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July 30, 2015      6:12 PM

Congress remains hamstrung while Texas moves forward on long-term funding source for transportation

US Senate's 3-month extension delays real discussion until this fall

The U.S. Senate approved a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund Thursday afternon, effectively delaying future debate on funding sources until October.

This would be the 34th extension of the legislation to underwrite transportation funding since 2009. Earlier this month, the Senate was able to pass its own $47 billion three-year fix of the funding pool, the DRIVE Act, with an approach the House neither supported nor reached. Instead, House leaders tapped U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to lead an effort to create tax code changes that could provide a long-term funding source.

Back in Texas, lawmakers have put an initiative on the ballot this fall, Proposition 7, to create a predictable revenue stream for transportation projects. The message at the Texas Transportation Commission is “accountability,” and agency staff is geared to roll out its new governance plan, mandated by House Bill 20, in September to assure voters TxDOT is serious about accountability.

Any effort by the state would be only the start of funding the estimated $5 billion per year needed for new construction. Tryon Lewis, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, estimated the bottom line on transportation at $100 billion.

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 30, 2015      6:11 PM

Press Releases: Cruz celebrates anti-business win, announcements, appointments, electricity conservation, and more

July 30, 2015      5:59 PM

DPS Director McCraw is slammed by lawmakers but will not address specifics about Sandra Bland arrest

Chairman Coleman becomes momentarily irate with McCraw; says McCraw should reprimand his officer by telling him “don't ever throw a black woman on the ground again.”

The Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday came hat in hand before the Texas House Committee on County Affairs as the panel investigated the death of Sandra Bland, the young woman who was stopped by a DPS officer who became quite irate with her for no good reason. Bland refused to extinguish a cigarette when the officer asked her to, which was followed by a threat to shock her with a Taser and a promise to “light you up.”

Republicans and Democrats alike raked DPS Director Steve McCraw over the coals for the way Trooper Brian Encinia treated bland during the traffic stop that preceded her death a few days later in a Waller County Jail cell. She apparently committed suicide.

When it came to specific questions about the arrest, McCraw demurred and said he would “hold in abeyance” any inquiries from lawmakers until multiple investigations by the Texas Rangers and FBI are completed.

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By Scott Braddock

July 30, 2015      5:23 PM

Superintendents express skepticism over rebirth of financial accountability system

The conservative strategy of using data as a weapon or a label, rather than as a tool, has stunted efforts to utilize data to make schools better in Texas.

School districts, and especially the Fast-Growth School Coalition, are far from eager to see new life for a data-driven financial accountability system once housed at the Comptroller’s Office and now turned over to a conservative-leaning group.  

Texas continues to remain a state with one of the longest, and most comprehensive, histories of data collection. But as other states have begun to leverage data collection as a tool for school improvement, Texas has lagged behind, refusing to link teacher and student data and only sporadically considering data in policy decisions.

That’s due, in part, to the conservative strategy of using data as a weapon or a label, rather than as a tool. It gets personal in fast-growth school districts, which saw a lot of finger pointing about bond debt but little in the way of support or funding for growth.

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 30, 2015      3:56 PM

House County Affairs opens investigation of the death of Sandra Bland

Rep. Stickland shines as hearing gets underway, earning accolades from Democrats for suggesting Bland has possibly been smeared by Waller County officials; Stickland says of inmates: "If one innocent person suffers then we've messed this up.”

The Texas House County Affairs Committee on Thursday afternoon started to dig into the conditions in local lockups across the state following the death of Sandra Bland. Bland is believed to have committed suicide in a Waller County Jail cell days after a traffic stop in which a Department of Public Safety Officer acted irate toward her on video and violated department policies.

In opening the proceedings, Chairman Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, noted that Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith could not be present for the hearing. However, Coleman commended Smith for the way the sheriff has handled the aftermath of the death of Bland and the intense national scrutiny that has gone along with the circumstances.

Sheriff Smith has been open, honest, and transparent, Coleman said. "Usually the lawyer would have gotten to him before then and he would have said nothing," Coleman said.

As has often been noted, Rep. Coleman pointed out that county jails have become the biggest mental health facilities in many communities around Texas. At one point, 2,500 people per day were in the Harris County Jail in Houston primarily because they suffer from mental health issues.

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By Scott Braddock

July 30, 2015      2:33 PM

Small businessman Glenn Rex announces for House seat being vacated by Rep. Harless

“I want to thank Representative Harless for her years of service, and I pledge to continue her strong record of leadership for the entire district.”

The announcement from Glenn Rex can be found right here.

July 30, 2015      1:32 PM

Former State Senator Jack Strong is remembered in Longview

"Strong leaves a legacy of commitment to civil rights as well as community service, volunteering with numerous nonprofit agencies in Longview."

Here is the story from the Longview News-Journal about former State Sen. Jack Strong, who was 86.

July 29, 2015      6:16 PM

Very little, if any, new information comes to light in Texas Senate hearing on Planned Parenthood

Anti-abortion activist puts state health officials in awkward position because of her claims under oath

An investigative hearing that many Capitol observers described as bizarre ended with a bang Wednesday when members of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee called state officials back to the witness stand to ask whether they’d lied during testimony given just hours before.

Specifically, Department of State Health Services assistant commissioner Kathy Perkins was asked to respond to Abby Johnson, a former employee of Planned Parenthood and current full-time anti-abortion activist who claimed under oath that HHSC always gave abortion clinics advance notice of inspections, which would be a felony.

The answer was “no.”

It was perhaps a fittingly strange close to the tense and wandering four-and-a-half hour hearing which had a specific goal that remained unclear throughout. Ostensibly, the committee met to investigate whether any laws had been broken in Texas related to the handling of fetal remains, a concern prompted by recently released videos of Planned Parenthood officials in other states discussing providing fetal tissue for medical research.

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By Emily DePrang

July 29, 2015      5:31 PM

Former Sen. Jack Strong passed away

Represented parts of East Texas in the 60's and early 70's. Details to follow...

July 29, 2015      4:59 PM

Press Releases: Planned Parenthood hearing reactions, appointments, and more

July 29, 2015      3:10 PM

Abbott appoints billionaire Dan Friedkin as chair of Parks and Wildlife commission

July 29, 2015      2:55 PM

Patterson: My response to the GLO audit

In op-ed, former Land Commissioner of Texas Jerry Patterson says “I can’t speak to the motive of the current Commissioner for apparently endeavoring to drop his predecessor ‘in the grease’ but I would suggest he put more focus on doing his job and less on covering his derriere.”

Audits are a good thing. State agencies always learn things that help them improve their ability to perform their mission, and the recently released audit of the Texas General Land Office is no exception.

The State Auditor’s Office is a credit to Texas government. If I were going to engage an auditor, I would pick John Keel and his extremely professional crew. They are the best.  

However, an audit should be a two way endeavor where both the auditor and audit subject are engaged in the process. It is the responsibility of the agency to provide the rationale for certain decisions when the auditor finds an apparent discrepancy.

At least in one part of the recent Texas GLO audit that I have personal knowledge of, that appears not to have been the case.

The complete column from Jerry Patterson can be found in the R&D Department.

By Jerry Patterson

July 29, 2015      8:08 AM

Planned Parenthood declines to testify at Senate hearing today

President questions fairness of hearing; says never participated in fetal tissue donation or research

From Kenneth Lambrecht, President and CEO of Planned Parent of Greater Texas:

“The health centers and ambulatory surgical centers affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas have never participated in fetal tissue donation or research, though we recognize it is a standard practice within the medical community. Furthermore, the Committee has made it abundantly clear that it has no desire to hold a responsible, fair, fact-driven hearing. Therefore, we decline the request to testify in person."

July 28, 2015      5:46 PM

Pointed questions expected in Texas House hearing on death of Sandra Bland

“We’re actually going to talk about it for what it is,” Chairman Coleman said. "Black people are sick and tired of this. I’m sick and tired of this.”

Expect Rep. Garnet Coleman to have some pointed questions about race when the House County Affairs Committee convenes on Thursday.

Chairman Coleman, D-Houston, has called on a panel to testify that includes Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steven McCraw, Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith and Executive Director Brandon Woods of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to discuss the death of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail on July 13. Coleman’s committee will convene in Austin on Thursday afternoon.

Coleman is best known as an advocate for health care and mental health. He negotiated funding for mental health services for indigent care in jails. In this case, however, Coleman’s real questions are for the county leaders who would have had some role in the Bland case, including the sheriff and district attorney.

“We’re actually going to talk about it for what it is,” Coleman said on Tuesday afternoon. “There is a racial component to this. People don’t get it. Black people are sick and tired of this. I’m sick and tired of this.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

July 28, 2015      5:45 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, announcements, IRS outrage, and the "Washington Cartel"

July 28, 2015      4:58 PM

Congressional conservative moves to remove Boehner from the Chair

Politico reporting Mark Meadows (R-N.C) has presented a motion to "vacate the chair", a method reminiscent of the 2007 Texas House

July 28, 2015      4:14 PM

Sen. Ted Cruz chooses Tyler activist JoAnn Fleming as his Texas Tea Party Chair

Fleming also chaired Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's now-defunct Grassroots Advisory Board - the group which called Gov. Abbott's pre-k initiative "Godless" and "socialistic."

July 28, 2015      2:05 PM

WFAA: Grand jury now hearing case against Paxton

"Special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice were seen entering the Collin County Courthouse Tuesday morning, along with the Texas Rangers."

The full story can be found

July 27, 2015      5:52 PM

Pensions Chairman wants AG to weigh in on whether same-sex benefits were approved too quickly

Critics of Rep. Flynn’s request say “It's been more than a month since the Supreme Court's freedom to marry ruling and some public officials still can't face reality.”

Pensions Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office whether state agencies moved too quickly to approve benefits for same-sex spouses following the United States Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. He asked Paxton for an AG opinion on agencies making unilateral appropriations “if the U.S. or Texas Supreme Court recognizes a new constitutional right and compliance with that ruling requires the expenditure of additional state funds.”

Flynn asked for the opinion on July 24, which is about a month after the Employee Retirement System announced a special enrollment session for same-sex spouses. At the time, Texas Values, the most vocal of the conservative opponents of same-sex benefits, labeled the rather staid ERS “a rogue Texas government entity.”

Flynn’s one-page request on policies and procedures was attached to his earlier request of July 16, which expressed a broad opposition to same-sex marriage and asked what repercussions could occur if Texas refused to implement the ruling of the federal court. Opponents have lodged similar requests in other states.

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 27, 2015      5:46 PM

First round of water project loans from SWIFT are approved

Loans ranged from $705,000 to $983 million in this first round of funding; the initial applications totaled $5.5 billion, of which $4 billion advanced.

The first round of loans out of the fund to underwrite the state’s water plan has moved swiftly through the Texas Water Development Board.

Administrator Amanda Lavin noted it had been only seven weeks between the notification of eligible candidates and the selection of plans to receive the first round of funding out of the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas or SWIFT.   

The first year commitment of the loan fund is $1 billion, but the multi-year commitment is expect to be $3.9 billion of what ultimately will be a $27 billion plan. The revolving water fund, with low-interest and deferred loans, will work on a 10-year horizon of about $8 billion in funding, Lavin said.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

July 27, 2015      5:42 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, ADA anniversary, fraudulent tactics, and a game of Who Said It?

July 27, 2015      4:02 PM

Former Comptroller Susan Combs revives scuttled school accountability program

US Sen. Cornyn liked program enough to amend it to federal education legislation, but the reaction of ISDs to the program called FAST has been tepid, at best.

Former Comptroller Susan Combs has given new life to an often overlooked school finance accountability program that successor Glenn Hegar chose to scuttle at the Comptroller’s Office only months before U.S. Senator John Cornyn added the program to federal legislation.

The Financial Allocation Study of Texas, or FAST, was a program closely associated with former Comptroller Susan Combs. So the fact Hegar might choose to move on to other initiatives this year was not a surprise. What was surprising was to hear Sen. Cornyn had attached the concept of FAST to the Senate bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act as it was being debates on the Senate floor this month.

“I’m pleased with today’s strong support for employing this successful model from Texas on a national scale,” Cornyn said in a statement the day he attached the FAST amendment. “Enabling states to more efficiently use their education funds will allow teachers and local school officials across the country to put students’ needs first.”

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 24, 2015      5:02 PM

Former TPPF Pres and SREC member Jeff Judson to challenge Straus for House seat

Copy of note below

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from Straus’ spokesman – SB

Dear Fellow SREC members and colleagues at the RPT:

 “I wanted you to hear it from me first; I am running for House District 121 against Joe Straus.

This was not an easy decision because I know what it is going to take to win.  Joe has over $8 million in his campaign account.  But I am confident that I can win, and have received a tremendous amount of encouragement from people within the district and across Texas.  I intend to raise whatever funds are necessary, and am confident I can do so.

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July 24, 2015      4:27 PM

Uncertain outcomes plague debate over big cuts to Medicaid therapy rates

“I don’t know why they think it’s necessary, in a budget surplus to do this. They’re cutting $150 million from one industry. I don’t know any industry that could withstand that reduction.”

A plan to slash what the state pays physical therapists who treat children with severe disabilities could devastate the industry and put Texas at risk of violating federal law, advocates and lawmakers say. Major stakeholders also claim they’ve been wrongly excluded from the rate-setting process, but state officials insist nothing is final yet and public comment remains welcome.

Those comments have been plentiful since the state Health and Human Services Commission published the new Medicaid reimbursement rates earlier this month. The proposed rates would slash payments for physical, occupational and speech therapy by 25 to 90 percent starting in September, a financial blow many therapy providers say they won’t survive.

On Monday, more than 180 stakeholders took advantage of their first and likely only chance to testify in front of the agency before the rates are finalized no later than August 10th. For seven hours, parents, providers and patient advocates begged HHSC not to implement the plan, which would satisfy a cost-containment rider in the new state budget by cutting general revenue for the Texas Medicaid Acute Care Therapy Program by $150 million over the next two years. In doing so, the state would also surrender $200 million in federal money, reducing the total funds for Medicaid therapy by more than half.

Last year, the program provided medically necessary therapy for more than 440,000 people with severe disabilities. About 90,000 of those served were elderly Texans with progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. But the vast majority—almost 350,000 patients—were children with birth defects or genetic disorders or infants who were born dangerously premature. Advocates estimate that if the rates are adopted, 60,000 to 70,000 children will lose access to treatment.

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By Emily DePrang

July 24, 2015      4:26 PM

Press Releases: Cruz continues anti-business crusade, water projects, birth certificate controversy, and more

July 24, 2015      4:04 PM

Smith: Tragedy and Tragicomedy in Texas

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the tragedy of Sandra Bland overshadows a tragicomic Texas week that saw Donald Trump in Laredo, an indictment against Rick Perry upheld three Republican judges, and a grand jury investigation of Att. Gen. Ken Paxton.

A grand jury is considering felony charges against sitting Attorney General Ken Paxton. Former Gov. Rick Perry’s one-time general counsel, Bob Pemberton, writes a unanimous opinion upholding one of the felony indictments – abuse of power – against Perry. That brings the total number of Republican judges finding merit in the charges to five, by my count. So much for the “partisan witch hunt” cries of Perry’s $2 million dollar legal team.

The accusations against Perry are obviously serious enough that a battery of Republicans, from the judge who appointed the special prosecutor to the judge who appointed that judge to the judges of the 3rd Court of Appeals, take them seriously, no matter how hard Perry and his team try to persuade malleable pundits in Texas and elsewhere that the charges have no merit.  

Since it was unlikely Perry would confess and plead guilty, I guess he and his team had no other route to take, though. So be it.  

But that’s not all the post-4th of July fireworks that exploded in Texas this week.

The full column from Glenn W. Smith is available in our R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

July 24, 2015      3:54 PM

Coordinating Board rolls out beginning of medical funding

The boost from the state gives about 730 residents currently in the pipeline the chance to experience rural, public and family practice.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board began rolling out money for residency programs this week, although not all the new dollars the legislature agreed to spend to expand those much needed slots.

The state put $16.7 million into the Family Practice Residency Program this biennium. That bump from the state gives about 730 residents currently in the pipeline the chance to experience rural, public and family practice. That’s especially critical to family practice, which sees no federal subsidy from Medicare because reimbursements are based on the number of days physicians spend in hospitals.

“That program provides support those individuals who are interested, to get them interested in and exposed to family practice and primary care,” assistant commissioner Rex Peebles told the coordinating board, noting doctors tend to set up practice where they completed their residencies. “It’s a great way to make sure Texas has doctors going forward.”

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 24, 2015      12:33 PM

Emails show Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's staff did not object to release of veto memo

One of the emails notes that both the Speaker and Lt. Governor's offices had previously met and agreed that LBB director Ursula Parks should send her analysis to the Comptroller

Emails that have now been released to the Texas Tribune and Quorum Report show that the office of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not object to the distribution of a now controversial memo about Gov. Greg Abbott’s line item vetoes.

In the emails, Legislative Budget Board Director Ursula Parks asks whether her analysis of Abbott’s line item vetoes – in which she questioned the way in which he slashed millions in spending – was okay for distribution.

The budget director for Speaker Joe Straus, Andrew Blifford, and Patrick’s budget director Mike Morrissey both said it was fine to do so. Neither raised any objections. In fact, in one of the emails Blifford notes that both the Speaker and Lt. Governor's offices had previously met and agreed that she should send her analysis to the Comptroller.

You can see the email exchange by clicking here.

Gov. Patrick’s office on Friday maintained that even though Morrissey raised no objection to the distribution of the memo, Patrick’s staff does not agree with Parks’ findings and made no move to sign onto her analysis.

July 24, 2015      10:41 AM

Texas Supreme Court: Houston must repeal equal rights ordinance or put it on the ballot

“The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored” after petitions were delivered to the city to put it on the ballot, says the court.

Here is the decision from the court.

July 23, 2015      6:33 PM

Speaker Straus says debate on line item vetoes is simply about the proper role of branches of government

Straus issues statement after Lt. Gov. Patrick earlier in the day said “The Speaker's Office obviously decided not to sign on” to the letter from the LBB director

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Thursday evening spoke out personally on the controversy about Gov. Greg Abbott's line item vetoes that have come under intense scrutiny this week.

Legislative Budget Board Director Ursula Parks earlier in the week issued a memo in which she argued that the way Abbott tried to cut millions in spending expanded gubernatorial power in an unprecedented way. "Appropriations may be made by the Legislature and may also be vetoed by the Governor; the power of the veto is to prohibit a withdrawal of funds from the Treasury. It does not extend to vetoing the Legislature’s intent and direction," Parks said.

"My colleagues and I share Governor Abbott's commitment to fiscal discipline and accountability in the Texas budget," Straus said in a statement. "The discussion that has been taking place about vetoes is about nothing more than the proper roles of the legislative and executive branches in the budget process,” Straus said.

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By Scott Braddock

July 23, 2015      5:27 PM

Press Releases: Patrick responds to Embry, sanctuary cities, Trump, Trump, and more Trump

July 23, 2015      2:25 PM

Businessman Jon Cobb announces today for SD 24

"During tough times, he stood firm on two principles: not building up debt to run his business and finding solutions to create more growth for his company," his website says.

Here's the site just launched by Jon Cobb, who's joining a growing field in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Troy Fraser.

July 23, 2015      1:27 PM

Greenfield: From the Perry Period of Prosperity to the Abbott Growth Decline

Resident number cruncher Stuart Greenfield says that while Texas continues to grow economically, revenue estimates for fiscal years 2016 and 17 will likely not be nearly as rosy as had been estimated by the Comptroller

Yes, the state continues to prosper. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas projects economic growth will continue to be positive. But the rate of growth will be declining. Those with degrees in economics will tell you that the first derivative is positive while the second is negative.

This decline in state economic growth is already showing in the growth in state tax collections.

As Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently noted, the June state sales tax collections growth declined for the first time in 62 months. What was not mentioned by the Comptroller is that that the monthly growth rate in total tax collections has been negative for the past three months. 

This has resulted in the cumulative growth in state tax collections declining to 2.2 percent through June, as shown here in Figure 1.

The 2.2 percent cumulative growth rate through June is the lowest rate since August 2010.   While this rate of growth is greater than the 1.9 percent growth in the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) released in January, should the rate of growth (-2.2) experienced over the last four months continue for the remainder of the fiscal year, total tax collections will still be within 1 percent of the current estimate of $51.8 billion.

The complete column from Dr. Stuart Greenfield can be found in the R&D Department.

By Dr. Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

July 23, 2015      10:17 AM

South Texas landowners ask Trump to make more visits to the border

The South Texans’ Property Rights Association thanks Donald Trump for today's visit to the Laredo sector but the group argues it isn’t sufficient to get a full understanding of the situation

From the South Texans’ Property Rights Association news release:

"Our only requests of Mr. Trump are that he make return visits to Texas border regions, which we will happily arrange, to experience our extremely diverse geography and illegal immigration patterns, understand why many hundreds of illegal immigrants have died 50 to 70 miles north of the border, and consider the market forces for labor and drugs in the United States that has empowered the Mexican cartels to thrive because of failed federal policies."

The full release can be seen here.