Hot List: Day 72 of the Legislature

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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.