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University of Texas-Pan American student Nahiely Garcia is consoled as she speaks at rally in support of Texas DREAM Act in January
Kelsey Jukam
University of Texas-Pan American student Nahiely Garcia speaks at rally in support of Texas DREAM Act in January

Update: Senators voted on party lines early Tuesday morning to send SB 1819 to the full Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Original: During a debate over the repeal of the so-called Texas DREAM Act, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) said in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities acts as a magnet for undocumented immigrants.

“[The Texas DREAM Act] is bad policy that rewards illegal immigration in perpetuity,” Campbell said as she laid out Senate Bill 1819, which would shut down the program.

Several experts who testified against the bill, including Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, disagreed.

“We have absolutely no evidence that in-state tuition acts a magnet for undocumented immigrants,” Paredes said.

The act, passed in 2001, allows undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools and who have been in the state at least three years to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities

Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) said that Campbell’s bill unfairly punishes hard-working students who were brought to Texas as children and will have negative economic consequences for the state.

“Our economic future depends on educating these young people,” Rodriguez said while observing the hearing from the dais.

Rodriguez also objected to the bill being heard in the Border Security Subcommittee of the Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee rather than the Higher Education Committee. Two of the three members of the subcommittee, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and  Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), have taken a hard line on border security and immigration.

“There is not one single shred of evidence that suggests that DREAMers are a threat to the border or to Texas,” Rodriguez said. “I think this sends an inaccurate message about these students.”

Dozens of those students, many wearing graduation caps and gowns, waited hours to testify against Campbell’s bill.

Blanca Leyva, a sophomore at Texas A&M University, testified that she has been in the country for more than 14 years and graduated from her Dallas high school as valedictorian. She said she wouldn’t be able to attend college if not for the DREAM Act.

“As DREAMers we simply want to be successful. We want a better life. I want a better life,” Leyva said.

Texas became the first state to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants almost 15 years ago, and at least 17 other states have followed suit. Almost 25,000 undocumented students currently pay in-state tuition, totaling more than $51 million, at colleges across Texas.

The law initially attracted widespread bipartisan support and was signed into law by former Gov. Rick Perry. In 2011, during presidential run, Perry took a lot of flak from fellow conservatives for defending the law.

“If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought here through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made repeal of the DREAM Act a legislative priority. With the Senate’s repeal of the two-thirds rule in January, Campbell’s bill is expected to pass the Senate.

Under the two-thirds rule, bills could not be brought up for debate without the approval of 21 of 31 Senators. The Senate is composed of 20 Republicans and  and 11 Democrats.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) said the “heartless” bill would face an uphill battle in the House.

“We stand ready to fight with our Senate colleagues against this draconian bill,” Rodriguez said. “Should it get to the House floor, it will be a heck of a fight.”

If the bill passes out of the subcommittee as expected, it will move on to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler speaks during a rally to protest anti-LGBT legislation at the Capitol on Saturday.
John Wright
Austin Mayor Steve Adler speaks during a rally to protest anti-LGBT legislation at the Capitol on Saturday.

With only 7 percent of the state’s population, Austin has more than 30 percent of its patents and over half its venture capital, according to Mayor Steve Adler.

That’s partly because the city is known as inclusive, which attracts talented, creative people and the companies that employ them, Adler said.

But Austin’s reputation could be threatened by anti-LGBT proposals in the 84th Texas Legislature, he warned, pointing to recent backlash from businesses over “religious freedom” laws in Indiana and Arkansas.

“Apple is here, Google is here, because the people who work for Apple and Google, they want to live here,” Adler said. “It’s real important that we not go down that path, and it is scary to me that our state Legislature right now is considering doing that.”

Adler was among the speakers Saturday evening at a rally on the south steps of the Capitol to protest a record number of anti-LGBT bills in the Legislature, including proposals similar to the Indiana and Arkansas laws.

Activist Omar Lopez waves a Texas-gay Pride hybrid flag during Saturday's rally at the Capitol.
John Wright
Activist Omar Lopez waves a Texas-gay Pride hybrid flag during Saturday’s rally at the Capitol.

Nearly 100 people gathered below a banner reading, “We Are More Than Marriage. Full Equality Now.” With dusk falling, speakers addressed the crowd through a bullhorn while an activist waved a hybrid Texas-gay Pride flag in the light breeze.

The rally, organized by GetEQUAL, was among three this weekend in as many states as part of the group’s #HateOutbreak campaign, inspired by anti-LGBT legislation across the country in response to the spread of same-sex marriage.

Jan Soifer, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, decried the use of religion to justify discrimination, pointing to proposals like Senate Joint Resolution 10, by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). Although religious opposition to homosexuality is often rooted in a single verse from the Book of Leviticus, other Old Testament passages forbid things like sex with women who are menstruating, and working on the Sabbath, Soifer said.

“If we adhere to biblical marriage, does that mean we should legalize men having concubines?” Soifer said. “In truth, there is no legitimate religious basis for discrimination against members of the LGBT community, and we must call people who advocate for it in the name of religion what they are. They are bigots, plain and simple, and we must fight bigotry everywhere we see it. … We cannot allow the Texas Legislature to enshrine hatred and discrimination into our laws.”

Former Rep. Glen Maxey (D-Austin), who was the state’s first openly LGBT legislator, said when he moved to Austin in 1981, he feared if anyone found out he was gay, it would ruin his political career.

Thirty-four years later, Maxey said, you can’t walk into an office in the Capitol where staffers and legislators don’t know an LGBT person. But the fight for equality is far from over.

“We cannot ever sit back and take it easy,” he said. “It saddens me on this weekend that’s seen as the holiest weekend of the Christian religion, to be here talking about bills that denigrate our community in the name of religion. I want the people in this building who call themselves Christian to remember the one single law that was put down by the leader of the Christian movement, Jesus Christ, and that was, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

Watch a clip from Maxey’s speech below.

Cleopatra de Leon, Nicole Dimetman, Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss
Patrick Michels
From left, Texas same-sex marriage plaintiffs Cleopatra De Leon, Nicole Dimetman, Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss outside San Antonio's federal courthouse in February 2014.

Gay couples shouldn’t plan on tying the knot in the Lone Star State before late June, according to two Texas-based attorneys challenging same-sex marriage bans in federal court.

Daniel McNeel Lane Jr., who represents two same-sex couples challenging Texas’ marriage ban, previously predicted the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would bring marriage equality to the state before Easter.

But Lane said this week he now believes the 5th Circuit is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments later this month and is expected to rule by the end of June in marriage cases from four states.

“I thought that the 5th Circuit would want to have its voice heard … and we would not have to have the Supreme Court drag us kicking and screaming like bitter-enders to marriage equality, but it appears that’s the way it will have to occur,” said Lane, a partner with Akin Gump Srauss Hauer & Feld in San Antonio. “In a case involving a fundamental constitutional right, the court shouldn’t be waiting around. The court should have its voice heard, and it’s a pity that that hasn’t happened yet.”

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit heard oral arguments in marriage cases from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi on Jan. 9. Seven times in the last year, federal appeals courts have heard same-sex marriage cases, but only once has it taken more than three months for them to rule after oral arguments.

Lane predicted that even if the Supreme Court issues a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality, as most experts predict, it could take a while for Texas comply. He said county clerks in places like Austin and San Antonio likely would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples right away, but others would wait until the 5th Circuit issues a corresponding decision in the Texas case.

“I think that there will be some marriages in Texas this summer, and probably some pushback this summer,” Lane said. “Marriage equality in Texas this summer could be a hot mess, but who doesn’t like a hot mess?”

Kenneth D. Upton, Jr., senior counsel at Lambda Legal in Dallas, agreed that the 5th Circuit is unlikely to rule before the Supreme Court. Lambda Legal represents plaintiffs in the Louisiana case.

“I think if they were going to do it, they would have done it by now,” Upton said, adding that the 5th Circuit panel is delaying the inevitable. “Everybody knows the way it’s probably going to turn out.”

Upton said it’s possible that Republican Attorney Ken Paxton or other officials will continue to try to stand in the way of same-sex marriage. But he noted that once the Supreme Court rules, officials who refuse to comply with the ruling—from county clerks’ offices to the Bureau of Vital Statistics—can be sued personally.

A Texas House committee is set to hear another anti-gay marriage bill next week that would prohibit state or local funds from being used for “the licensing or support of a same-sex marriage.”

“They better be careful, because the stakes will be much higher once the Supreme Court rules if they rule in our favor, and playing games is just going to cost them attorney’s fees and damages,” Upton said.

House Speaker Joe Straus

There would be blood, promised state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). Lawmakers were fed up. They weren’t gonna take it anymore. But in the end, as if the Texas House was a kindly-treated Carrie, there was none. Just five of 150 reps voted against the $209.8 billion budget—a relatively pitiful showing.

From noon on Tuesday to just short of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, the House worked through hundreds of amendments to its budget, House Bill 1. Although delirium—and perhaps, some more potent intoxicants—brought out the worst in a number of legislators, House leadership was able to avoid most of the pressing fights that might have come before it. Democrats and Republicans voluntarily withdrew many of their most divisive bills over abortion and immigration. Even Stickland played along.

The night’s headlining bout, state Rep. Abel Herrero’s (D-Robstown) attempt to preemptively ban vouchers for the second year in a row, likewise was canceled, though word had it that his amendment came down primarily to save Republicans a tough vote—vouchers being, perhaps, dead in the House anyway.

What to make of it? In previous years—especially in tough budget years, like 2011—the House budgeting process was a carnival. People scrapped over money, and both Democrats and far right Republicans fought the middle, even if just for show. This year, though, the fire is gone from the belly of the tea party to some degree, and there’s a sense among most of the House that the enemy is the Senate.

That didn’t stop a few unusual amendments from getting passed, and a few legislators from saying things they shouldn’t have. At the top of the list in both categories might be state Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman), who authored an amendment to take $1.5 million per year from the state’s HIV/STD prevention program and use it to juice abstinence education.

In the course of the debate, Spitzer—who said the state’s goal should be to ensure no one has sex before marriage—told the crowd he’d only ever had sex with one woman, his wife, when he got married at age 29. He recommended it. For this, he was subject to a mildly ungentlemanly remark from state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston). But Spitzer’s story shows how state government is getting more tolerant—not too long ago, admitting to your colleagues you’d only had sex with one woman would be a serious political liability at the Lege.

Less funny is that Spitzer’s amendment passed easily, though it’s an open question whether his amendment is going to stay in the budget. He did not give any sign of being especially well-liked by those in control last night. When he offered a measure to move money from arts programs to courthouse preservation efforts, another Republican successfully amended his amendment so that the money would instead come from a community college in his own district, forcing him to voluntarily withdraw his bid.

Things got sloppier through the night. When state Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) offered a bill to put a dent in the Texas Lottery Commission, citing the need to protect the poor, state Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston), passionate but slurring his words a bit, told Sanford at 2:42 a.m. he was “full of shit.” Hours later, reps called points of order on six consecutive bills, as if just for the fun of it (one killed an ill-conceived attempt to prohibit TxDOT from funding rail projects.)

An attempt by Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) to hack more than $50 million out of the Health & Human Services budget to pay for sweet new airplanes for DPS border operations was defeated, though by one of the closer votes of the night. At 3:53 a.m., an angry Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) slammed state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) over his bid to kill the Racing Commission with a sentence that started with “If you had any respect for horses…”

Democrats spent much of the evening trying to add data reporting to the budget. Most of them were defeated. One amendment by state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) aimed to expose gender pay discrepancies in state agencies. It was torched, too. Earlier in the night, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D- San Antonio) offered a series of symbolic amendments, trumpeted by the Texas Democratic Party, to increase school funding and attempt to force the attorney general to settle the state’s school funding lawsuit. These, too, were easily defeated.

A final note—there’s a word for the idea behind debating a budget for 16 hours straight, until the birds on the Capitol lawn are greeting the morning. It’s “stupid.” The 140-day calendar the Lege works with—and stuff is only really happening for 90 days of that or so—imposes a lot of constraints. Even well-informed people can’t really know what’s going on half the time in the Capitol’s dark recesses, thanks to the quickening pace as we head toward June.

But the House easily could have broken this budget debate into a couple of days, so that reps were more sober and less tired and could focus on what’s on the page in front of them. But, you know, maybe that’s the idea. It’s like having toddlers—get them tuckered out.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown)
Patrick Michels
Rep. Abel Herrero defends his anti-voucher amendment in the Texas House in 2013.

A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.

“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.

A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.

“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”

The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.

Two years ago Herrero offered a near-identical amendment that passed overwhelmingly.

While representatives have defeated vouchers in the past, this session Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made them a top legislative priority and a voucher bill may pass the Senate, setting up a future showdown in the House.

The Senate’s voucher proposal, which will likely be proposed as Senate Bill 4, could include a combination of Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) proposal to give parents $5,000 to spend on private school tuition, and Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) bill allowing companies to divert their tax payments to private school tuition funds. Both were heard during a lively committee hearing last Thursday.

Tonight’s action in the House could set up the lower chamber for a much longer debate later this session on the voucher proposal the Senate ultimately passes.


State Rep. Stuart Spitzer

Texas has the third highest rate of HIV infections in the country, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from passing an amendment that defunds HIV/STD prevention programs Tuesday. The amendment to the House budget proposal—offered by Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman)—diverts $3 million over the next biennium to abstinence-only sexual education programs.

House Democrats fought against the amendment in a debate that rapidly devolved into awkward farce, with Rep. Spitzer revealing details of his own sexual history as proof of the effectiveness of abstinence. For those keeping tabs at home, he was a virgin until marrying his wife at age 29, although he declined to answer a question from Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) on whether she was the first person he propositioned. “Decorum,” shouted state Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs).

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) asked Spitzer just how much money is needed for abstinence education in Texas, which receives more federal funding than any other state. Spitzer responded that additional funds are needed as long as people are still having sex before marriage.  His goal, he said, was for everyone to know that “abstinence is the best way to prevent HIV.”

“My goal is for everyone to be HIV/AIDS free,” Turner said.

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Turner said that while he thinks abstinence programs are valid, HIV and STD prevention programs are too.

“Does it make sense if you have two children to take food from one to feed the other?” Turner said. “You’re taking from one valid program in order to go to the other and I think that is wrong.”

Spitzer is a doctor, but some legislators suggested he needed a refresher course in the basis of STD-transmission. When some Democrats pointed out that STDs could be spread without having sex, Spitzer replied: “You can, but it’s awful hard through your clothes.”

Spitzer’s amendment was adopted 97 aye votes and 47 nays on a largely party-line vote.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria)
State Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria)

Terrell Graham, a mechanical engineer who lives near Goliad, says now that he was naive. Naive to ever think that he and his wife, Patricia, had a slam-dunk case against a developer that wanted to discharge 350,000 gallons of wastewater into a dry creek on their 112-year-old ranch in Bulverde. The drainage—the Grahams dispute the term “creek”—rarely holds any water, and calling it a public watercourse that the developer could use to convey the effluent seemed like a wild stretch.

“We thought this was a mistake, and if we simply explained the situation it to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality [the developer] would simply go away,” Terrell told a legislative committee this morning.

Instead, TCEQ tentatively approved the wastewater permit.

Graham and family members who own adjacent parcels of the ranch looked into their options. To challenge the wastewater permit, the family would need to go through what’s called a contested case hearing, a sort of mini-trial overseen by an administrative law judge. The Grahams were willing to spend the money to hire attorneys and experts and take on the developer. But they didn’t expect to find that the government would be a bigger adversary than the developer, DHJB Development LLC.

“Throughout this entire case they went overboard in protecting the developer,” Graham said. “Had we just been fighting with the developer, this would have ended by now.”

Graham said DHJB had indicated on its application to TCEQ that the drainage lacked “perennial pools”—a key factor in determining whether a watercourse is public for the purposes of wastewater discharge. But TCEQ insisted to the judge that the unnamed tributary did have perennial pools. “They were fitting the circumstances to the case law.”

During discovery, Graham says, he discovered that DHJB’s attorneys had extensive contact with TCEQ throughout the permitting process, though he’d never been able to get anyone at the agency on the phone. “The developer is wishing the staff attorney a Merry Christmas,” he said.

Nonetheless, Graham convinced the administrative judge on almost every issue. In early March the judge recommended that the permit be rejected, writing that the wastewater “would adversely impact protestants’ use and enjoyment of their property and might adversely affect the cattle that graze there.”

Now, it’s up the three TCEQ commissioners, who’ve been extraordinarily favorable to business interests on issues small and large, to decide whether to follow the judge’s recommendation.

Graham said he feels vindicated that the judge affirmed his issues but described the contested case process as a “fire drill” that few citizens have the patience or resources to deal with.

Even so, several lawmakers, including the chairwoman of the House Committee on Environmental Regulation, are proposing changes that would make it even more difficult for people like the Grahams to prevail.

The lawmakers are reviving efforts to expedite the contested case process, arguing that it’s too burdensome on businesses. While the House geared up today to for a marathon debate on the budget, the House Environmental Regulation Committee heard hours of testimony on House Bill 1865, introduced by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), that would overhaul the way citizens can challenge permits. Supported by heavy hitters like the Texas Chemical Council, the legislation would require judges to issue a decision within six months; subtly shift the burden of proof to the protestant; and presume that the issuance of a draft permit by TCEQ, a routine matter, is “prima facie demonstration” that the permit meets all state and federal law.

“We are at a serious disadvantage because of the length of time it takes” to get permitted, Morrison said today, comparing Texas to other states competing for major industries.

Citizens and environmental groups today described the legislation as a gift to polluters.

The “proposed legislation will limit rights of citizens to participate,” said Carol Birch, a former administrative law judge. It “fundamentally alters the nature of the process and greatly increases the burden on protestants.”

Environmentalists have used the contested case process to slow, kill or improve permits for cement kilns, coal-fired power plants, landfills, refineries, quarries and other industrial facilities.

Out of some 1,900 environmental permit applications last year, only 10 were contested, according to Alliance for a Clean Texas.

Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen of Texas said similar legislation has been proposed half a dozen times in the last 20 years, but usually has been blocked in the Senate. This time, without the two-thirds rule, he expects it to pass both the House and Senate.

Graham said he and his family are “blessed” to have the resources to fight to the end. (He plans to appeal to district court if the TCEQ commissioners ignore the administrative judge’s findings.)

“But what about the average family that’s living paycheck to paycheck? What chance do they have?”

Morrison said the committee could return today to hear two more bills related to contested case hearings, HB 1113 by Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) and HB 1247 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown), depending on the course of the budget debate.

Andrea Grimes
Jen Reel
Andrea Grimes

When state Rep. Jonathan Stickland proudly declared himself a “former fetus” a few weeks ago by posting a sign over the nameplate near his office door, the first people to notice were habitués of the #txlege hashtag on Twitter, a repository for all news—and jokes—pertaining to the Texas Legislature. If you waited for the inevitable Texas Tribune story to catch up on the political posturing, you were already hours out of the loop.

Don’t let it happen again. Keeping an eye on #txlege is a must for policy wonks, politicos and people who don’t want to miss the latest Photoshopped Dan Patrick selfie. But the sheer volume of information parading by at #txlege—everything from daily news reporters posting their latest stories to your tea-partying uncle wildly tweeting his 50 favorite Obummer memes to Jonathan Saenz screeching about the gays—can make it more than a little difficult to parse.

First, rather than using Twitter in your browser, get an app like TweetDeck, which makes it easier to manage lists of Twitter users and separate the wheat from the chaff. In TweetDeck, you can set up and monitor customized feeds and easily put spammers on mute. I recommend setting up an overall #txlege hashtag feed, and then making a dedicated Twitter list for the best of the #txlege tweeters.

Many lawmakers have accounts, but most rarely use them or post nothing but self-congratulatory blather and humblebrags. Your best bet is to follow lawmakers who at least appear to run their own accounts. If you ever wonder how state Sen. Donna Campbell’s mind works—and who doesn’t?—her @DonnaCampbellTX account offers insight (and bible verses, because she’s #blessed). Other legislator accounts to watch, not just for the tweets, but for the shares and retweets, include Beaumont Rep. Joe Deshotel (@RepJoeDeshotel), Austin Sen. Kirk Watson (@KirkPWatson), Houston representatives Jessica Farrar (@JFarrarDist148) and Gene Wu (@GeneforTexas), and Dallas Rep. Jason Villalba (@JasonVillalba).

Lawmakers aside, the Capitol press corps is teeming with reporters sharing their work via #txlege, but you need to follow just few folks to keep up with the goings-on. The Houston Chronicle’s Lauren McGaughy (@lmcgaughy) misses nothing on education, LGBTQ and gun-policy issues; The Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura (@alexazura) is a fine follow for big-umbrella political issues; ditto Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey (@RossRamsey). If you’re wondering what the left-leaning kids are into these days, Burnt Orange Report’s Joe Deshotel (son of Rep. Joe; @joethepleb) has you covered. The Austin American-Statesman’s Kiah Collier (@KiahCollier) breaks down wonky fiscal issues and is a dedicated live- tweeter of committee hearings. And Austin freelancer Kimberly Reeves lives up to her @edwonkkimmy username on education issues and much more.

On the policy side, the Center For Public Policy Priorities’ Dick Lavine (@dlavine) is a must-follow for perspectives on weedy fiscal issues. Texas Right to Life lobbyist Emily Horne (@missemhorne) tweets about the latest anti-choice machinations in complete sentences and without creepy fetus memes. And if anything’s happening on the other side of the fight for reproductive rights, Amanda Williams (@fullfrontalfem) is probably tweeting about it.

For a look behind the scenes, you’ll want to follow staffers, schmoozers and satirizers: Texas Legislative Service Capitol correspondent Robyn Hadley (@capitolcrowd) seems to be everywhere all at once, while Total Staffer Move (@StafferMove) is an ostensibly satirical account that offers snarky but salient insights into the day-to-day Capitol. Actual staffer Antonio Marcus (@AntonioMarcus_) brings humor and verve to his chronicle of an often thank- less job. And professional progressive Harold Cook (@HCookAustin) offers a meaty mix of insight and side-eye developed over decades—sorry, Harold—of dedicated Lege-watching.

Sadly, true jokester accounts can be hard to maintain on the ever-ephemeral platform that is Twitter, but I really hope the folks behind Dan Patrick Selfies (@DanPatrickTX) stick to their schtick: ’shopping the lieutenant governor’s head into a bunch of places it should never go. And no, I’m not talking about the Senate chamber.

But if #txlege ever gets to be a little too much to swallow, remember that you can always take a break and check in with Gov. Greg Abbott’s dogs, @OreoAbbott and @TexasPancake. You know, for when the going gets ruff.

What? That joke killed on Twitter.

A patient gets her blood pressure checked at the Waco Planned Parenthood.
Jen Reel
A patient gets her blood pressure checked at the Waco Planned Parenthood.

The House version of the budget, which hits the floor Tuesday for what’s likely to be a spirited debate over funding for state programs, includes approximately $20 million more for women’s health services over the next two years than lawmakers originally proposed in January.

The state currently administers three similar women’s health programs that cover things like annual well woman exams, birth control and cancer screenings for low-income women.

The newest program, the Expanded Primary Health Care Program, created in 2013, is slated to get the funding bump, bringing the total for women’s health services in the House version of the budget to about $130 million per year.

Here is the breakdown of funding for each program:

  • Texas Women’s Health Program: $34.9 million in 2016, $35.1 million in 2017
  • Expanded Primary Health Care Program: $73.4 million in 2016, $73.4 million in 2017
  • Family planning program administered by Department of State Health Services: $21.4 million in 2016, $21.4 million in 2017

In 2011, motivated by a never-ending quest to defund Planned Parenthood, the Texas Legislature slashed family planning funding by nearly $70 million, leaving about $40 million for preventive and contraceptive services for low-income women. A recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a research group that studies the effects of family planning budget cuts, found that more than 100,000 women lost services after the 2011 cuts and 82 family planning clinics closed. In 2013, the Legislature restored the $70 million and put it into the newly created Expanded Primary Health Care Program, which became a separate item in the state budget. Still, advocates and providers have consistently fought for more money, arguing that the state is only serving one-third of women eligible to receive services.

This session’s House budget also includes a rider that appropriates $4 million more per year for the controversial Alternatives to Abortion program, which largely funds crisis pregnancy centers. Often religiously affiliated, crisis pregnancy centers do not provide medical care, are virtually unregulated by the state and have been found by various investigations to offer inaccurate information designed to dissuade women from having an abortion. As the Observer reported in early March, some Democratic lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee raised concerns about adding more money to a program that has little oversight or accountability.

Funding levels and riders in the House budget aren’t set in stone, though. Tuesday’s debate will bring a flurry of floor amendments, with lawmakers from both parties trying to add funding to their favorite programs and take money from those they aren’t too keen on.

As of Monday, in reviewing the pre-filed amendments, the Observer found at least 10 amendments by House Democrats that aim to decrease funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program and funnel it to other health and human service programs, like substance abuse prevention and early childhood intervention services. State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), want to increase oversight of the Alternatives to Abortion program, proposing riders that strengthen reporting requirements.

Here is a list of other women’s health amendments and riders to watch for:

  • State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) filed an amendment that would allow teenagers who are 15 to 17 years old and already mothers to get contraception without their parents’ consent. Right now, state law requires that all teenagers under the age of 18 get their parent’s permission for birth control. The amendment mirrors Gonzalez’s House Bill 468, which she presented to the House State Affairs Committee in mid-March.
  • State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) has proposed a rider that would ensure sex education programs teach “medically accurate” information to public school students.
  • State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) proposes adding even more money to the Alternatives to Abortion program by taking almost $7 million from the Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • A House budget rider by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) protects the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured women, under attack this session by conservative lawmakers hell bent on, you guessed it, defunding Planned Parenthood.

The budget debate begins at 12 p.m. Tuesday.

Via Facebook
Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) used the above graphic to promote a 2013 bill to defund school districts that offer domestic partner benefits.

Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) is again trying to bar Texas school districts from offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

Springer has introduced a budget amendment that would eliminate state funding for districts that violate the Texas Constitution, which prohibits recognition of same-sex partnerships.

The amendment is similar to a bill Springer authored two years ago, which cleared committee but was never considered on the floor. Under Springer’s budget amendment, the education commissioner, in consultation with the attorney general, would decide whether districts have violated the Constitution. Districts would have 60 days to correct the problem.

According to Equality Texas, Springer’s amendment is aimed at the Austin, Pflugerville and San Antonio school districts, which offer “plus-one” benefits that are inclusive of same-sex partners. But the group says those benefits are in line with a 2013 opinion from former Attorney General Greg Abbott, which found that such programs are only illegal if they create or recognize a status similar to marriage.

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston)
Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston)

“The benefit programs allow an employee to name a second person who is financially interdependent with them and co-resides with them to receive benefits,” the group said. “The programs were constructed to comply with Attorney General guidance. Although Rep. Springer believes these programs to be in violation of the state Constitution, absent additional attorney general opinions, they would not be affected by the new level of bureaucracy his amendment attempts to create.”

Springer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The danger for LGBT advocates, of course, is that GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton—who is suing to block benefits for same-sex couples under the Family and Medical Leave Act—would take the position that the “plus-one” programs violate the Constitution. However, like much of the anti-gay marriage legislation introduced this year, Springer’s amendment—even if it passes—would presumably be negated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality in June.

Another budget amendment, from Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), would require school districts to collect data on incidents of discrimination and harassment against LGBT students and employees. A similar amendment was defeated in a 90-43 House vote in 2013.

The House begins debating the budget Tuesday. The proposed amendments from Springer and Coleman are below:




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