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The Lead:

Today the full Senate will debate the two-year state budget (SB 1), making major spending decisions for the next two years.

We’re still early in the budget process. As Royce West told the Texas Tribune, “This is just the first step in a long process.” After today, the House will pass its version of the budget and then the two chambers will convene a conference committee to make the final decisions.

But today’s debate is still important. It’s the only chance senators not on the Finance Committee or on the conference committee will have to amend the state budget. (Senators do get to vote on the final conference committee report at the end of session, but that’s a straight up or down vote, no amendments allowed). So today is their chance to have a say on how the state spends its money.

As the Tribune reports, the current Senate version of the budget increases spending to $195 billion and restores some of the cuts from 2011. The bill includes a 3 percent pay raise for state employees, a $49 million increase for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s emission reduction program, and $1.4 billion more for public schools, though that’s well short of the $5.4 billion cut last session. Some senators will surely offer amendments to restore more money to public schools. That could be a tough proposal for Republicans to vote against.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Yesterday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed the controversial “back door abortion ban” bill that would force all abortion clinics to abide by ambulatory surgical standards—a requirement that in other states has forced abortion clinics to close. There are only five abortion clinics in Texas that currently abide by these standards, and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ Heather Busby estimates that the upgrades would cost about $1.5 million per clinic.

2. As the San Antonio Express News’ Peggy Fikac reports, the first real fight on the Senate Floor happened yesterday over Sen. Kevin Eltife’s (R-Tyler) term limits bill, which passed 27-4, and will now limit statewide elected officials (including the governor) to two consecutive terms in office under a constitutional amendment.

3. House Bill 1000, which would create a new university and medical school in South Texas, was passed in the House yesterday by a vote of 149-0, as the Brownsville Herald reports.

Line of the Day:

“After a colonoscopy on a man, he comes in bleeding in the emergency room from the rectum and we’ve got a surgeon on call. But we don’t have somebody on call for a lady who is hemorrhaging. In the uterus. From a procedure that was done at a facility that was held at less standards. So I applaud this bill.” —Sen. Donna Campbell, on Senate Bill 537

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The budget debate in the Senate.

2. The Senate Higher Education Committee is meeting at 9 a.m. to discuss several controversial bills, including Sen. Tommy Williams’ (R-The Woodlands) bill to allow colleges access to the criminal history record of students seeking on-campus housing.

The Lead:

The real work begins for the Texas House today. House members will finally start to debate substantive bills on the floor, the most notable of which is HB 1000 that would establish a new university in South Texas. The bill, authored by Brownsville Democrat Rene Oliveira, passed unanimously out of committee and has a huge number of co-sponsors. So it would seem on its way to passing the House.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the House marked the halfway point of the session by hearing an apology from El Paso Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who begged for forgiveness for her recent DWI and car crash that injured two people. We all love a repentant sinner: Gonzalez was greeted with a standing ovation after her apology, and as she swore to never again repeat her felonious deed.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Sen. Kirk Watson’s bill that would ensure Texas homeowner’s right to build drought-resistant landscaping passed in the Senate yesterday.

2. In the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, lawmakers discussed the ever-controversial payday lending practices, and discussed ways to rein in the industry.

3. The Texas Tribune reports that the president of the Fort Bend County tea party was once “head of propaganda” for the American Fascist Party. James Ives is also a frequent guest on Sen. Dan Patrick’s radio show.

Line of the Day:

“It will be our greatest challenge, and our sweetest victory, to finally surpass this dark menace, this numbing threat from the shadows, and replace it with the pure sunbeam that is our Fascist Faith, our Fascist Truth.” —James Ives, in a blog post written in the early 2000s, as reported yesterday in The Texas Tribune.

What We’re Watching Today:

1.  Several interesting bills on environmental protection are scheduled to be debated today in the House Committee on Environmental Regulation. Here’s hoping for some changes.

2. There will be a Joint Legislative Committee on Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence and Transparency meeting this afternoon (that’s JLCOHEGET if you’re scoring at home) to “discuss issues related to higher education.” Go figure.

3. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services meets today to discuss key early childhood health directives, including a bill relating to the definition of autism and developmental disorders. The committee will also hear a controversial bill that would require abortion facilities to meet the standards of surgical centers—a requirement that in other states has forced abortion clinics to close.

Patrick Michels

The Lead:

We’ve reached the halfway point of the session, and the wild ride is just beginning. Last week the Senate Finance Committee approved the state budget, which the Senate is expected to take up on Wednesday. The House will finally begin debating bills more substantive than honorary resolutions this week. Now the workload at the Capitol will start to increase.

Meanwhile, committees continue to craft legislation and are beginning to meet longer and later, though the big debates are still to come.

Weekend Headlines:

1. Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) will have to make a good case for charter schools if he wants his major Senate Bill 2 to pass. The Texas Tribune reports that charters aren’t a cut and dry partisan issue but may greatly depend on the inclinations of rural House districts that tend to be wary of public funds going to privately run schools.

2.  Immigrant rights groups and the business community are coming together to support House Bill 3206. Dallas Democratic Rep. Roberto Alonzo’s bill would give undocumented immigrants the chance to get a driver’s license, as the Rio Grande Guardian reports.

3. It looks like people in both parties are getting a little tired of the Reign of Perry. Some legislation filed recently aims to keep officeholders—cough Perry—from “double dipping.” Under this practice Perry draws $90,000 per year in state retirement, in addition to his $150,000 salary, The Dallas Morning News writes.

Line of the Day:

““For taxpayers, it’s a lot more expensive to treat them in the criminal justice setting [than state-funded community mental health centers]. And it’s wrong for society. There are no outcomes. It becomes a revolving door.” —Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, as quoted in the San Antonio Express-News.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The House Government Reform Committee will hear a few bills that would exempt records from the open records law.

2. The House International Trade Committee plans to discuss the ongoing Rio Grande water dispute between Texas and Mexico.

3. If you want morbid, then you’ll find the Senate Open Government Committee interesting. The committee will be talking about which parts of an autopsy report should be confidential.

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All those early morning Senate Finance Committee sessions on the budget have paid off. The committee passed Senate Bill 1 on to the full Senate yesterday, approving the $195.5 billion budget that will undo some of the 82nd session’s monumental cuts. The Texas Tribune reports that public schools would receive $1.4 billion more under the plan. Senators also allocated more money for mental health, higher ed and Child Protective Services. The infamous Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) was left out of the Senate’s funding plan, and a few criminal justice facilities would be shut down to save money. In all, the Senate plan adds $6.7 billion (or 7.7 percent of general revenue funds) to the meager spending levels from 2011.

The committee did tack on a “rider,” to SB 1, as Quorum Report notes, that included a broad list of thresholds that must be met before the state could take part in any Medicaid deal under Obamacare. But at least the Lege is closer to finishing its only constitutionally required task each session: figuring out the biennial state budget.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. The House Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee heard testimony on a slew of pro-Second Amendment, anti-federal gun control bills. It was quite the show.

2. A highly contentious bill that would mandate drug-testing for unemployment benefits got thrown around in the Senate Economic Development Committee. The Dallas Morning News has the details.

3. Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) said a bill heard Wednesday requiring state officials to report out-of-state travel expenses to the Texas Ethics Commission was not directed at Gov. Rick Perry, as the Houston Chronicle reported. Riiiiiight.

Line of the Day:

“I say the Second Amendment is in order of importance, the first amendment. It is America’s First Freedom, the one right that protects all of the others. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms is the one right that allows ‘rights’ to exist.” —Michelle Prescott testifying at yesterday’s anti-gun control hearing.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. It’s a usual exciting Thursday at the Capitol today: the Senate is taking a another long break, and the House will hear congratulatory resolutions.The House Appropriations Committee continues to deliberate on its version of the budget.

2. The action today will be in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, which will hear several “campus carry” bills that would allow faculty, students and staff to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. The committee will also hear a bill authorizing school employees to carry guns in public schools and a few bills on drawing blood at DWI roadside (and boat-side) stops.

3. House Natural Resources will hear HB 4, a bill that would establish a special Water Implementation fund that could be used to finance water conservation, water reuse or water education.

It’s Celebrate the Second Amendment Day at the Capitol. You might say that’s every day at the Texas Legislature, and you’d have a point (it may be second in the Constitution, but it’s first in Texans’ hearts, or so it seems). But this afternoon a select House committee will hear a slate of anti-gun-control bills, most of them designed to nullify any federal regulation of guns in Texas.

For the last few sessions, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has created a select committee for tea party members to vent. Last session it was a committee on Tenth Amendment issues. This session it’s the House Select Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility. This afternoon the panel will hear seven bills (seven!), all filed by Republicans, aimed at nullifying or restricting federal gun control laws.

It’s doubtful that any of these bills—should they become law—would be constitutional. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution generally doesn’t allow states to ignore or nullify federal laws and regulations. Federal laws aren’t really optional. But, hey, it should still be excellent political theater.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Texas has the most minimum wage workers in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Dallas Morning News has details. So maybe the growing Texas economy isn’t benefiting everyone.

2. StateImpact Texas reports that tax exemptions will cost Texas more than $49 billion this year, according to the Comptroller. That’s a lot of lost revenue when public schools and state parks are struggling.

3. The House agreed with Senate changes to the supplemental spending bill for Medicaid and sent it to the governor. The IOU bill needs to pass soon to pay for the final six months of Medicaid this year. The Morning News has more.

Line of the Day:

“There is nothing you can do that will allow me to get back my 25 years. So, what I’m asking you to do is not make it better for me, but to act in your own self-interest. Act for yourselves. Don’t let what happened to me happen to you or to any of your constituents.” —Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, testifying in favor of a bill to punish prosecutor misconduct.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The Senate Economic Development Committee this morning will hear SB 21, which would drug test certain people applying for unemployment benefits.

2. The House State Affairs Committee will debate a bill today that would address state costs for elected officials traveling out of state for political purposes (ahem, Rick Perry’s presidential campaign?).

3. Senate Finance continues to finalize its version of the budget bill. Then the senators will adjourn for another long weekend.

The Lead:

The Senate became whole again yesterday: Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) was sworn in, taking her place as the 31st senator, but just the seventh woman in the current Senate and the third Latina. The Senate had been operating with just 30 members after the death of Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston), who passed away in October of liver failure but remained on the ballot and was reelected posthumously in November. Garcia, who served on the Harris County Commission until losing her seat in 2010, won a recent special election to replace Gallegos. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named her to the committees on Government Operations, Intergovernmental Relations, Jurisprudence and Nominations. Garcia has no easy task—jumping into her freshman session nearly halfway through. And after the bill filing deadline.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. In other parts of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Budget Transparency and Reform both met to discuss funding for water projects, as the Observer‘s Liz Farmer writes.

2. About 2,000 teachers rallied at the Capitol yesterday for increased funding of public schools. At the rally, Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) said Comptroller Susan Combs—by delivering what turned out to be a low  revenue estimate—was partially to blame for the deep 2011 cuts to schools, according to The Dallas Morning News.

3. Relish a local beer after work today with just a bit more gusto. Beer distributors reached a deal on Monday that would potentially loosen restrictions in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code for small breweries across the state, the Texas Tribune reports.  

Line of the Day:

“Our fear is that this money is not going to go toward conservation … We’d like to see half of the funding put aside for conservation. We’d also like to see education included in this funding.” —Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, at Monday’s Senate Finance committee in response to Sen. Fraser’s bill to fund water projects.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. Expect more fireworks in the Senate Education Committee today. The committee will hear a bill to reform testing and graduation requirements in public schools. It was filed at the last minute on Friday by Sen. Dan Patrick, who rushed it into the committee he chairs just four days later. The committee could also address bills on human sexuality and family planning instruction.

2. Worker’s rights will be a big issue today, especially protections for working mothers. The House Business and Industry Committee will hear a bill that would promote breast-feeding by requiring employers to provide opportunities for mothers to breast-feed or pump in their workplace. Another bill would allow workers to take leave to care for their foster kids.

3. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has a full plate today.  Here’s just a taste of the criminal smorgasbord: Juvenile delinquents, computer crimes, prostitution, and sex offenders. We don’t think you’ll be needing a to-go box.

Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tex.
Patrick Michels

The Lead:

We’re on to the next chapter of the 83rd legislative session. Friday was the deadline to file bills, and,  as the Austin American-Statesman reports, legislators and their staffers scrambled to file hundreds of bills at the last minute, some of which were on controversial subjects such as school vouchers. Lawmakers also filed “shell” bills—vessels whose details will come later. It’ll take some time to sort through everything that was filed, and we can expect some surprises down the line.

After another lengthy weekend, the House and Senate will convene at 2 p.m. today.

Weekend Headlines:

1. One of those shells filed on Friday is House Bill 3791, which allows the Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate a Medicaid-expansion deal with the Obama administration, writes the Texas Tribune. Conservative states like Florida, Arizona and Arkansas have struck deals with the feds to expand Medicaid, but Gov. Rick Perry is still holding out.

2. Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville), chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, told the Statesman that he’s interested in fixing the main business tax instead of ridding the state of it.

3. The Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance (that’s JOCHEG, if you’re scoring at home) will be up and running soon in response to the UT System Board of Regents’ continued micromanaging of UT Austin and efforts against President Bill Powers, reports the Austin American-Statesman.

Line of the Day:

“There’s a couple who, I used to say, their desks would qualify as a gun show.” –Alice Tripp, legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, told The New York Times about legislators’ toting guns in the Capitol.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The House Appropriations subcommittee on budget transparency will hear a bill on tapping the Rainy Day Fund for water projects and a bill to redirect System Benefit Fund money to actually help lower-income families with electric bills—the purpose for which the fund was intended.

2. Senate Finance subcommittee on fiscal matters will hear the Water Development Board bill filed by Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), which would also tap money from the Rainy Day Fund for water projects.

The Lead:

Should be a light day at the Capitol. The Senate is giving itself another four-day weekend, starting today—maybe some of them are checking out SXSW events—and the House will once again hear “congratulatory resolutions.”

While the full House and Senate won’t meet this Friday, the House Appropriations Committee will hear invited testimony tomorrow on Medicaid Funding—one of this session’s hottest issues. Medicaid expansion could provide the state with $100 billion in federal money over 10 years and insure at least 1.5 million Texans. But Gov. Rick Perry refuses to entertain the idea. Millions of uninsured Texans still have a chance if the Legislature decides to push to expand the program—or cut a deal with the federal government.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. The Senate Higher Education Committee approved a bill merging UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American, which would create a new medical school in the Valley and allow the schools to receive infrastructure money from the Permanent University Fund.

2. The Texas Tribune reports that Texas university chancellors asked the Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee for more money to support education programs that exempt veterans from tuition payments.

3. Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson called on the Legislature to reform the criminal justice system yesterday in his biennial State of the Judiciary address. He said lawmakers needed to reduce criminalization of school kids, and provide more funding for legal aid, juvenile justice system reforms, and more programs to stop abuse of the elderly, as reported by Quorum Report (subscription needed).

4. On Tuesday the Austin American-Statesman posted this article on bills filed in the House and Senate by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) and Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston). HB 1938 and SB 1128 would amend an old state law to allow only American or Texas history courses to count toward the required six history credits in higher education. Yesterday, Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka editorialized on the absurdity of leaving out race, class and gender studies and the Lege’s need to control higher ed curricula at such a detailed level.

Line of the Day:

“Do we have liberty and justice for all? Or have we come to accept liberty and justice only for some?” —Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson in his State of the Judiciary speech yesterday, as quoted in the Statesman.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The House Committee on Homeland Security will hear a slew of bills ranging topics from funding for a DWI-prevention executive commissioner to creating a natural or man-made disaster response task force for the Rio Grande Valley.

2. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear bills that would expand assistance and care to the elderly and people with disabilities.

3. The House Appropriations Committee is already meeting this morning and hearing invited testimony from K-12 and higher education agencies.

The Lead:

It was controversial-bill day in the Senate Education Committee yesterday. The committee dealt with vouchers, sex-ed (and Planned Parenthood’s role in it), and, for good measure, a debate about parochial school students who can’t play baseball in the University Interscholastic League (UIL) that included a comment by Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) equating the plight of private-school kids kept out of UIL to the fight against racial injustice during segregation. It was that kind of day.

The Observer‘s Patrick Michels reports on Sen. Patrick’s latest “civil rights issue.” Sen. Patrick said, “When you say that UIL has functioned for 100 years and everyone’s been happy—if you were black in this state before the civil rights movement, it didn’t function for you…. And now I feel there’s discrimination against Catholics and Christians in these parochial schools. And the same testimony would’ve been given before this committee in the 1950s: ‘It’s gonna be on an unlevel playing field if we let those black players play.’ Traditions must be broken. People must be accepted. And no one should be discriminated against in Texas.”

That was a tough act to follow, but the anti-abortion crowd proved up to the challenge in the afternoon. The committee heard testimony on tea partier Ken Paxton’s (R-McKinney) latest controversial bill, SB 521, which would prevent any organization that offers abortion services from providing “human sexuality” or family planning instruction (or instruction materials) in public schools (that’s code for Planned Parenthood).

The hearing on SB 521 included this comment from Sen. Donna Campbell, “I’m amazed at those who make a point of promoting abortion. They’re all a lie. Your mom didn’t abort you.”

Yes, it was quite a day in Senate Education. The House and Senate are both back at it today.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Yesterday’s Medicaid expansion rally was loud enough to be heard inside the walls of the Senate chamber. The Observer‘s Melissa del Bosque writes that 2,000 people rallied for Medicaid expansion, but Gov. Rick Perry remains firmly opposed to it.

2.  State Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) pitched his voucher proposal to give state-funded grants to parents of children with special needs to attend private school, the Observer’s Patrick Michels reports. Things went south very quickly, with Sen. Patrick lambasting anyone who disagreed with him and asking opposition witnesses things like “Do you have a child with a disability?” before dismissing their opinions.

3. House Bill 10 passed in the Senate after a brief scuffle between Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and Sen. Williams, as the Austin American-Statesman reports. Davis withdrew her attempts to involve the Rainy Day Fund and the supplemental spending bill for Medicaid passed.

Line of the Day:

“Is there a condom for their innocence?” —Terry Johnson, mother of four and development coordinator at Austin Life Care, testifying against Planned Parenthood contributing to sex ed for public school children.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The Senate Higher Education Committee, which meets at 9 a.m. is tackling Sen. Chuy Hinojosa’s bill to create a new University of Texas branch in South Texas.

2. Senate Finance will continue discussing workgroup recommendations on the budget this afternoon.

3.  The House Public Health Committee meets this morning to consider a slate of bills, including one by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) that would require doctors to provide pregnant women with information about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

4. And the House Select Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility will meet this afternoon to discuss impacts of the federal sequestration budget cuts.

The Lead:

Medicaid has been perhaps the most-discussed issue of the 83rd session so far—with the possible exception of education. And today will be a big day in the debate over Medicaid—the state-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor.

The Senate is scheduled to hear House Bill 10—the supplemental spending bill that would provide the funds to keep the program running for the final six months of fiscal year 2013. The House has already passed the bill, and the Senate is expected to as well. Lawmakers really don’t have a choice—it’s about as automatic as spending more than $4 billion can ever be. They have to pass the bill in the next few weeks to keep the Medicaid program going.

The more controversial issue is whether to expand Medicaid by accepting federal funds under Obamacare to cover more people. Medicaid expansion could insure more than a million Texans in the the state with the highest percentage of uninsured citizens. Supporters of Medicaid expansion will hold a large rally at 11:30 a.m. at the Capitol. Meanwhile, many lawmakers inside the Pink Dome like the idea of a deal with the feds to expand Medicaid in exchange for loosening some program restrictions. Republican Sens. Bob Deuell and Jane Nelson have broached this idea. (The House Republican caucus announced yesterday that it’s a against Medicaid expansion—for whatever that’s worth).

The real impediment remains Gov. Rick Perry. While Republican governors in New Jersey, Florida and Arizona have taken Medicaid expansion—and Republicans in the Lege talk about making a deal—Perry remains firmly opposed. He calls it a broken system. It could be difficult to expand Medicaid in Texas unless Perry moderates his position.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Lawmakers debated more funding for Texas’ state parks in House Ways and Means yesterday. No one wants to see parks close, but that’s about where the agreement ends.

2. Sen. Dan Patrick and the Higher Education Coordinating Board disagree on the cost of Patrick’s bill to encourage career prep courses in high school, as the Observer‘s Liz Farmer reports.

3. The Dallas Morning-News points out that Gov. Perry remains a major obstacle to Medicaid expansion in Texas.

4. Religious leaders yesterday endorsed a restoration of family planning cuts. The Statesman has details.

Line of the Day:

“No, no. They’re just wrong, OK? God love ‘em. They’re just wrong.” —Sen. Dan Patrick on his disagreement with higher ed leaders over the cost of his new high school graduation plan.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The Senate Education Committee meets today to discuss Sen. Ken Paxton’s bill that would ban groups like Planned Parenthood from contributing materials to high school sex ed classes.

2. The Medicaid expansion rally—11:30 a.m. on the south steps of the Capitol. Protestors will march up Congress Avenue beginning at 10:45 a.m.

3. House Bill 10—the supplemental spending bill for Medicaid—will be on the Senate floor today. Senate convenes at 11 a.m.

4. The House Appropriations Committee is hearing budget recommendations for most of the big health and human service agencies this morning.

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