Trump’s cabinet tells the truth. So far, the American public could use a little sanctuary from Trump & Company lies.

The term “sanctuary city” is loosely applied to political jurisdictions who honor the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees against unlawful searches and seizures and Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process. Seems rather dutiful of local officials, doesn’t it?

Immigration officials sometimes issue “detainers” – administration requests – that city or county jails keep someone imprisoned until ICE officers can drop by to pick them up.

The full column by Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

February 16, 2017      6:47 PM

Convention of States debate starts in the Senate with a conservative senator demanding changes

Sen. Hughes argues delegates to a COS must be limited; Birdwell open to a discussion on that

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed comments made by Sen. Nelson to another senator. The story is updated to reflect that it was Sen. Nelson who laid out Sen. Estes’ bill on his behalf – SB

The Texas Senate State Affairs Committee approved three proposals Thursday related to a Convention for States, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items.

The committee laid out two pieces of legislation by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. His resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 2, calls for a convention of states and his bill, Senate Bill 21, outlines “qualifications, duties and limitations of Texas delegates.”

Both items passed out with of the committee 6-1, with only Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voting against them, though Sen. Jane Nelson said she still has concerns about the legislation.

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 16, 2017      6:46 PM

Sen. Uresti says he will cooperate with federal investigators

“I have instructed my staff to fully cooperate with the federal investigators. I will help them in whatever way I can.”

Sen. Carlos Uresti said he’s asked his staff to cooperate with federal investigators who were at his San Antonio law office Thursday.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, which first reported the raid, members of the FBI and IRS were at the office Thursday morning, collecting documents and other items related to Uresti’s involvement with FourWinds Logistics, a firm that went bankrupt in 2015.

"Today, FBI agents are in my office, reviewing our documents as part of their broad investigation of the Four Winds matter,” Uresti said in a statement Thursday morning. “I have instructed my staff to fully cooperate with the federal investigators.  I will help them in whatever way I can.”

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February 16, 2017      6:45 PM

Press Releases: ICE raids reactions, natural gas, Women and Minority-Owned Businesses, and more

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February 16, 2017      6:42 PM

Following police ambush in Dallas, Rep. Wray files legislation for PTSD coverage for first responders

Working to craft a policy that would allow first responders to apply for workers’ comp for PTSD treatment without putting their livelihoods at risk

In light of the sniper attack on Dallas police last year, Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, filed legislation Thursday, House Bill 1983, that would provide workers compensation benefits to peace officers and firefighters for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Wray said officers and firefighters, as first responders, are often put in situations where they are first to see “scenes of devastating accidents and atrocious crimes.”

“Pause for a moment and consider the impact these experiences can have on police officers and firefighters. But being the first to respond is part of their jobs. It’s part of what we ask them to do,” Wray said at a news conference. “This was again highlighted for me as I heard details of the shootings in Dallas where police officers and firefighters witnessed the ambush and murder of their colleagues in blue.”

If the bill becomes law, officers and firefighters would be eligible for coverage if the disorder is caused by events occurring in their work. There would also need to be a large amount of evidence indicating their job duties were a substantial cause of the disorder.

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 16, 2017      4:21 PM

Beth Van Duyne will not seek reelection as Irving Mayor

From Facebook: "While I am looking forward to new opportunities to serve our nation, I will never forget you and the remarkable achievements we made, working together, on behalf of our great city." She also hinted she will find a way to stay in public life.

February 16, 2017      3:50 PM

Texas Realtors join coalition pushing for eminent domain reform

“We believe significant improvements can be made to enhance protections on private-property rights for Texans.”

The powerful Texas Association of Realtors on Thursday announced that the group is joining an organization pushing this session for reform of the state’s laws governing eminent domain.

The Realtors are joining the Texans for Property Rights Coalition “to advocate for eminent domain reform during the 85th Texas Legislature,” per a statement released in the afternoon.

“Texans continue to struggle with an unbalanced set of eminent domain laws at odds with a state known for private-property rights,” said TAR Chairman Vicki Fullerton. “We believe significant improvements can be made to enhance protections on private-property rights for Texans.”

The full TAR announcement is here.

February 16, 2017      1:36 PM

Judge in Paxton felony case seems to favor keeping trial in Collin County

Per the DMN's Lauren McGaughy, the judge said "it is my intention to at least try to choose a jury here in Collin County."

February 16, 2017      10:19 AM

Chronicle reporting IRS, FBI raids of Sen. Uresti San Antonio office

Uresti relationship with now defunct Four Winds LLC investors at issue

Houston Chronicle story can be found here.

February 16, 2017      9:23 AM

SAEN: FBI, IRS raid state Sen. Carlos Uresti's San Antonio law office

Here’s the latest from the San Antonio Express News.

February 15, 2017      8:45 PM

Abbott slams Texas House approach to pre-k funding

“The House needs to explain why they want to spend $1.5 billion on unproven, lower quality Pre-K.”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday evening again chastised lawmakers in the Texas House for, as his spokesman put it, "misinterpreting" his previous lecture on the topic of quality pre-k grants.

“It’s clear that the governor’s statement to do this right or not at all was misinterpreted by the House," said John Wittman, Abbott's Press Secretary.

"The governor believes they should either fully fund high-quality Pre-K, or eliminate Pre-K funding altogether,” he said.

“The House needs to explain why they want to spend $1.5 billion on unproven, lower quality Pre-K. If their constituents don't like high quality Pre-K, they certainly shouldn't like a lower quality version of the program,” Wittman said.

By Scott Braddock

February 15, 2017      7:23 PM

Texas House shifts pre-k funding out of Abbott's high-quality grant strategy

When Gov. Abbott said “Let’s do this right. Or don’t do it at all,” House appropriators may have taken him quite literally

Gov. Greg Abbott chastised both chambers for failing to fully fund grants for quality pre-k in their respective budgets in his State of the State, and it appears the House did something about it – just not what Abbott would want.

Money set aside of the governor’s high-quality pre-k initiative disappeared from the budget bill pattern, leaving advocates to wonder whether the House was funding early childhood education at all this session beyond regular appropriations.

In his State of the State speech, Abbott said 80 percent of Texas voters support funding for high-quality pre-k education. The goal is to put children, regardless of background, on the path to do reading and math at grade level by the end of third grade.

“You brought high quality standards to a Pre-K system that desperately needed meaningful improvement,” Abbott said. “So, I’m perplexed by the budgets submitted by the House and Senate. They nod in the direction of Pre-K, but they turn a blind eye to the goal of achieving high-quality Pre-K.”

Abbott went on to say that Texas spends about $1.5 billion on “unaccountable” pre-k each session. The goal is create set high standards and weed out what doesn’t work, he said.

“It’s to ensure that Pre-K works rather than wastes taxpayer money,” Abbott said. “Let’s do this right. Or don’t do it at all.”

One might wonder if the House took Abbott literally.

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By Kimberly Reeves

February 15, 2017      7:22 PM

KR: What to watch for on transportation this session

The future of tolls is up in the air, North Texas is on the hunt for dollars, and all those bills that never go anywhere are probably still DOA

Transportation finally had a steady stream of funding in Texas, which means it’s time to consider what new leadership and a slew of bills could mean in both the House and Senate.

House Transportation, with Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, at the helm, will now meet with Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, in attendance but not holding the gavel. That must be an especially hard blow for Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, which saw its greatest victory last session with the conversion of US 281 from toll to free lanes with the assistance of Speaker of the House Joe Straus. Equal measure for Loop 1604 was on the horizon.

Pickett was a natural ally for TURF, which fanned Pickett’s growing frustration with managed lanes and toll roads out of the El Paso area. Now the toll opponents have Morrison, an even-handed lawmaker from a rural district with no particular vested interest in toll roads. It was enough to fan the flames on the rumor that the toll lobby had knocked out Pickett.

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By Kimberly Reeves

February 15, 2017      7:19 PM

After Trump's talk of destroying a Texas senator, bipartisan effort begins on civil asset forfeiture

Police chief says “You can’t support law enforcement” with this stance; Sen. Burton says “We can keep this tool in the tool box for law enforcement and stand for the rights of the people.”

A bipartisan group of legislators called for civil asset forfeiture reform at a Thursday afternoon news conference.  Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, introduced the plan under Senate Bill 380, which lays out a series of changes to how civil asset forfeiture is handled.

The bill would replace the current system of civil asset forfeiture, establishing instead a system of criminal asset forfeiture, Burton said.

“SB 380 would institute common sense protections for property owners and ensure that the taking of property by the government is not done lightly,” Burton said. “We can keep this tool in the tool box for law enforcement and stand for the rights of the people.”

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 15, 2017      6:24 PM

Report: Trump family eyeing Austin for new hotel

Mayor Adler said “I’m not sure the way we do things in Austin is aligned with the Trump brand.”

Here’s the info via Culture Map Austin.

February 15, 2017      6:00 PM

Senators hear criticism of abortion bills from groups on both sides of the issue

Texas Alliance for Life says Sen. Perry’s “dismemberment abortion” bill would not stand up to a federal court challenge

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee took up a three abortion bills Wednesday in a hearing that drew many testifiers on both sides of the issue. But in many instances it was a no-win situation for Republicans as the bills were blistered by both anti-abortion advocates who thought the proposals didn’t go far enough and pro-choice advocates who thought exactly the opposite.

The pieces of legislation – Senate Bills 8, 415 and 258 – would prohibit “partial birth” abortions, “dismemberment” abortions and deal with the disposition of fetal remains, respectively.

Wednesday’s hearing started with a discussion of Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Charles Schwertner. The bill, in addition to banning “partial-birth” abortions, would prohibit the donation of fetal tissue from an elective abortion and the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

During the hearing, Chairman Schwertner acknowledged that “partial-birth” abortion is not a medical term. Medical professionals call to this type of abortion a dilation and extraction abortion.  

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By Eleanor Dearman

February 15, 2017      5:51 PM

Press Releases: Cornyn supports global trade, religious freedom, protecting crime survivors, and more

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