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Hot List: Day 16 of the Legislature

by Published on
Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tex.
Patrick Michels

The Lead

The Capitol has been pretty empty for the last week. The House and Senate have been adjourned since Wednesday, Jan. 16, so lawmakers could attend President Obama’s inauguration and honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But they’re finally back to work today. The Senate begins again this morning at 11 a.m. and the House meets at 10 a.m. Despite this small vacation, however, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst did make some news, announcing his Senate committee assignments late Friday. This gave Dewhurst a five day break before facing any potential backlash from unhappy senators.

“During this session, we will be focused on balancing the budget without raising taxes, improving public education and increasing highway capacity and drinking water resources for our growing population,” Dewhurst stated in a press release attached to the assignments. “I know that our Senators are up to the challenge to keep Texas number one for decades to come.”

(Long) Weekend Headlines:

1. Since the Legislature adjourned on Wednesday, it didn’t yield much in the way of policy or decision-making last week other than passing the House rules. The Senate passed a resolution honoring the 40 years of public service that Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) has so far dedicated to the Legislature and spent a day paying tribute to Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston), who died in October.

2. Yesterday Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) filed House Bill 596 to change the so-called “high stakes” nature of Texas’s current system of testing. According to a press release, Villarreal feels that “lawmakers in Austin face a growing movement of parents, educators and business leaders clamoring for reform of the state’s school accountability system.” Rep. Mark Strama is also trying to reform the way Texas administers standardized tests, as the Observer‘s Liz Farmer reports. And Sen. Kel Seliger also filed a testing overhaul bill yesterday. The Texas Tribune‘s Morgan Smith has the details.

Line of the Day:

“We will continue working to empower families and protect our children’s future, until the day abortion is nothing more than a tragic footnote in our nation’s history,” —Gov. Rick Perry said in a press release on Monday, the day before the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The Senate Finance Committee, of which there are 15 members (as of Friday’s committee assignments), meets this morning at 9 a.m. Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) and Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) are chair and vice-chair. The committee will discuss the proposed Senate budget, which appears to be on track to maintain the deep budget cuts from last session. It’s the start of what promises to be a very contentious debate over what to do with Texas’ nearly $9 billion surplus.