Hot List: Day 91 of the Texas Legislature

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Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tex.
Patrick Michels
Texas State Capitol.

The Lead:

The House passed its version of the 2014-2015 state budget late Thursday night. As the Observer‘s Patrick Michels reported, the amendment that caused perhaps the biggest stir was Rep. Abel Herrero’s effort to block public money from being spent on private K-12 schools, otherwise known as vouchers. The amendment passed, with House members voting overwhelmingly against school vouchers. Even with  Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick touting vouchers in the Upper Chamber, Thursday’s House vote seemed a strong indication that vouchers are dead this session.

Quorum Report noted over the weekend that the anti-voucher amendment may not have been technically correct, because money for vouchers wouldn’t flow through the Texas Eduction Agency—which is what Herrero’s amendment prevented. But if nothing else, the vote served more as a strong political statement.

The other story of the budget debate was the blowout losses suffered by the tea party. Liz Farmer reported that tea party freshmen Reps Jeff Leach, Jonathan Stickland and Matt Schaefer struggled to garner support for a few amendments that would move money from various sections of the budget into the Teacher Retirement System—an effort not appreciated by some other conservative House members. As the budget debate showed,  the tea party’s influence in the Texas House has been greatly diminished since 2011.

Weekend Headlines:

1. The Texas Tribune reports that the UT System Regents v. the world (i.e. UT-Austin President Bill Powers, the Texas Legislature and the Texas Public Information Act) debacle isn’t breaking for the weekend—unlike many of our lawmakers. University of Texas System Regents Chair Gene Powell is wondering just how open Texas open records laws are concerning the UT System, and four UT System Regents are calling for a board meeting sometime this week on whether to withhold documents that lawmakers are requesting. Meanwhile, the House passed a few budget amendments carving away at the regents’ funding and authority.

2. Saturday morning hundreds of gun-control advocates rallied on the Capitol steps, as the Austin American-Statesman reported. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, Texas Gun Sense founder John Woods and others pushed for more background checks and tighter gun restrictions.

Line of the day:

“The specifics of the actual skirmishes are more complex — the latest fight is over who should conduct what many consider an unnecessary external review of an internal review that was externally reviewed — which means that they fall under the jurisdiction of several legislative committees.” —The Texas Tribune‘s explanation of what’s going on between UT-Austin Bill Powers, the UT System Board of Regents and the legislature.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. Both the Senate and House chambers are not scheduled to meet until 2 p.m. today, extending their long weekend as much as possible.

2. The Senate Finance subcommittee on Fiscal Matters is hearing Sen. Kevin Eltife’s SJR 47, a constitutional amendment that would increase the state sales tax rate and dedicate funds to the Texas Department of Transportation.That’s needed because TxDOT has maxed out its credit card.

3. Sen. Rodney Ellis has a bill scheduled to be heard in the Senate Open Government Committee that would expand the open records act and make clear that information related to government contracts with private companies are subject to the open records law.