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From Small Town Cuts to Redistricting

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Day 35 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

Forget the roses and chocolates. It will be all business at the Capitol as we enter the sixth week of the 82nd session. House committees were finally assigned, which means that the lawmakers will begin work in earnest. The House Appropriations committees will be meeting today starting at 7 a.m., and the Senate Finance committees will also be hard at work at 9 a.m. Beyond the budget, ERCOT, the Texas electric grid regulator, will go before Senate committees on Tuesday. Lawmakers are readying themselves for the release of Census data that will begin the redistricting process sometime this week. And, notable from last week, the special House investigation committee finally declared Donna Howard winner of the HD 48 election contest.     

1. The Final Curtain
As Texas superintendents fret over laying off teachers and cutting programs, smaller school districts are concerned that proposed cuts in education funding would mean they would have to close their doors altogether. Lawmakers may consider proposals to distribute the $10 billion in proposed cuts so that small Texas towns won’t have to close their schools—a move that will be unpopular among larger school districts. [Austin American Statesman]

2. Lesson Plans
In the face of the devastating budget scenarios, Texas public universities are looking at other states for lessons and warnings. A number of higher-education institutions have reorganized their funding structures, prioritized certain programs and pushed for degree completion as a way to deal with budget constriction. But some believe that raising tuition or instituting enrollment caps, as California did, may have negative long-term effects on educational quality. [Dallas Morning News]

3. ERCOT Outrage
Outrage over rolling blackouts that left thousands in Texas without electricity on Feb. 2 have lawmakers looking to ERCOT, the agency that manages a majority of the state’s power grid, for answers. Trip Doggett, the agency’s CEO, was grilled by the Public Utilities Commission Thursday, and will be back under the interrogation light at two separate Senate Committee hearings this Tuesday. [Houston Chronicle]  

4. Ready for Redistricting
Lawmakers are lickin’ their chops in anticipation of the release of U.S. Census data that will officially kick off the decennial redistricting process. The statistics are rumored to arrive as early as Wednesday, and will include specific population numbers, as well as ethnic breakdowns for cities and counties.  “We will have a better idea of who will gain representation and who will lose representation,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, a member of the House Redistricting Committee. “And there will definitely be winners and losers.”  [Ft. Worth Star Telegram]

5. And the Winner Is…
Nearly four months after the elections, a special House investigation committee finally declared state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, the winner of the contested House District 48 election last Friday. State Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, who led the investigation, concluded that the incumbent Democrat beat Dan Neil by four votes. But that ain’t all folks. The election contest will now go to yet another special House committee led by state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, before being going to the House floor. [Austin American Statesman]