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August 29, 2015      10:33 AM

SB: Texas is officially sending mixed signals to business

General Electric reportedly drops Dallas as possible site for its HQ; Sen. Cruz and crew complicate the efforts of Gov. Abbott to attract jobs

General Electric reportedly delivered a blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s economic development efforts on Friday as Bloomberg let us know that GE “dropped the Dallas area as a site for a possible headquarters move because of concern that Texas’s political climate is unfavorable to the company’s business.”

The specific problem is Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies’ fight against the Export-Import Bank, the report said. General Electric is a huge exporter as are many Texas businesses.

During the same speech on the US Senate floor in which Sen. Cruz called the leader of his party in the chamber a liar, Cruz said that average folks have no clue what the Ex-Im Bank even is. “The what?” is what he claimed average folks would say. Cruz pointed to one other senator as someone he could applaud for their stance on the issue: Self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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By Scott Braddock

August 29, 2015      10:31 AM

Smith: Celebrating Labor Day in Texas While Gov. Abbott Says Adios and Escapes to Mexico

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith urges us to celebrate the American worker and the accomplishments of the Labor Movement on Labor Day, even while Gov. Abbott abandons us for a weekend in Mexico.

When a Donald Trump supporter this week yelled “Get out of my country!” at a distinguished Latino journalist, who knew Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would say “okay” and make plans to head to Mexico? I don’t think he was talking to you, Governor.  

Of course, it’s another matter altogether that Abbott decided to plan his Mexican escape for the Labor Day weekend, thereby signaling to Texas and American workers just how much he thinks of them. I don’t remember another time a Texas governor scheduled a foreign trip for the weekend we celebrate the contributions of hard-working Americans.

Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. You might wonder why it’s not celebrated on May 1, Mayday or International Workers Day, like it is in some 80 other countries. That’s because President Grover Cleveland didn’t want the holiday associated with the deadly Haymarket Riots in Chicago in early May 1886.

The complete column from Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

August 28, 2015      5:14 PM

Educators push for broader deployment of fiber through rural Texas

"If Texas wants to maintain its competitive advantage and ensure our students have the necessary skills to meet workforce demands, it's imperative that all our public schools are connected to the modern Internet."

Federal officials are meeting with state leaders at the Texas Capitol to discuss how to leverage new federal dollars to close the state’s digital divide.

Fifteen years since the first report was drafted to define the goals for connecting classrooms to technology, access to the Internet is almost universal, at least for teachers. But the integration of that technology into classroom lessons, and the teaching of digital citizenship, still lags behind the ideal, according to the progress report the Texas Education Agency presented to lawmakers last session.  

Today, the Texas Computer Education Association invited technology leaders, education groups and elected officials to meet with representatives of the Federal Communications Commission to discuss new rules for E-Rate that could flow additional money to smaller projects and more rural areas.

Since 1998, Texas has pulled down $4.14 billion from the E-Rate program to connect Texas schools and libraries to the Internet, according to TCEA’s estimates. The average annual commitment to the state is $235 million, drawn from the universal service fund fees on phone bills. TCEA is encouraging the state to leverage additional funding, broader rules and participation requirements to build the additional bandwidth necessary to serve schools, universities and hospitals.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 28, 2015      4:53 PM

Press Releases: EPA reactions, dueling statements about Planned Parenthood, confederate statues and more

August 28, 2015      9:42 AM

Sen. Jane Nelson's press secretary Megan Hanson is departing to work for America Rising in Colorado

August 27, 2015      5:47 PM

Johnson: A GOP tax assessor-collector weighs in on the Austin property values lawsuit

In this op-ed, Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson argues that the entire property tax system needs reform and a lawsuit against the Comptroller is not the right way to get change that is needed

This week’s news about the City of Austin filing suit over property values compels me to comment.

As an elected county tax assessor collector, former elected school board trustee, both voting and non-voting director on a county appraisal district AND former real estate appraiser, I am appalled by the action of the City of Austin with regard to the commercial and land property tax situation.

The property tax system is unfair – it has been from inception – but this action is not the proper one. Reform of the entire system is needed. The Texas Legislature and state leadership need to acknowledge the need and accept the responsibility.

The complete column from Galveston County Tax Assessor Collector Cheryl E. Johnson can be found in the R&D Department.

By Cheryl E. Johnson

August 27, 2015      5:40 PM

AAS: Judge denies temporary injunction to relocate UTs Confederate statues

August 27, 2015      4:51 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, re-election announcements, overdose awareness, deceptive editing, and more

August 27, 2015      3:08 PM

ACT participation up in Texas, college readiness remains flat

Texas, unlike many states, has not collected course-level data for students until now, so it has been difficult to track changes in the requirements for a high school diploma

A record number of Texas graduates took the ACT college admissions test last year, but gaps in data make it difficult to assess what is going to keep those students on track for being ready to complete a certification or college degree. 

Just over 40 percent of the Class of 2015, or 124,764 students, took the ACT. Numbers for the SAT, out typically in October, are expected to be larger. Because the SAT and ACT are a component of the state’s indices on college readiness, the majority of students do take one test, or both. For the Class of 2013, it was 66 percent, although the percentage can be as high as 98 or 99 percent for a high school such as Westlake in Eanes or Memorial in Spring Branch.

What hasn’t changed is the overall performance on the exams.

Texas, unlike many states, has not collected course-level data for students until now, so it has been difficult to track changes in the requirements for a high school diploma. For instance, it is not clear whether Texas’ requirement of four years of science and math made a significant impact on the scores on college admission tests.  

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 27, 2015      11:45 AM

Ken Paxton pleads not guilty in Collin county

"I am innocent. ... It is a travesty that some would attempt to hijack our system of justice to achieve political ends."

The Austin American Statesman’s Chuck Lindell has this report.

August 26, 2015      5:55 PM

Update: Plaintiffs against HHSC in Medicaid dispute call the state's courtroom tactics into question

“… before the ink dried on the court order to dismiss the case, the Commission is moving ‘full steam ahead’ with plans to radically cut reimbursement rates."

Following a court hearing Wednesday morning in which advocates for disabled children briefly thought they had won a victory in a fight against deep cuts to Medicaid services in Texas, they learned just hours later that the Health and Human Services Commission plans to continue to move ahead with the cuts as had been originally proposed.

“The Health and Human Services Commission plans to move forward with implementing the full Medicaid therapy rate reductions – a directive that was passed by the legislature,” said HHSC spokesman Bryan Black. “HHSC attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval. Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.”

That statement was made after a Travis County judge dismissed the case because the two sides were said to have reached an agreement. Given what had just happened in court, an attorney for the plaintiffs seemed surprised to hear what the agency is now planning to do.

“The state said in court that it would go through careful methodology to come up with a new rate cut proposal. Apparently that only takes a few hours,” attorney Dan Richards said. “Despite that Herculean effort by the state, the access to care issues remain just as real this afternoon as it was this morning."

The head of a trade association for providers of the medically necessary therapies went further.

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By Scott Braddock

August 26, 2015      5:51 PM

WGU Texas builds success on competency-based education model

"Survey results confirm that access to affordable, flexible higher education options is imperative for today’s students.”

The cost of a postsecondary education – and the and the various obstacles one needs to overcome to achieve it -- do not make the attainment of a degree or certificate any less desirable, according to a higher education poll out today from WGU Texas.

Those findings, culled from a telephone survey commissioned by WGU Texas, are probably not surprising. The era of a lifetime career with a single employer is over. Most Texans recognize, on at least one level, that a career involves multiple jobs with potentially different employers that involve a progression of skills and experience.

Of those surveyed, a third saw their current job as a “stepping stone” on their career path. Two-thirds of those polled recognized it would take training or education to get the kind of career they eventually hope to achieve. And yet 3.7 million Texans have training or education short of a degree or certificate, said WGU Chancellor Veronica Vargas Stidvent on a conference call with reporters this morning.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 26, 2015      5:50 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, announcements, unredeemed gift cards, and more

August 26, 2015      4:25 PM

Comptroller Hegar asks AG for opinion on controversial Abbott line-item vetoes

“I have a fiduciary duty to Texas taxpayers to ensure their hard-earned dollars are spent in a manner that is consistent with the constitution of the state of Texas," Hegar said.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday afternoon said he wants the Attorney General to weigh in with an official opinion about controversial line-item vetoes that have been questioned by the Legislative Budget Board and some members of The Legislature.

Abbott’s line-item vetoes of more than $200 million from the budget came under fire because he sought to rewrite parts of the budget rather than simply nixing the spending of money on certain items.

“I am lapsing the funds for all items objected to by the Governor and will treat the items in question as vetoed,” Hegar said in a written statement. “However, if advised otherwise, those appropriations can be made available immediately.

LBB Director Ursula Parks put it this way after she was asked to look into the matter by both the Lt. Governor's office as well as the office of the Speaker:

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By Scott Braddock

August 26, 2015      2:57 PM

HHSC confirms it will move forward with controversial Medicaid cuts

Following a court hearing in which the agency’s counsel said it was starting anew, HHCS’s spokesman this afternoon says they “attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval. Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.”

Here is the full statement from Health and Human Services Commission Spokesman Bryan Black:

“The Health and Human Services Commission plans to move forward with implementing the full Medicaid therapy rate reductions – a directive that was passed by the legislature.

HHSC attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval. Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.

We will now re-start the process to set reimbursement rates to achieve the full savings as mandated by the legislature. We are working to schedule a public hearing where we will propose new rates and receive feedback.”

August 26, 2015      2:56 PM

A high school in Austin is hailed as an example of success in state intervention at a campus

A reform pushed by retiring Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock puts additional pressure on school boards to turn around failing campuses.

Eastside Memorial High School in Austin, the first high school to be fall under the Texas accountability system, is finally out from under state supervision.

Untangling the status of the former Johnston High School can be difficult. In fact, then-Superintendent Meria Carstarphen pulled the trigger on the school’s performance a year earlier than necessary when she proposed turning the entire high school feeder pattern over to IDEA Public Schools starting in 2012. Eventually, the district signed a contract with Johns Hopkins Talent Development, now in its third year on the Austin ISD campus.

“Our kids are truly where it is. I knew from the day I walked in they could always do it,” Principal Bryan Miller told reporters. “The numbers did not reflect who they were. Now the numbers reflect more of where they are, but only hint to where they’re going to go.”

Eastside Memorial probably reflects the truest form of intervention success, one that will change significantly with the passage of this year's House Bill 1842.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 26, 2015      1:55 PM

Sen. Konni Burton endorses David Simpson for Texas Senate

"I’ve watched the legislature for years and have always admired David’s willingness to stand up, even against members in his own party," Burton said.

August 26, 2015      12:19 PM

Despite telling a court the agency was starting over, HHSC is said to be moving forward with controversial Medicaid cuts

Sources tell QR that Gov. Abbott has directed HHSC to stick to its guns; no comment from Abbott’s office on that

Opponents of a huge cut to pay rates for therapists who treat disabled Texas children enjoyed a very brief victory this morning when the state told a district judge it would “essentially start over” in designing new rates to comply with a legislative demand to save money.

Eugene Clayborn, of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, told Judge Amy Meachum this morning that the state would abandon both its original rate cuts and new, less severe ones entered into evidence last week. Plaintiffs in the civil suit aimed at preventing the new cuts from taking effect September 1st believed this meant the Health and Human Services Commission would work with stakeholders to design new rates that wouldn’t cost 60,000 disabled children their access to medical care, as they feared the proposed cuts would.

But shortly after, state Rep. Donna Howard and others learned in discussion with persons from HHSC that this is not Texas’ intention.

There was no immediate comment from HHSC.

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By Emily DePrang

August 26, 2015      12:11 PM

Gov. Abbott sets special election for Farias San Antonio House seat

It will be Nov. 3; filing deadline for candidates for HD 118 is next Wednesday

August 26, 2015      9:34 AM

Breaking: The state has altogether withdrawn controversial Medicaid disability rate cuts

HHSC will "essentially start over" on Medicaid rates - full story soon

August 25, 2015      8:31 PM

Austin lawsuit over property values casts a wide net with potential statewide impact

“We’ve never had this situation.” What Austin wants is government access to commercial property sales information. What Austin and the rest of the state got last session was House Bill 2083, which requires “generally accepted appraisal methods and techniques.”

The City of Austin has sued both the Travis Central Appraisal District and Comptroller Glenn Hegar over what it considers to be the use of methods that lead to significant undervaluation of commercial and vacant property.

This will certainly go on the books as one of the Austin’s more ambitious attempts to get what it wants out of state policy – whether it’s mandatory sales price disclosure or adjusted appraisals for $52 billion in property value. The legal challenge also casts a wider net, claiming that the current system of equal and uniform appraisals is unconstitutional. A decision in the city’s favor would most certainly have statewide impact.

“The chief appraiser has testified before the legislature if she had access to more sales data than the law allows her to get, that her conclusions as to market value may be very well more fair,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a press conference. “One of the purposes of this lawsuit is to determine if the chief appraiser is correct.”

Cities have had the ability to sue over the valuation of a class of property, but this is the first time any city has sought to aggressively pursue it, said Ken Nolan, chief appraiser of the Dallas County Appraisal District, who chairs the legislative committee for the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts.

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August 25, 2015      6:44 PM

Medicaid cuts force West Texas firm to cease therapy for disable children

"It's the canary in the coal mine," one Republican told QR tonight. "This tragedy is no longer theoretical. This is happening."

On the eve of a court hearing in which families of disabled Texas children will ask a judge to block the Health and Human Service Commission from moving forward with drastic cuts to a program that provides services for those kids, a West Texas company notified lawmakers it is discontinuing pediatric therapy services.

"I am deeply saddened to announce that our agency can no longer afford to serve over 100 pediatric therapy clients and their families,” wrote Bobby Laughry, the CEO of Nurses Unlimited Inc.

In a letter to Senators Kel Seliger and Charles Perry as well as Representatives Drew Darby, Brooks Landgraf and Tom Craddick, Laughry asked lawmakers to find a way to rescind the latest round of Medicaid cuts.

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By Scott Braddock

August 25, 2015      6:26 PM

AAS: Former CPRIT official found not guilty of felony

The Statesman has the latest on the trial of Jerry Cobbs.

August 24, 2015      5:03 PM

Opponents of Houston Equal Rights Ordinance say they will spend $100K on radio ads about men in women's restrooms

Opponents, including Jared Woodfill with Campaign for Houston PAC, hope to spend as much as about $2 million to roll back the Equal Rights Ordinance that was pushed by Mayor Annise Parker.

Here’s the audio of the radio advertisements being aired by opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

August 24, 2015      4:53 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, the MIA DA, traffic stop data, school finance, and more

August 24, 2015      3:42 PM

Updated: Temporary restraining order issued against Commissioner Bush in fight with Daughters of the Republic of Texas

Fight over property at the DRT library escalates

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from the General Land Office – SB

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas on Monday afternoon obtained a temporary restraining order against the General Land Office and Commissioner George P. Bush after the group claimed it was locked out of its own library on the Alamo grounds in San Antonio.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas said they filed suit after some of their employees arrived to work at the DRT Library to “find the locks changed, their computer hacked, and access to the DRT Library and the collection they own blocked.”

In issuing the order, a state district court judge in Bexar County said “there is a substantial likelihood that the Plaintiff DRT will prevail on the merits of its claims against the Defendant GLO. Unless enjoined, the GLO’s wrongful control and illegal taking of the DRT’s private property…will cause and continue to cause irreparable harm.”

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By Scott Braddock

August 24, 2015      3:34 PM

Iowa chairman for Perry presidential campaign calls it quits

“Sam Clovis, an influential conservative activist and political science professor, left the campaign just days after it stopped paying all of its staff due to fundraising problems.”

Here’s the Houston Chronicle version of the story as reported by Brian Rosenthal.

August 24, 2015      1:40 PM

Patrick releases video endorsements of incumbent Republican senators

“I need these members back,” Patrick said

After at first saying he would not get involved in GOP primaries, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the last few days has said he will endorse incumbent Republicans.

On Monday afternoon, his campaign released video endorsements of Senators Jane Nelson, Brian Birdwell, Larry Taylor, Charles Perry, Lois Kolkhorst, and Brandon Creighton. You can see his video endorsement of Sen. Nelson below and here’s the full release from Patrick’s campaign.

“I need these members back for the 85th Legislative Session that begins in January 2017,” Patrick said. “Each are key members of a team that achieved tremendous success passing conservative legislation during the 84th Session, a Session that most observers believe was one of the most, if not the most, conservative and productive Senate Session in the history of our Great State.”  

By Scott Braddock

August 24, 2015      11:09 AM

Breaking: Austin filing suit challenging Texas property tax appraisal system

Statesman:Radical under-appraisals distort burdens to homeowners; appraisal districts outgunned in courts--don't have resources to fight challenges

From the story: "A city-commissioned study, which found that Travis County commercial and vacant land was under-appraised by 41 percent this year, said that the Travis appraisal district appeared to know of only about 15 percent of the data used in the study"

A copy of the city’s petition is here.