From Education Cuts to Disputed Elections

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Day 23 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

It’s down to business at the Capitol as lawmakers try to come to grips with what proposed budget cuts will actually mean for state services. Things are looking a little clearer, but not any better as Senate Finance Committee hearings continue this week. Health and Human Services warned lawmakers yesterday that the proposed cuts will severely impact services for abused and neglected children. Meanwhile, school districts are asking lawmakers for flexibility to lower teacher salaries and increase class sizes so they can balance their budgets. Away from the budget debate, the election contest for House District 48 has begun, and Gov. Perry has announced a number of appointments with only a few new faces. Stressed? Well, don’t reach for that cigarette quite yet. Recent polls show that proposed smoking ban legislation is receiving strong bipartisan support and might pass this year.

1. Bad News Bearers

Day two of Senate Finance Committee hearings brought the human cost of the Senate’s proposed budget cuts into focus. According to Quorum Report’s John Reynolds, the commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, Anne Heiligenstein, and Health and Human Service Commissioner Tom Suehs told lawmakers yesterday that the Senate’s original budget proposal, “would eliminate 750 positions at Child Protective Services, reduces money paid to foster parents by 12 percent, eliminates monetary help for foster parents who want to adopt and cuts by roughly 40 percent prevention programs meant to halt at-risk children’s slide into truancy, delinquency and the juvenile justice system.” [Texas Observer[Burka Blog]

 

2. Educational Stretches

The Senate Education Committee hearing yesterday centered around the loosening or elimination of government mandates to allow school districts more flexibility to survive the $9 billion budget shortfall outlined in the Senate bill (the House would cut $500 million more). The most popular penny-pinching proposals included changing the current law to enable districts to lower teacher salaries, allow unpaid furloughs, and pack more kids into the classroom. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, began the meeting by announcing she had filed a school mandate relief bill that morning that would include some of these provisions. [Texas Observer] [Dallas Morning News]

 

3. Review of Play

The Texas House investigation to determine the true winner of the House District 48 contest between state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Republican challenger Dan Neil began yesterday. After losing by 16 votes in the November elections, Neil, a former Denver Broncos lineman, threw the red challenge flag. A recount came up with a 12-vote margin in favor of Howard, and Neil then appealed to the House to settle the issue. Nearly two dozen voters testified yesterday, and many more have been subpoenaed. The investigation is expected to last till the end of the week. [Lone Star Report] [Austin American Statesman]

 

4. The Usual Suspects

Gov. Rick Perry announced a number of appointments yesterday with only a few changes to the existing hierarchy. The governor reappointed Robert Scott as state education commissioner and Lampasas Republican Gail Lowe as chair of the State Board of Education. Tom Suehs will keep his position as executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission. And, Dallas businessman Wallace Hall and Austin engineer Alex Cranberg will replace Janiece Longoria and Colleen McHugh on the board that manages the UT system. [Dallas Morning News]

 

5. Smoke Away

Don’t you know those things give you cancer? A poll released by the Smoke-Free Texas Coalition finds 70 percent of Texans support a legislative proposal that would ban smoking in indoor public and work spaces statewide. Cancer survivors organized by the LIVESTRONG Foundation will rally at the Capitol today to support the proposed smoking-ban legislation. [Austin American Statesman]