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April 29, 2016      5:40 PM

Senate leaders clash with local governments at property tax session in North Texas

Lt. Gov. Patrick lectures county judges and other local officials to ignore their lobbyists; TML argues it would be apocryphal to suggest every city chose to raise taxes 7.99 percent each year

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this week threw down the clearest marker yet as to where the Texas Senate is heading when it comes to property taxes in the 2017 session, telling cities and counties that they should ignore the advice of their lobbyists and – as he put it – work with senators to offer input on reforms.

Patrick made an appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform & Relief during its latest field hearing. This time they met in Arlington.

Speaking as a witness, Patrick advocated for a 5 percent cap on property tax growth. Seniors cannot continue to be priced out of their homes, he argued. Patrick said property taxes on a median priced home of $200,000 would double and even triple in the time frame it would take for a child to complete public school.

“What I’m asking the judges and the mayors to do is I’m asking you to ignore your consultants and your lobbyists who do not have the best interests of your constituents at heart,” Patrick said. “I am asking you to come to the Capitol and let’s sit down together to find a plan to allow people to stay in their homes and afford their homes and allows you to do your job.”

Legislation is imminent, Patrick said, and local governments should be part of the solution.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves and Scott Braddock

April 29, 2016      4:33 PM

State Auditor is asked to look into paid leave practices in Paxton's office

“It’s important that Texans are confident that no elected official is abusing or misusing taxpayer dollars, especially to advance the work of a political campaign.”

The State Auditor has been asked to investigate the use of paid leave in Attorney General Ken Paxton's office after it was first reported by the Dallas Morning News that some top staffers were still on the state payroll even after resigning.

One of those staffers, former First Assistant Chip Roy, was still receiving his state salary even after saying he had quit his job and went to work on behalf of efforts to help elect his old boss Sen. Ted Cruz to the White House.

“Paid leave policies are great, but it looks like Paxton violated state law," said Lucy Stein with Progress Texas, the liberal group that formally asked the Auditor's office to get involved.

“The facts clearly warrant a State Auditor’s Office investigation, particularly since Paxton’s justification for dolling out 64 days of paid leave to two ex-employees has changed multiple times,” Stein said.

“It’s important that Texans are confident that no elected official is abusing or misusing taxpayer dollars, especially to advance the work of a political campaign.”

Their letter to the Auditor’s office is here.

April 29, 2016      4:32 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, endorsements, Prop 1, and more

To see all the latest releases, click the Press Releases tab above

April 29, 2016      4:03 PM

Governor's office outlines small business spending in realigned eco devo division

Realignment includes moving existing programs including the commissions on women, film and music, as well as the military preparedness and workforce investment council

The governor’s office is satisfied with the portfolio of programs currently offered to help the state attract and retain small businesses.

The National Federation of Independent Business estimates red tape and regulation costs up to $12,000 per employee, which is 30 percent higher than the cost to large businesses. Most of that added overhead comes down to departments that small businesses typically don’t staff, such as legal services and human resources, Annie Spilman of the Texas NFIB told a subcommittee of the House Economic Development & Small Business Committee this week.

“We would just ask that before we add another regulation on the books, that you look and strip out an antiquated policy,” Spilman told lawmakers.

The Texas House’s interim charge about this is to consider the effectiveness of the state’s current programs to support small business and how to possibly cut red tape. Committee members are specifically interested in minimizing the time and effort small business owners must dedicate to both pulling permits and dealing with state agencies.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

April 29, 2016      1:01 PM

Texas A&M Commerce President Dan Jones passed away this morning

System Chancellor Sharp said “Dan Jones was one of our great presidents. He had a vision for the future that was brilliant and courageous. We will make sure his plans become reality. We will miss him greatly.”

April 29, 2016      11:32 AM

Another try for Rockwall County in battle for retiring Rep. Scott Turner's seat

Business candidate Holland has stronger and broader fund raising base; Keating promises to be the same kind of legislator as his backers Leach, Sanford, and Shaheen

Editor’s note: Following the original publication of this story, Sen. Van Taylor, who supports Keating, wished to weigh in. We of course welcomed his thoughts and this story has been updated to include them – SB

North Texas’ House District 33 was carved out during decennial redistricting to accommodate the growth of both Collin and Rockwall Counties. According to the most recent US Census data, Rockwall County’s population has grown 16 percent between April 2010 and July 2015. But the county still shares legislative seats with a portion of neighboring Collin County. Collin County is a well-known Tea Party hot bed, and the home base for Rockwall’s state senator, Van Taylor, R-Plano, and all of House District 33 represented by outgoing Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco.

In the 2012 Republican primary, which effectively determines the race in this conservative district, Turner faced a challenge from Jim Truitt, the current mayor of the city of Rockwall. Turner won by almost 60 percent of the vote and went onto win the general election with 85 percent and no Democratic opponent.

Turner, a two-term representative with no significant legislative track record, mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Speaker Joe Straus in an expensive bid to preside over the lower chamber in the 8th legislative session. Backed by groups aligned with Tim Dunn’s Empower Texans, Turner received 19 votes to Straus’ 127.

After Turner announced his retirement last year, the open seat race was a chance for the burgeoning Rockwall County to finally have a representative to call its own.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By James Russell

April 29, 2016      11:17 AM

Supreme Court refuses to block Texas Voter ID Law

But the court said it could revisit the issue as the November elections approach.

The story is here.

April 28, 2016      6:14 PM

Paxton declines to defend Ethics Commission in lawsuit over House videos in campaign ads

Wayne Smith's challenger wants to be able to use House videos in political advertisements, which would violate Texas law

The Texas Attorney General's Office will not represent a state agency facing a lawsuit related to a heated GOP runoff in Southeast Texas.

The Texas Ethics Commission has been sued by Briscoe Cain, the challenger of Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee Chairman Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, because Cain would like to use archived Texas House livestream video in his political ads. Doing so would be illegal. Taxpayers footed the bill for production of the video.

Attorneys for Cain, the same lawyers who regularly represent Tim Dunn’s Empower Texans and allied organization Texas Right to Life, argue that the video will show voters proof of Smith’s hypocrisy on the campaign trail.

Cain is asking a judge in Harris County to strike down that section of Texas law. The judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order and a hearing has been set next month.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

April 28, 2016      6:12 PM

Energy Future Holdings says Oncor sale is dead, Reuters reports

EFH tells bankruptcy judge controversial $19 billion sale is off

Today an attorney from Energy Future Holdings (EFH) told a judge that its plan to finance its exit from bankruptcy by selling the Oncor distribution company, Texas largest electric utility, is history.

Instead, EFH hopes to offer an alternative in coming months after an investment group led by billionaire Ray Hunt and his son Hunter Hunt balked at conditions placed on the Oncor deal by the Texas Public Utility Commission. The deal, which would have turned Oncor into a real estate investment trust, had faced fierce and widespread opposition because it would have funneled a non-existent tax liability from ratepayers to investors and posed other risks.

The Reuters report is here.

April 28, 2016      5:43 PM

Rep. J.D. Sheffield appointed as Chair of the Legislative Committee on Aging

Rep. Toni Rose will also be on the panel since Reps. Susan King and Elliott Naishtat are both retiring from the House

April 28, 2016      5:39 PM

Texas Tech, UT representatives update lawmakers on fetal tissue research

Researchers say they “understand the sensitivity, and are absolutely committed to complying with all laws, rules and regulations."

Two Texas university systems are investing – albeit very minimally – in controversial research that involves fetal tissue, and both are doing so without legal concerns, officials told a panel of lawmakers in Austin Thursday.

"While this research is a small part of our collective scientific enterprise, it is work that would be difficult or impossible to do otherwise," Ray Greenberg, the University of Texas System's executive vice chancellor for health affairs, told the House Committee on State Affairs. "We also understand the sensitivity, and are absolutely committed to complying with all laws, rules and regulations."

Last year, the entire UT system spent about $34,000 on costs associated with obtaining fetal tissue, predominately obtained from a California-based nonprofit. While the sale of fetal tissue is illegal, consenting patients may donate it to medical research.

Federal law allows those involved with the donations to make and receive "reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue."

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Eva Ruth Moravec

April 28, 2016      4:34 PM

Press Releases: People on the move, endorsements, bathroom outrage, property taxes, and more

For all the latest, click on the Press Releases tab above

April 27, 2016      2:49 PM

Rep. King says Buckingham owes veterans an apology and should release info on income from for-profit college

Following report on Dr. Buckingham's ties to bilking veterans, Rep. King says Buckingham should release financial information; Buckingham’s camp says it’s an “attempt by the King campaign to distract voters from her liberal voting record."

After this weeks’ news about Texas Senate candidate Dawn Buckingham's ties to a for-profit college that's been accused in the past of "predatory" practices in targeting veterans, her Republican opponent called on Buckingham to apologize to veterans in the district that includes Fort Hood.

The two are in an already nasty GOP runoff to succeed retiring Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. 

Dr. Buckingham, an Austin-area physician, has served on the Board of Governors of National American University and has received significant compensation from the school. It was named in a 2012 US Senate committee staff report as one of the for-profit universities where there was “exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation.”

Buckingham’s campaign has dismissed the revelation as “a distraction,” despite the candidate’s promise to a veteran’s advocate to look into the issue and address his concerns.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

April 27, 2016      1:01 PM

Politico: Cruz to announce Fiorina as running mate

Effort to jump start campaign after demoralizing losses.

The full Politico story can be found here.

April 26, 2016      4:51 PM

Chancellor McRaven's grand plans for Houston hold little sway with Senators

Chairman Seliger: “It’s almost as if you are saying Houston is going to be some intellectual wasteland without the University of Texas.”

Senators on the Higher Education Committee made it abundantly clear Tuesday morning they favored the University of Houston in its David v Goliath standoff with the University of Texas system over a proposed Houston campus.

Chancellor Bill McRaven has offered mea culpas at least twice for his unexpected purchase of land in Houston to build a potential University of Texas facility. McRaven talked about bringing innovation to vital, growing city with multiple sectors: medical, business, energy and transportation.

“I think that would be egregious, for us to just accept the status quo for the University of Texas system,” McRaven told the committee. “I recognize having an opportunity to be a little bit more transparent would have been better, but the fact is it started off as a real estate deal. I would ask that you give me an opportunity to show that this does have merit.”

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

April 26, 2016      4:44 PM

Press Releases: Prayer rally, political ads, misleading on property taxes, and more

For all the latest, click the Press Releases tab above

April 26, 2016      4:07 PM

Statesman: Texas Rangers join investigation of Rep. Dukes

“…assisting in an investigation into alleged criminal misconduct” by the longtime Austin Democrat at the request of the Travis County district attorney’s office…”

The scoop from Sean Collins Walsh at the Austin America- Statesman is here.

April 26, 2016      2:51 PM

Cornyn says Cruz clearly came to DC to run for president

“He didn't come here to remain in the Senate. He came here to run for president."

Here’s the full story from KERA radio in DFW.

April 26, 2016      2:48 PM

Wayne Smith TV ad: Tough

"I’m fighting today for this District delivering real solutions to very real problems in the community."

April 26, 2016      12:58 PM

Video: Rick Perry commercial for Jodey Arrington for Congress

"Two checklists that Jodey Arrington will use: The Bible and the United States Constitution"

April 25, 2016      5:58 PM

Senate candidate Buckingham under scrutiny for ties to "predatory" for-profit college

Veterans group raises questions about targeting of those who have served in the military

Some longtime advocates for veterans are raising serious questions about a Texas Senate candidate’s ties to a for-profit university that’s been accused of “predatory” practices when recruiting students, particularly students who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

Austin-area physician Dawn Buckingham, who is in a GOP runoff with Rep. Susan King for the seat being vacated by Sen. Troy Fraser, has served on the Board of Governors of National American University and has received significant income from the company.

The school, where Dr. Buckingham’s father-in-law Robert Buckingham is Chairman, was named in a 2012 US Senate committee report as one of the for-profit colleges where there was evidence of “exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation.” Some veterans have called the school a “scam to steal student money.”

Buckingham’s campaign has not commented on the issue, which was first raised with her late last week.

The Senate report, which you can see here, said most students at these institutions were left without a degree and in major debt.

One of the ways National American University and others would recruit students was through a website called GIBill.com, according to the Senate report. On that site, operated by a company called QuinStreet, veterans seeking ways to wisely use their benefits would enter their personal information while under the impression they were being guided by the Veterans Administration.

But that was not the case.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

April 25, 2016      5:56 PM

Rep. Naishtat is saluted for three decades in the Texas House

“The last few years it’s been difficult … for schoolchildren, seniors, people with disabilities, minorities...I’ve been able to hang in there.”

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, the dean of the Travis County delegation, enjoyed a modest send-off Monday afternoon from supporters at the Austin Bar Association.

Naishtat passed 330 bills during his 26-year career in the Texas House, but even he admits the road has gotten rougher in recent sessions. This is especially true for a liberal like him, who admits his leanings were even left of the Texas Democrats who ruled the state legislature before the rise of the Republican Party.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

April 25, 2016      5:41 PM

Tourism industry protests use of innovation districts to roll back school calendars

Pulling a week from the end of summer at some theme parks and other attractions is the equivalent of canceling two weeks of holiday sales in December for most retailers

The tourism industry was out in force Monday at a hearing on districts of innovation, trying to roll back the power for school districts to exempt themselves from the traditional school calendar.

Tourist attractions such as Schlitterbahn Water Park, and Natural Bridge Caverns couldn’t be blamed for thinking the school calendar issue was quashed last session with the defeat of a number of bills to move the school start date, most notably one by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. But it appears school districts that wanted that latitude have chosen a less direct solution: the districts of innovation bill approved last session.

The vast majority of school districts that have filed district of innovation plans for public review, in fact, have used the statute to shift the school start date closer to the beginning of August. Such a move balances the two semesters on either side of winter break and keeps the school district competitive with local charter schools.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

April 25, 2016      4:47 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, Cruz complaint, disaster declaration, and more

For all the latest, click the Press Releases tab above

April 22, 2016      5:16 PM

In farewell message, HHSC Commissioner Traylor promises few tears as he steps down

"I intend on quietly slipping away, this time”

Editor’s note: A copy of the email from Traylor is available to our subscribers at the end of this story – SB

After news broke late Thursday of the impending retirement of Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor, the outgoing head of the beleaguered agency on Friday told employees that "There will be no party, no gifts and only a few tears (I had plenty of all of those last year)."

"I intend on quietly slipping away, this time," Traylor said in an email obtained this afternoon by Quorum Report.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

April 22, 2016      5:15 PM

Press Releases: CDC report on suicides, ridesharing vote in Austin, and more

To see all the latest, click the Press Releases tab above

April 22, 2016      3:12 PM

Smith: It is Not Infrastructure; It is Our Life Support System

From the Left: QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that roads, bridges, water systems etc. are more than infrastructure – they are life support systems we must maintain.

It’s no mystery to popular culture’s storytellers: life requires life support systems. When life support systems don’t exist, they must be built. When they fail, they must be fixed. Robinson Crusoe knew it. Chuck Noland, the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away knew it. Astronauts Mark Watney, Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, and Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock in Gravity, knew it.

Judging by our lack of attention to our life support systems, we are a bit slower on the uptake. You may know these systems by the dull, unromantic and uninspiring term “infrastructure.” There’s nothing about the term that signals its significance to life.

It’s easy for selfish politicians to refuse to spend money on something called infrastructure. We know that must be true because politicians in Texas and around the nation have refused to do just that.

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

By Glenn W. Smith