From Eminent Domain to Education Cuts


Day 28 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

It’s another busy week at the Capitol, complete with more budget talk, committee assignment anticipation and sonograms. For the Senate Finance Committee, it’s time to talk about cuts to education. The testimonies to the committee last week on the potential impact of cuts to health and human services proved to be both painful and depressing, and it’s safe to say we’ll see the same thing this week. (Well, quite possibly, for the next several.) Senators have also been busy checking Gov. Rick Perry’s emergency items off the to-do list—first came voter ID, then eminent domain legislation was passed in committee last week (it’s expected to hit the Senate floor in the next few days), and this time it’s sonograms. Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick’s famed sonogram bill requires women to both listen to the fetus’ heartbeat as well as get a sonogram before they can get an abortion. It’ll get a hearing come Wednesday when the State Affairs committee meets for the first time this session. In the House, the pace should finally be picking up this week, as members will likely get their long-awaited committee assignments. 

1. Their Turf

Senators are likely to debate the second of Gov. Rick Perry’s emergency items—eminent domain—as early as Tuesday. The bill has a gaggle of supporters. Senate Bill 18 will essentially strengthen property owners’ rights and makes it harde, which of course has landowners and farmers jumping for joy. Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, the author of the bill, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said that with 31 co-authors, the bill is loaded with compromise. He said he plans to keep it that way by blocking any proposed amendment. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram


2. Sonogram Situation 

The ball starts rolling this week for Sen. Dan Patrick’s famed sonogram bill. Since 2007, the Republican from Houston has unsuccessfully tried to pass the same legislation, which requires that women get a sonogram two hours before an abortion, a detailed explanation of the image and hear the fetal heartbeat. Each time, the bill has failed in the House. Of course, this session, with the House Republican supermajority and Gov. Rick Perry’s “emergency” designation, the bill has its greatest chance of passing yet. The Senate State Affairs Committee will address the controversial bill in a hearing Wednesday. [Austin American Statesman]


3. Innocence Found?

It’s been nearly 10 years since the Texas legislature addressed wrongful convictions, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is hoping to change that this session with a package of four innocence bills. Taking a nod from a 2009 panel set up to investigate and recommend criminal justice reform, Ellis’ bills include creating “uniform procedures for eyewitness identification, requiring investigators to record interrogations in serious felonies, streamlining defendants’ appeals for DNA testing, and reorganizing Texas’ indigent defense task force,” according to the Houston Chronicle. [Houston Chronicle] [Grits for Breakfast]


4. Perry’s Chance

Gov. Rick Perry’s State of the State speech is happening tomorrow, and instead of hiding from the $27 billion shortfall Texas is facing, he has yet another opportunity to lay out a more realistic agenda for the state. However, if the first few weeks of the session are any indication (he declared a total of five “emergency items,” none of which addressed the budget crisis), he’ll continue cheerleading the Texas economy and advocating for leaner government—in case the current series of drastic cuts aren’t enough. As Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman writes, Perry’s second major speech of the session will likely sound like he’s speaking as a Republican candidate for a national election. [Austin American Statesman]


5. Not the Boss

In case there was any doubt, Republican Party Chair Steve Munisteri wants you to know: Rep. Wayne Christian is not in charge of the Grand Old Party. During the state Republican convention last summer, Christian, R-Center, managed to squeeze in a plank to the platform that gave him the ability to tally each Republican lawmaker’s votes on a variety of platform issues. Effectively, it was a scorecard to show which lawmakers weren’t conservative enough. On Friday, Munisteri knocked out the plan. “Mr. Christian’s platform plank has no legal authority,” Munisteri declared, because the state GOP bylaws don’t allow party money to go for helping one Republican candidate over another.  Now Christian will have to look for new ways to weed out that dreaded species of moderate Rs. [Burkablog]

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