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September 23, 2014      8:57 AM

Are new water regulations a land grab or jurisdictional clarification?

Texas Congressmen sign on to resolution calling new rules federal overreach

House members may be up in arms, but it’s still impossible to know exactly how burdensome amendments to the Clean Water Act could be on Texas.

The Waters of the United States rule, which are open for comment until October, have been roundly opposed by the national counties association and a number of regional water authorities. At a session at the National Conference of State Legislatures earlier this summer, Ken Kopocis of the Environmental Protection Agency painted the rule as a work in process intended to tighten regulation, wholly based on research, that still had room for clarification from partner states.

Attorney Virginia Albrecht of Huntoon & Williams LLC, on the other hand, painted a rule with so many ambiguous definitions that it would be fraught with problems and expenses among the many jurisdictions charged with enforcing it. Those problems include points as simple ditch, tributary and even with the deadline to post comments only a month away, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has little to say about its own particular viewpoint on the issue. Asked whether the law would be good or bad for Texas, an agency spokesman simply stated TCEQ would submit comments on the rule.

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By Kimberly Reeves

September 23, 2014      8:54 AM

New Abbott TV ad focuses on transportation

"A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas. I'm Greg Abbott."

September 22, 2014      5:13 PM

Key senator suggests ongoing legislative review of economic incentive funds

New questions about economic incentives provide the backdrop as senators get down to work examining how the funds are administered

Amid new questions about the way economic incentives were promised to bring the F1 race to Austin, the Senate Economic Development Committee on Monday took a fresh glance at the issue of the state’s business-luring funds. Those of course include the Major Events Trust Fund, the Texas Enterprise Fund, and the Emerging Technology Fund.

$250 million from the Major Events Trust Fund promised for the F1 race is the subject of a three-month investigation by the San Antonio Express-News, raising new questions about the process used in that transaction. To be clear: No money was fronted from the state. Local organizers have to apply for reimbursement from the state after each event.

Without mentioning that specific controversy, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said during the Senate Economic Development hearing that “what happens on these funds is we really only hear about it when there is significant criticism or a problem.” He chalked that up, in part, to having a part-time legislature. "There’s not the oversight that some people would expect," Watson said.

Staffers from Governor Perry’s office tried to assure lawmakers that there is more than adequate scrutiny of the funds – both in the way the money is doled out and in the review of those deals once they’ve been done.

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By Scott Braddock

September 22, 2014      4:51 PM

Press Releases: Campaign attacks, volunteers fighting back, Mexican energy reforms and more debate reactions

September 22, 2014      4:45 PM

Perry calls special election on Nov 4 to replace Creighton in Texas House

Candidates will be on the same ballot twice

Details form the Houston Chronicle.

September 22, 2014      4:41 PM

State secures extension of No Child Left Behind Waiver from Education Department

Texas argued it needed an additional year to roll out teacher evaluation process

From the Texas Education Agency:

“The extension will run through the 2014-2015 school year pending approval of the agency’s proposal for new teacher and principal evaluation and support systems in Texas. The systems are a specific component of the federal waiver and are scheduled to be piloted in school districts and charters during the 2014-2015 school year.”

The full statement from TEA is here.

September 22, 2014      4:35 PM

Kickapoo Tribe intervenes in case against Texas Racing Commission

Charitable bingo interests are also suing over “historical racing”

Another group is suing the Texas Racing Commission over the agency’s move forward with a rule that would allow “historical racing” machines at racetracks across the state. The Kickapoo Tribe has filed to intervene in the case.

The filing from the Kickapoo is similar to the one filed by groups that run charitable bingo halls around Texas, which claims that the Racing Commission has violated the Texas Constitution, the Texas Administrative Procedure Act, and the Texas Racing Act.

You can see a copy of the tribe’s filing here.

September 22, 2014      3:59 PM

Statesman: Special prosecutor in Perry case hires an Austin lawyer to join him

David Gonzalez to join Michael McCrum

From the Statesman:

“A special prosecutor handling the case against Gov. Rick Perry has hired an Austin attorney to join his team as the case nears its next court date in mid-October, the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV have learned. David Gonzalez, a Stanford University law school graduate, will join prosecutor Michael McCrum immediately and will be paid by Travis County taxpayers.”

At last check by Quorum Report, the cost to Travis County for the prosecution of Perry was right around $22,000. That of course is expected to grow exponentially if this becomes a protracted legal battle.

September 22, 2014      3:25 PM

Unusual allies in the newest conservation fight

National ag and interior officials work with military to protect endangered species habitat

Military leaders are now figuring out that one way to ensure bases will stay open around the state is to join hands with environmentalists.

During the recent National Conference of State Legislatures, Rep. Dan Flynn hosted a conference session on REPI, which stands for Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration.  A total of 72 projects are located in 27 states. The three Texas bases that remain strong candidates for the program: Camp Bullis in San Antonio; Fort Bliss in El Paso; and Fort Hood in Killeen.

The program, in its initial version, relied primarily on military funds to buy out conservation easement as buffers around base installations. That’s been ungraded to a pilot known as Sentinel Landscapes, which expands the partnership to include common interests for the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense. The memorandum of understanding was signed between the agencies last December.

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By Kimberly Reeves

September 19, 2014      5:22 PM

Stanford: We are all Roger Goodell

From the left -- "So go ahead, America, let’s focus on the boorish, illegal, and sadistic behavior of the gladiators in the arena. Pay no mind that the Roman senate is perfectly happy to make a mockery of our democracy"

What if we held politicians to the same standards as football players? When football players break the law, Americans demand they be benched, cut, or suspended before they get due process, but when politicians are indicted they get to stick around, spending our money until a jury of their peers—there’s a terrifying thought—passes judgment. It’s possible that Americans have misplaced priorities.

Let’s get something straight: Getting cut from a football team is the least that should happen to those who punch women or whip children. I’m all for Americans declaring that violence against women and children is unacceptable and demanding justice. Delaying action to let the legal process play out is a moral dodge and a game for lawyers. We call balls and strikes on the field, and we should call right and wrong off the field.

So why are we so easygoing when politicians are indicted? When Rick Perry was indicted on two felony counts for abuse of office and coercion of a public official, suddenly he became the poster boy of the Republican-of-the-Month club, celebrated in Iowa and New Hampshire for standing up to those liberals in Austin, by gum and by God.

In New York, Rep. Michael Grimm got hit with a 20-count indictment related to his past business dealings, and he’s not only running for re-election in a swing district, but according to sources quoted by POLITICO, he’s winning.

And before you say, “Oh, but we’re unforgiving about the sex scandals,” take a look at Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail) and his fellow congressman Scott DesJarlais, the Tennessee doctor who got a patient pregnant and then pressured her to have an abortion. Both are locks to return to congress—and in deeply red districts, at that.

For the rest of Jason Stanford's column, check out today's R&D Department.

By Jason Stanford

September 19, 2014      11:29 AM

Battleground Texas features SD 10 candidate Libby Willis in new video

Willis, who will face Konni Burton for the seat now held by Wendy Davis, paints her opponent as out of the mainstream

September 19, 2014      10:34 AM

KR: Road to school finance solution looks bleak

Booming oil & gas revenue unlikely to be enough to close gaps left by massive margins tax shortfall or student population growth

The State Board of Education will send over a flush $2 billion to pay for schools and textbooks this fall, but that windfall hardly begins to address the structural gaps in the school finance system created back in 2006.

The economic picture in Texas is the best it has looked in years. But the picture for finding a school finance solution has never looked so bleak. Not even burgeoning oil & gas revenue will be enough to fix the $10 billion structural hole in a system that requires a baseline $26 billion a year to fund public schools.

And that’s where we start: the structural hole created by the margins tax. Forget what the Texas Supreme Court might decide. Texas created a tax to drive $14.2 billion through the school finance system every two years. Last biennium, it was projected to produce $4.5 billion. If funding formulas hold, with or without a court decision, state lawmakers still are obligated to make up the balance of that gap.

Session after session, lawmakers have avoided adding new money to the school finance system and even limited school district tax increases. Now the hole is so huge that it is impossible to find a solution in the state’s typical bag of tricks. The proceeds from the tobacco settlement or additional vice taxes won’t be enough.

The target revenue solution of 2006 was a temporary agreement between state leaders and education leaders, but District Judge John Dietz noted in his opinion it has done nothing but widen revenue gaps between districts. The excess of the state’s Rainy Day Fund would barely prop up the system for a year. And Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, continues his drum beat during hearings in which he insists that Texas cannot bond its way to economic prosperity. Bonding is finite, not infinite.

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September 18, 2014      6:18 PM

Sen. Deuell and Texas Right to Life are set for courtroom showdown over "defamatory" advertisements

TRTL says Deuell infringed on their freedom of speech; Deuell argues radio ads were false, which is why stations took them off the air

Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, has fired back at Texas Right to Life after they slapped him with a lawsuit over advertisements that the anti-abortion group ran against one of the most pro-life legislators in Texas during his GOP primary this year.

Whether the ads were false or not, they contributed to a winning campaign for Deuell’s challenger Bob Hall, who narrowly defeated the incumbent in one of the most bitter races of the year.  

The group claims that Deuell infringed on their First Amendment rights by demanding that false ads be taken down. Deuell’s attorneys have answered by asking that a judge in Houston dismiss the lawsuit as frivolous based on the state’s anti-SLAPP law.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

September 18, 2014      6:18 PM

Press Releases: Endorsements, campaign attacks and more

September 18, 2014      6:14 PM

Toll road operators report success in new measures to rake in tolls

Registration holds and vehicle bans now in the toolbox for getting tolls paid

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was under fire during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Thursday morning in regards to the implementation of a law directed at toll road scofflaws.

Chair Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, convened a panel that included the North Texas Tollway Authority, the Central Texas Mobility Authority, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Dallas County Tax Assessor-Collector.

The meeting opened with Sen. Kirk Watson’s, D-Austin, questioning TxDOT executive director Joe Webber and chief financial officer James Bass, via phone, about the responsiveness of the customer service center. Xerox just picked up the contract for the TxTAG call center, and Webber reported performance improvements: shorter wait times; potential text messages to customers; and a completely automated website for payments.

Webber admitted the transition had not been completely smooth, and Watson was skeptical that the change in vendors had answered every problem. Watson said his office still heard from constituents who had spent hours on hold when calling the customer service center to resolve problems.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

September 18, 2014      6:13 PM

Judge dismisses Rep. Krause's lawsuit against Texas Racing Commission

But the battle over “historical racing” continues as another lawsuit pulls into the lead

A judge in Tarrant County on Thursday threw out a lawsuit against the Texas Racing Commission filed by a conservative lawmaker who is trying to block the agency from moving ahead with approval of "historical racing."  

Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, said he was disappointed with the finding that he does not have standing in the case but he was encouraged that the judge pretty clearly agreed the commission does not have the authority to approve the slot machine-like terminals at race tracks around the state. Only one commissioner voted against the proposal supported by the horse racing industry.

"Notwithstanding the fact I agree with the applicant regarding the authority of the commissioners, I disagree with him regarding his standing to bring the action," Judge David Evans wrote. "I do not believe that Texas law currently grants him or other legislators standing," he said.

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September 18, 2014      9:43 AM

Abbott airs his first negative TV ad of the campaign

On the eve of their first debate, Abbott launches an ad called "FBI," in which Sen. Davis is slammed for accusations about ethics.

September 18, 2014      9:22 AM

As expected, TXOGA names Todd Staples as new president

“'The world is watching as Texas cements its place as a global leader in the energy arena.”

From the Texas Oil & Gas Association's release:

"'Innovations and investments by TXOGA’s 5,500 members are transforming the Lone Star State, creating jobs and providing opportunities for all Texans.  It will be my honor and privilege to work with this dynamic industry at a time when Texas energy production is anchoring our state’s economy and bolstering our nation’s energy security,' said Commissioner Todd Staples. 'The world is watching as Texas cements its place as a global leader in the energy arena.  I’m humbled to have been selected to work with TXOGA’s dedicated staff to represent this membership.'

'Commissioner Staples is a proven and highly-regarded leader in Texas whose experience and leadership will serve TXOGA’s members well,' said Jonny Jones, chairman of TXOGA’s board of directors.”

Here’s the full release from the association.

September 18, 2014      5:58 AM

Eppstein poll says Abbott solid; Davis plagued by high negatives

Poll funded by non-aligned groups finds GOP candidates in firm position in home stretch

Greg Abbott is positioned to trounce Wendy Davis by double digits reports the Eppstein Group in its TIC poll, now in its 25th year.  The poll is conducted on behalf of a group of trade associations and professional groups seeking to sort out public sentiment on a variety of issues as well as the upcoming election.  It is funded to guide those who navigate the political seas into election positions and legislative strategies.

With 1200 live telephone interviews of general election voters that participated in at least one of the last two November elections, the Texas Interested Citizens survey drills down by gender, race, ethnicity and geography.  Of those sampled, “35% of the survey respondents had voted in past Republican primaries, 28% in past Democratic primaries, 11% in both primaries, and 27% were pure general election only voters.”  

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Harvey Kronberg

September 17, 2014      10:00 PM

Reliable Sources: TXOGA expected to name Staples as new President tomorrow

Texas Oil and Gas Association poised to formalize new leadership

September 17, 2014      5:10 PM

SB: Meet the candidates for RPT Chairman

Outcome of race to replace Munisteri will be critical to the long-term health of the Republican Party of Texas

In a development that’s been brewing for months and was first reported Monday night by QR, three political leaders from around the state have now announced they’re running to succeed Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri when he steps down. Munisteri, who has done an admirable job of calming the waters after the tumultuous tenures of former RPT Chairs Cathie Adams and Tina Benkiser, has said that he would like to honor the request of Attorney General Greg Abbott to stay in place until The Legislature wraps up its regular session next year. But Munisteri could leave as soon as December. “We’ll see how I feel after the elections,” he said.  

One of Munisteri’s main messages to the party faithful over the years has been that they must do a better job of outreach to women and minorities. Among other things, the chairman has become known for his colorful presentations to Republican groups about demographic shifts and the corresponding implications for the party’s fortunes. When Battleground Texas entered the scene with promises of making this a competitive state, Munisteri’s smart answer has been that Texas is already a battleground, it’s just that Republicans are winning the battle. After all, demographics represent opportunity, not destiny.

Significantly, it was Munisteri’s inclusive message and outreach that inspired state officeholders to come together and retire the party’s long-festering debt caused by Benkiser and Adams. Most contributors profoundly disagreed with party chairs picking sides in primaries.

During an SREC meeting this past weekend, Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert, former Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill, and RPT Treasurer Tom Mechler all announced they’re running to take the reins from Munisteri when he gives them up. They have competing visions for how to approach a leadership role and, while they may be well-known in their respective communities, they have not ascended to statewide prominence.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

September 17, 2014      5:09 PM

Press Releases: Getting Smart on Crime, immigrants driving the economy, endorsements and more

September 16, 2014      5:10 PM

Stuck in Time: SBOE faces wave of opposition to new history books

The compromise the SBOE struck on social studies standards appears to have pleased no one

The State Board of Education on Tuesday took a full day to hear testimony, much of it unhappy, about what is in and out of the state’s social studies textbooks: religion; native culture; the Middle East conflict; and even the role of Moses in America’s founding.

The Texas Freedom Network put out a four-part series last week from a panel of history schools. The series, which reviewed history, geography and government textbooks had praise for a few – witness Edmentum’s balanced approach to US Government textbooks – but mostly criticize textbook publishers for slanting history in order to curry favor with the far right members on the State Board of Education.

Professor Edward Countryman of Southern Methodist University wrote that his heart went out to Texas history teachers.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Kimberly Reeves

September 16, 2014      5:04 PM

Press Releaseas: Ad wars, endorsements, gas leaks, fair pay and more

By Quorum Report

September 16, 2014      4:39 PM

SpaceX and Boeing win $6.8 billion NASA contract for taking astronauts to space station

Huge boost for company making investments in South Texas

Though it was not immediately clear how it will impact the SpaceX development planned for South Texas, the company on Tuesday was one of two firms awarded a contract by NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing was the other company, which just yesterday was said to have defeated SpaceX for this contract. Turns out they both got it.

The contracts are worth a total of $6.8 billion. Boeing's share is $4.2 billion and SpaceX will receive $2.6 billion. SpaceX, of course, announced earlier this year it chose Brownsville as the future home of a commercial launch facility. The state pumped $15.3 million into that deal.

September 16, 2014      4:13 PM

Bingo coalition sues to block Racing Commission decision on historical racing

Bingo halls will “dry up virtually overnight if casino gambling is allowed…”

A second lawsuit has been filed to try to stop the Texas Racing Commission from moving ahead with approval of slot machine-like terminals that allow gamblers to bet on horse races that have already been run. The “historical racing” machines, as they are known, have become a flashpoint as conservative lawmakers and others rush to block them from operating at dog tracks and race tracks around Texas.

About two dozen organizations that run bingo halls across Texas filed suit in Travis County on Tuesday, arguing that a rule adopted by the commission violates the Texas Constitution, the Texas Racing Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The rule approved nearly unanimously by the commission, with only one member voting “no,” is set to take effect this month, opening the door for the machines.

This lawsuit is not unlike litigation filed in Tarrant County by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft Worth, which is under consideration by a judge who could rule as soon as today. Some legal experts, however, have said Tarrant County is the wrong venue and the proper place to file is in the county where state government is located, as this bingo coaltion has now done.

The rest of the story, subscribers only

By Scott Braddock

September 16, 2014      4:09 PM

Bearse: D*#ates are a Necessary Evil

From the right: QR’s conservative columnist argues the low number of gubernatorial debates is sufficient. “I don’t know the right number of d*#ates, except it should be somewhere between 0 and the inane number conducted by the Republican presidential candidates of 2012.”

Is this not the most boring election cycle in modern memory? If it weren’t for Wendy Davis’ television ads where she says Greg Abbott is for rapists, cancer and standardized tests, we would all be comatose by now. The candidates for U.S. Senate, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller are all in the witness protection program. Who knew Dan Patrick could be so quiet for so long?

We do have our first gubernatorial d*#bate this week. As a survivor of Perry for President 1.0, I still get Vietnam flashbacks whenever someone says the word d*#bate. I will always remember where I was when I witnessed those 49 seconds of terror…under my desk, looking for phone numbers for the Letterman producer. The other night, former Alabama QB Greg McElroy was broadcasting the Aggie game against the Little Sisters of the Poor, and said only three people can call him Gregory, and then proceeded to list four. I had a panic attack.

The conventional wisdom for the gubernatorial d*#ate is that Abbott just wants to get by without any damage. No harm, no foul means he wins. There is some truth to that, though I think that is an over-simplification. This is the first time millions of Texans will see the main candidates for governor in an unscripted setting – well, sort of. I mean, Wendy Davis will be so scripted to say the word “insider” whenever possible it could lead to alcohol poisoning if you turn it into a drinking game. But there is always something the candidates don’t prepare for, which allows us to see them think on their feet. The point is not whether they can name the president of Mexico or the neighboring state governors (One Tough Monogram could not), but how they handle the unexpected. What do they emote on television? Are they cool under fire, too hot, robotic, warm, or drunk like Kinky seemed?

Eric Bearse is a speechwriter, political consultant and public relations specialist. He can be reached by e-mail at eric@ericbearse.com. His complete column can be found in today’s R&D Department.

By Eric Bearse

September 16, 2014      10:36 AM

New Abbott web ad: Unethical and Unfit for Texas

Ominous music paired with accusations Sen. Davis should have abstained from some Ft Worth City Council votes