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Hot List: Day 87 of the Legislature

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The Lead:

It’s budget day in the House. It’s the only opportunity for most representatives to influence how the state allocates its budget of $193.8 billion. House members have filed 267 budget amendments that they will begin debating not long after the House convenes at 9 a.m. By rule, amendments can’t add money to the budget—so House members are limited to shifting money from one program to another.

The House budget spends $1 billion more on public education than the version the Senate passed last month, but less on health and human services. Those are likely to be two areas of intense debate today. Meanwhile, as the Texas Tribune reports, a group of House Republican freshmen have filed amendments to shift money from various state programs into the Teacher Retirement System. For instance, one amendment proposes to shift millions the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality uses for air quality assessment into the Teacher Retirement System. These plans were dealt a setback yesterday when the Texas Retired Teachers Association announced it was opposed to the freshmen’s plan.

We’re also likely to see debate over funding family-planning services. It was during the budget floor debate two years ago that House members voted to remove two-thirds of the state’s family planning funding. That’s caused more than 60 clinics to close and removed services from hundreds of thousands of women. The current budget contains a proposal to restore family planning funding through a preventive health care fund.

Two years ago, the budget debate felt like the Bataan death march. This time the state has more money to play with, so the budget debate should be cheerier. But it will likely last well into the night and could bleed into tomorrow. Keep an eye out for up-to-date Observer coverage. That’s all assuming North Korea doesn’t follow through on its threats.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. In the Senate Committee on Business and Economic Development, legislators discussed a bill yesterday that would ban discrimination on homosexuality in the workplace.  Christian conservative groups weren’t thrilled with the idea.

2. The Senate passed a reform bill for the troubled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The bill increases state control of the agency, which has faced accusations of cronyism.

3. The Senate Higher Education Committee passed Sen. Kel Seliger’s SB 15 yesterday. The bill would limit the power of the governing boards of public universities in Texas. This comes after accusations that the University of Texas Board of Regents has moved from overseeing the university to micromanaging it.

4. In other news, the situation in North Korea is becoming more volatile. Don’t panic quite yet, though. The City of Austin assures residents that the situation is under control—and at worst, they advise, just duck and cover.

Line of the Day:

“I’ve shed blood for this country and there are rights that I don’t have … It is time for this state to recognize people for who they are, on their merit, for their leadership, and their professionalism.” —Retired Staff Sgt. Eric Alva testifying for the anti-discrimination bill. Alva was the first Purple Heart recipient of the Iraq War.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The House budget debate. Check out the Trib’s pre-debate analysis.