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November 25, 2015      4:45 PM

Texas Catholic Bishops respectfully disagree with Catholic Gov. Abbott on Syrian refugees

“The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good.”

In a split with the first-ever Catholic Governor of Texas, the Texas Catholic Bishops on Wednesday afternoon called for "strength and mercy" in the Syrian refugee crisis.

While Gov. Greg Abbott has said Texas should not allow Syrian refugees to relocate here, the bishops took another view.

“The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good,” church leaders said in a statement.

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By Scott Braddock

November 25, 2015      4:44 PM

Happy Thanksgiving from QR

Editor's note: We'll be mostly shut down for the holiday weekend but will still bring you any breaking news of significance. Newsclips will return Sunday morning.

November 25, 2015      4:27 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, fighting Obamacare (still), a presidential disaster declaration, and more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 25, 2015      3:39 PM

Reality Check from Nate Silver: Most voters barely paying attention nominating contests

Silver argues that a full 80 percent of Iowans still do not know who they’ll prefer when the caucuses start

While many in the political chattering class start to panic about the seemingly unstoppable candidacy of Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump, statistician and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver says we all need to take a deep breath.

Silver said "Right now, he (Trump) has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.)"

Iowans – who get the first crack at the nominating process – are notoriously late in settling on their preferred candidate, Silver noted.

“If even by New Year’s Day (a month before the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled for Feb. 1) only about one-third of Iowa voters will have come to their final decision, the percentage must be even lower now — perhaps something like 20 percent of voters are locked in,” Silver said.

Which means a full 80 percent still do not know which candidate they’ll support when the caucuses start.

Silver’s full analysis can be found here.

November 25, 2015      3:37 PM

Feds issue generally favorable audit of TxDOT's new role in environmental reviews

It’s the first of several audits over the next few years under an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration

The Texas Department of Transportation’s oversight of the federal environmental review process made “reasonable progress” with some observations for improvement, according to an initial audit from the Federal Highway Administration.

TxDOT contractors have raised delays in federal environmental reviews as a top concern at the annual Texas Transportation Forum. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, TxDOT signed a memorandum of understanding last December to assume those reviews. According to the Act, TxDOT completes environmental reviews and deals with various federal agencies, with FHWA acting as program oversight and review.

The initial audit, conducted on site in April, notes TxDOT’s efforts are appropriately focused on establishing policy, training staff and assigning roles. The report was filed Nov. 19 with no substantial comment. This is the first of a number of audits over the first two years under the memorandum of understanding.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 24, 2015      5:36 PM

New grading system for schools could lead to huge changes not anticipated by lawmakers

Budgets, technology, special programs don’t matter if “Texas doesn’t clearly define what is most important to you and the future of this state and the children who reside here.”

During a recent Texas visit, Florida officials laid out their A-F accountability system for individual schools at a business group’s meeting and it became clear that the ramifications for this state are far bigger than ever discussed during the legislative session.

School officials in Texas roundly opposed the labels while lawmakers were in Austin, as part of the larger House Bill 2804, but arguments usually devolved into complaints that no parent or child could take pride in a “D” or “F” school. The final record vote in the House was 119-17-2. The only senator to vote “no” on May 30 was Royce West, with a final tally of 30-1. It was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“I hear school superintendents talk all the time about the lack of parental involvement in schools,” Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business wrote in an opinion piece in March. “I would argue that nothing would get parents more involved in their child’s school than an A-F grading system, because, for the first time, parents would truly understand how their schools are doing. It would force schools to come up with an action plan to improve their grades and give parents new options to help their local schools become the best that they can be.”

The system, however, is not as simple as a set of labels.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 24, 2015      4:56 PM

Press Releases: Deaths at Fort Hood, transportation dollars, the climate accord, and the Texas Alamanac

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 24, 2015      1:09 PM

SBOE to tour Texas for feedback on assessment, accountability

Teachers or parents often dominate these with complaints about “teaching to the test” – this tour is intended to put parents, educators and business all equally at the table

The State Board of Education will travel the state this spring – the kind of tour it has not done in nearly two decades – to field concerns and prepare for its part in the “Next-Generation Assessment Commission.” It’s a commission intended to vet potential changes to the accountability and assessment system. The bill that created the 15 member panel, House Bill 2804, also institutes a yet-to-be-defined A-F rating system.

Board Chair Donna Bahorich put eight tentative dates on the calendar and set out a protocol that includes facilitated small group discussions. Three different groups of stakeholders – educators, parents and business – are invited to the discussion. But, unlike talks in Austin, Bahorich said no one group will be allowed to dominate the conversation.

“Decisions are typically made by those who are showing up in Austin,” Bahorich said. “We need to ask, ‘What are some of the unintended consequences? What are the benefits of what we’ve seen of what we’ve done so far? What are our goals? What are we trying to achieve? What do we expect to do for us?’ That kind of discussion will help us make better decisions.”

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 24, 2015      1:00 PM

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jefferson says cost of legal services has grown to crisis proportions

New panel will focus on making legal services affordable for the middle class and small businesses.

The Texas Supreme Court has appointed a 18-member commission to address what Chief Justice Nathan Hecht calls the “growing justice gap.”

The court has tried to address indigent defense – the cost of representing those who can’t afford a lawyer – since the 1980s. Last year, that initiative cost an estimated $229 million, of which the state funds $27 million in formula and discretionary grants, according to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

But the gap between available lawyers and those who can afford legal services is growing. Hecht appointed panel to discuss how to make legal services affordable for the middle class and small businesses. The group will be known as the Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 23, 2015      6:58 PM

Empower Texans spent nearly $700,000 on legal fees in 2014

Former Rep. Joe Nixon, tort reformer, reaps huge windfall for his law firm as the main lawyer in MQ Sullivan’s legal troubles

Editor’s note: The tax form from Empower Texans is available for our subscribers at the end of this story – SB

The self-proclaimed “conservative” group operated on a day-to-day basis by Michael Quinn Sullivan and chaired by Midland oilman Tim Dunn spent nearly $700,000 on legal fees in the year 2014, according to tax documents obtained Monday by Quorum Report.

As QR readers who have followed Dunn’s political activities are aware, Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility runs several organizations – a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and a state general-purpose political action committee.

The 2014 tax form 990 for the 501(c)(3) shows that it had total revenue last year of more than $2.29 million. Of that, $672,805 was spent with the law firm of Beirne Maynard & Parsons, which employs former Rep. Joe Nixon and attorney Trey Trainor of Dripping Springs.

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By Scott Braddock

November 23, 2015      6:57 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, recusal rules, reelection filing announcements, child safety, and more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 23, 2015      6:38 PM

From Texas Energy Report: Pipeline billionaire picked to manage natural wonders

Abbott names leader of Trans-Pecos project for Parks & Wildlife

Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen Kelcy Warren, a Dallas billionaire leading a controversial pipeline project in West Texas, as a new member of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission.

The commission, charged with managing and conserving the “natural and cultural resources of Texas,” oversees state parks. Two of those are located in the state’s Big Bend area near the proposed path of the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Presidio County, which borders Mexico

The Trans-Pecos Pipeline in West Texas’ Big Bend area is a project of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) where Warren serves as chairman and chief executive officer. Former Gov. Rick Perry joined ETP’s board of directors last February.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

November 23, 2015      5:44 PM

Planned Parenthood sues over abrupt end to Texas Medicaid contract

The organization argues that the state’s recent action violates Medicaid’s “freedom of choice” provision.

Planned Parenthood sued Texas on Monday, claiming its Medicaid contracts with the Health and Human Services Commission were terminated in late October over a variety of false and groundless claims.

Planned Parenthood calls itself a “provider of choice” for low-income women in Texas who would have limited, or no, choices for women’s health care. The health care provider has filed similar challenges in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Utah, with favorable rulings in the Seventh and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal.

The Health and Human Services Commission canceled Planned Parenthood’s contracts in late October. It follows systematic efforts by the state to redirect funds typically sent to Planned Parenthood to other health care providers. In its class action complaint, Planned Parenthood claims such action has denied health care access to 13,500 patients formerly served by 17 Planned Parenthood health centers.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 23, 2015      5:09 PM

Interfaith group accuses state of violation federal immigration law

The legal question raised by the state’s position is what role the state has in keeping or releasing immigrant-related funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The state’s largest coalition of interfaith organizations has accused the Health and Human Services Commission of violating federal law as it moves to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Texas Impact sent a letter to Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor this morning with its interpretation of the section of federal law being cited in a letter Traylor sent to voluntary refugee resettlement organizations last week.

“We request in the strongest terms that HHSC convene a meeting with representatives of the organizations that received the letter, the leaders of their respective faith traditions, their attorneys, and the appropriate federal authorities to clarify HHSC’s authority to issue such a directive and the meeting of the statement that the agency’s review of the Refugee Resettlement State Plan ‘could result in an amendment to your local contract,’” wrote Bee Moorhead in a letter dated Nov. 20.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 23, 2015      4:26 PM

Local leaders get in on the refugee fight

If last week's was all about GOP governors saying they’d reject refugees, this week could see the rise of the mayors who oppose that

The familiar war of words between Republican governors and the Obama Administration was hardly surprising when it boiled over last week. More than 30 governors, most of them Republicans, told the White House that they would refuse to take any refugees fleeing Syria's four-year civil war. What followed was a week of debate about what power, exactly, the governors had to make such a declaration, much less enforce it.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott took a leadership role in the fight, becoming the first governor to cite a specific law that he said allows him to keep Syrian refugees out of Texas. Pointing to Section 8-1522 of the United States Code, Abbott told Fox News' Sean Hannity that activities by local refugee resettlement agencies "should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with State and local governments."

"The money that flows from the federal government to these agencies goes through the state, and these agencies have to, quote, cooperate with the states," Abbott said. "Because I am saying that we are not going to allow these refugees in the State of Texas, that means that we as a state are going to be able to cut this off, and that is pursuant to federal law."

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By Bobby Cervantes, Houston Chronicle

November 23, 2015      3:06 PM

Commissioner Paredes calls for higher grad rates, more professional development in higher ed

“If you’re wondering why high school tests in math and science are where they are, that’s the reason. We don’t have enough quality math and science teachers to meet the demand.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes delivered a tough talk to college trustees and administrators this past week, setting out an agenda to improve performance and meet the goals set out in the state’s new 60x30Tx long-range plan.

Paredes, perhaps more than any other appointed official in Texas, never pulls his punches, either with legislators or administrators. If the numbers have to be shown, Paredes won’t hesitate to show them even when he knows his views might encounter some serious opposition, even from lawmakers.

Take, for instance, Paredes’ assessment as to why Texas is not gaining ground in math and science test scores in public schools. Texas has lots of good teachers, but it doesn’t have enough good teachers to go around, he said. Too often, teachers come from the bottom third, rather than the top, of their college classes.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

November 20, 2015      5:38 PM

Former Bush Education Secretary holds out little hope for rewrite of No Child Left Behind

After following the debate, Margaret Spellings also is convinced many who want accountability aren’t willing to pay for it or put adequate resources toward it.

Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told a room of civic leaders in Austin yesterday that the soft bigotry of low expectations is alive and well in the current rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Republican lawmakers promised to rid the country of its “national school board” in the overdue rewrite of the Elementary and Second Education Act. A conference committee on Capitol Hill signed off on its compromise yesterday, sending assessment back to the states, dropping career- and college-readiness standards and, most importantly, eliminating controversial sanctions.

Spellings, a key architect of No Child Left Behind, made no apologies for an accountability system that is now vehemently derided by schools and parents. Many have that luxury, Spellings said, because it’s not their children who are failed by public schools. School districts and board members are always ready with an excuse as to why some children, especially those in poverty, can’t learn.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 20, 2015      5:36 PM

Feds ditch education programs Texas drop-kicked 5 years ago

Race to the Top and Common Core are firmly out of the latest compromise version of federal education legislation

Some Texas Republicans can be assured federal lawmakers on a conference committee to overhaul No Child Left Behind Act are just as fed up with waivers and Common Core as they are.

For a number of years, Texas stood in the minority of states that rejected the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program, which encouraged states to adopt state-led standards in math and English, known as Common Core. That choice led to the possible loss of up to $700 million in a federal grant.

Five years later, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the Texas direction. Federal lawmakers gathered around a table this week to discuss the base document for a compromise on the latest version of Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Both Race to the Top and Common Core are firmly out.

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 20, 2015      4:53 PM

Press Release: Even more campaign filings, staff changes, textbooks, Hazlewood, and more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 20, 2015      4:05 PM

Gov. Abbott's Legislative Director Randy Erben announces departure from the office

Jay Dyer will assume the role of Legislative Director with Ashley Morgan, the Governor’s current Senior Legislative Advisor, assuming the position of Deputy Legislative Director

The announcement from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office is here.

November 19, 2015      6:54 PM

Rep. Molly White becomes first officeholder to join push to move RPT convention from Dallas

"...if the Republican Party does not act decisively in support of what is right and refuses to follow its own platform, then the Republican Party will die a slow, painful death."

Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, this week joined with grassroots conservatives who are pushing GOP leaders to move the Republican Party of Texas 2016 convention out of Dallas.

Conservative activists are upset with Dallas City Council following a unanimous vote to adopt equal rights protections similar to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, which was overwhelmingly voted down in this month’s election.

In a letter to RPT Chairman Tom Mechler and members of the SREC, Rep. White pointed to language in the RPT platform that says "Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.”

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By Scott Braddock

November 19, 2015      6:15 PM

Press Releases: Refugees, closing charter schools, even more campaign filing news, and much more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 19, 2015      4:07 PM

A sad note about a Capitol family member--Tyler Murray

Injured in San Francisco, remains in critical condition

Tyler Murray, who served as a House reading clerk in the 2009 session, is in a San Francisco, hospital in critical condition after being struck by a car November 7 while on his bicycle. Tyler’s family has a long history at the Capitol. His grandmother Betty Murray was the longtime chief clerk of the House, and his sister Lauren Murray works for Senator Charles Perry. After serving as House reading clerk, Tyler, a Victoria native, attended and graduated from Baylor College of Medicine, and he currently is a resident physician at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine. Please keep Tyler and his family in your prayers.

By Harvey Kronberg

November 19, 2015      1:29 PM

Smith: Will the Lamp Beside the Golden Door Go Dark?

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that a "pause" in Syrian refugee efforts is really a dangerous, un-Christian and unpatriotic pause in democracy."

The poetic lines point to American’s most fundamental shared value: respect for the life and liberty of all. They are from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, and they are engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"  

In the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, a full-blown xenophobic hysteria has come to America. What is now believed to have been a fake Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the terrorists. Therefore, all Syrians, even women and children fleeing for their lives from the terror and violence of their homeland, are now suspect.

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

By Glenn W. Smith

November 18, 2015      6:10 PM

Aerospace bill could boost industry in Texas

Texas used $15 million in incentives to lure Space X to Brownsville; Democrats express safety concerns

The commercial aerospace business bill headed to Pres. Barack Obama’s desk this week could be a significant boost to the Texas aerospace industry.

Congressman Lamar Smith shepherded the bill through its final reconciling voice vote on Monday. Smith, who chairs the Committee on Science, Space & Technology, called the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act the biggest overhaul since the act was originally passed three decades ago, in 1984. 

“H.R. 2262 keeps America at the forefront of aerospace technology, promotes American jobs, reduces red tape, promotes safety, and inspires the next generation of explorers,” Smith said. “It provides the boost America’s private space partners need as they lead the world into the future.”

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November 18, 2015      6:09 PM

SBOE rejects non-educational path to superintendent certificate

A rare case of the Texas Association of School Boards standing in conflict with other education groups on the issue, but especially the Texas Association of School Administrators.

The State Board of Education tossed a proposed State Board of Educator Certification rule this morning, 10-5, that would have extended superintendent certificates to candidates who have no classroom experience.  

This was a rare case of the Texas Association of School Boards standing in conflict with other education groups on the issue, but especially the Texas Association of School Administrators. Ken Mercer told TASB lobbyist Grover Campbell it was clearly a rare occasion when the two groups were out of step.

“I would say (being on the same side) that is generally the case,” Campbell said, adding that the two groups do have differing views. “There were some occasions from this last session, I would say, where we did have different perspectives.”

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By Kimberly Reeves

November 18, 2015      6:02 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, lack of civil discourse, more reelection filings, and lots more

Click here to see the latest news in our Press Releases Section.

November 18, 2015      7:33 AM

DMN reports Dallas, Collin shoppers face biggest Obamacare price hikes if they don’t switch

"... a 40 year old adult who doesn’t qualify for subsidies and purchased a Blue Cross and Blue Shield “Blue Advantage Silver HMO” policy for 2015 will have to pay $1,116 more next year if he or she doesn’t shop around in the state exchange — and switch.

Bob Garrett's story can be found here.