Thursday , August 17 2017
Home | Tag Archives: Gov. Greg Abbott

Tag Archives: Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Abbott Slams House, Doesn’t Rule Out Second Special Session

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday put blame on the House — particularly Speaker Joe Straus — for the shortcomings of the special session and left the door open to calling another one.

“I’m disappointed that all 20 items that I put on the agenda did not receive the up-or-down vote that I wanted but more importantly that the constituents of these members deserved,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview. “They had plenty of time to consider all of these items, and the voters of the state of Texas deserved to know where their legislators stood on these issues.”

The comments came the morning after lawmakers closed out the special session without taking action on Abbott’s No. 1 issue, property tax reform. Abbott ended up seeing legislation get sent to his desk that addressed half his agenda. 

As the Senate prepared to adjourn Tuesday night, some senators said they wanted Abbott to call them back for another special session on property taxes. Asked about that possibility Wednesday, the governor said “all options are always on the table.”

“There is a deep divide between the House and Senate on these important issues,” Abbott said in the interview. “So I’m going to be making decisions later on about whether we call another special session, but in the meantime, what we must do is we need to all work to get more support for these priorities and to eliminate or try to dissolve the difference between the House and the Senate on these issues so we can get at a minimum an up-or-down vote on these issues or to pass it.”

In the interview, Abbott contrasted the House with the Senate, which moved quickly to pass all but two items on his agenda. The lower chamber started the special session by “dilly-dallying,” Abbott said, and focused on issues that had “nothing to do whatsoever” with his call. 

Asked if he assigned blame to Straus, a San Antonio Republican, Abbott replied, “Well, of course.”

Straus was very open in his opposition to at least one item on Abbott’s call: a “bathroom bill” that would regulate which restrooms transgender Texans can use. Its failure during the regular session was one of the reasons Abbott called an overtime round. Just as during the regular session, the House never took a vote on a “bathroom bill” during the special session.

“The speaker made very clear that he opposed this bill and he would never allow a vote to be taken on it,” Abbott said. “He told me that in the regular session. And he told me during the regular session that if this came up during the special session, he would not allow a vote on it, and there’s no evidence whatsoever that he’s going to change his mind on it, and that’s why elections matter.”

A Straus spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Texas Legislature closed out the special session Tuesday night amid a stalemate on property tax reform, leaving unfinished Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priority. [Full story]

ibility Wednesday, the governor said “all options are always on the table.”

 

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

With No Opposition in Sight, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Formally Launches 2018 Re-Election Bid

SAN ANTONIO — Warning that “liberals are trying to mess with Texas,” a confident Gov. Greg Abbott promised Friday he’ll fight to keep Texas in conservative hands if voters give him another four years in office.

“Every far-left liberal from George Soros to Nancy Pelosi are trying to undo the Texas brand of liberty and prosperity,” Abbott said, referring to the Democratic mega donor and U.S. House minority leader, respectively. “I have news for those liberals: Texas values are not up for grabs.”

Abbott’s wife Cecilia and daughter Audrey were at his side when Abbott made his re-election bid official at Sunset Station, the historic and beautifully restored train depot in the St. Paul Square District in downtown San Antonio. His daughter introduced the governor to the cheering audience, telling the crowd, “there truly is no place like Texas and no better person to lead it than my dad.”

When Abbott took the stage he quickly began ticking off a list of what he considered his top accomplishments, including a business tax cut, curbs on abortion, more road construction and what he called the “toughest border security law” in the country.

One of the biggest applause lines came when Abbott touted passage of Senate Bill 4, which supporters call a ban on so-called sanctuary cities and detractors describe as a “show me your papers” law because it allows police to inquire about immigration status during any lawful detention, including after a routine traffic stop.

“We finally have banned sanctuary cities,” Abbott said. “It is irresponsible and reckless to release known criminals back out on your streets.”

Lest his supporters get complacent, Abbott noted that Democrats — who haven’t won a statewide race since 1994 — made impressive gains in Harris County in the last presidential election and warned that “liberals think that they have found cracks in our armor.”

“I will not allow big government policies to lead Texas down the wrong path,” Abbott said. “I’m counting on you to have my back.”

Abbott never specifically referred to the special session of the Legislature that begins next week. The governor was forced to call lawmakers back following the end of the 140-day regular session to avoid a shutdown of the Texas Medical Board and a few other agencies that became hostages in a war between House and Senate leaders.

But Abbott, responding to a clamor from conservative activists, did refer to some of the other items he wants addressed — including changes to the property tax system and more curbs on abortion — during the special session. He didn’t talk about the “bathroom bill” that seeks to restrict which bathrooms transgender Texans can use.

But he was asked about it at an event earlier, and he told reporters he wanted the legislation — opposed by major business groups and top CEOs — because of a “tough legal issue” that pits local school policies against guidelines under Title IX, a federal statute that bans discrimination based on gender in schools.

“Obviously I’m pro-business,” Abbott said. “What we have to do is to find a way to make the law and the way that schools operate in the state of Texas consistent with Title IX. That’s one of our objectives during the special session.”

Friday’s kick-off event was held four years to the day after Abbott first threw his hat in the ring — just across the highway from the train depot at La Villita — in 2013. Abbott noted earlier Friday that he again chose his wife’s hometown of San Antonio — and the place where he got married — to ask voters for another four years in office.

Now, like then, he is the runaway favorite to win the state’s top elective office. Now, like then, he is sitting on top of a huge warchest that any rival would struggle to match. And today, just like in 2013, Abbott’s Republican Party is again favored to win every statewide elected office.

“Being as close as we are to the election, Abbott looks extraordinarily strong,” said Austin-based GOP consultant Ted Delisi. “There’s not even a rumor or a sniff of opposition. This is as good as it gets.”

A lot has changed, though, since Abbott took the reins from longtime Gov. Rick Perry four years ago.

The Democrats have been swept out of power in Washington, removing a convenient foil for Republicans. President Trump’s low approval ratings and scandal-prone White House, meanwhile, are creating headwinds for the GOP nationally. And at home, Texas Republicans are as divided as ever, with relatively moderate House members and their leaders battling more conservative Senate counterparts.

So if Abbott has anything to worry about on the political front at this point — and it’s not clear he does — it would be from within his own party as opposed to any candidate the bedraggled Texas Democrats have conjured up so far.

Though firebrand Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has steadfastly denied any interest in a race against Abbott, talk of a sudden reversal or last-minute betrayal has become something of a parlor game among Austin insiders and lobbyists.

Even if Patrick did take on the governor, though, University of Texas pollster Jim Henson said it would be a tough race for the lieutenant governor. Abbott has the highest approval ratings of any statewide officeholder and Henson said the governor’s numbers among conservative Republicans make him “nearly bulletproof.”

“Patrick is a pretty formidable politician,” Henson said, “but he does start with weaker job approval ratings and less name recognition than the governor does. And he would have to change Republican primary voters’ minds about Greg Abbott.”

Despite the challenges GOP candidates confront nationwide, Abbott has even less to fear from Democrats. With less than five months before the deadline to file for a spot on the primary ballot, no serious Democratic contender has emerged yet in the governor’s race.

Former Democratic state Rep. Allen Vaught of Dallas is looking hard at a statewide run — but not for governor. Instead, he’s thinking about running for lieutenant governor, even though the Democrats already have a serious if little known contender in Houston businessman Mike Collier running for that spot. He said Patrick is a softer target than Abbott.

“I don’t think anybody is unbeatable, but I think Patrick is more vulnerable than Abbott from a common sense point of view,” Vaught said.

Former Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio has also been mentioned as a potential Abbott challenger. This week Martinez Fischer told the Texas Tribune he’s “not ruling it out” and has been “talking with party leaders and progressive donors” about a possible run. But it hasn’t moved beyond those conversations into anything concrete.

Fischer did lay out a possible attack line: he said Abbott was “exposed” on the economy, noting that in the land of the “Texas Miracle” the state’s unemployment rate is now above the national average and Texas is slipping in the rankings as the best place to do business.

Abbott is already working to take the sting out of any criticism of economic slippage in Texas. About an hour and a half before his campaign announcement, Abbott toured the San Antonio headquarters of aircraft maker Boeing — which recently announced it was locating its new global services division in Plano — to tout the “growing connection between Boeing and the state of Texas.”

During a brief exchange with reporters, Abbott was asked about a CNBC study of the top states in which to do business. For the first time since the cable network began ranking states, Texas fell out of the top two, and instead placed fourth. Abbott blamed a fall in oil prices but said he’s working to keep the economy diversified.

“Listen, oil got cut in half and Texas is still an energy state and whenever oil prices get cut in half it’s going to be impact our economy,” Abbott said. “The reason why I’m here (at Boeing) is because this is an example of my efforts to ensure that we are expanding jobs in areas that have nothing whatsoever to do with energy so that when oil prices do take the tumble in the future we won’t suffer this type of setback.”

Andy Duehren contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • So far, Texas Democrats have three statewide candidates that party leaders see as serious. A candidate for governor isn’t one of them. [link]
  • Emails to Gov. Abbott reveal how the governor’s recent vetoes ruffled the feathers of those who didn’t know they were coming. [link]
  • Organizations representing hundreds of Texas cities and school boards unsuccessfully urged Gov. Greg Abbott to veto a bill aimed at restricting drone use around the state. [link]

Author:  JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: A Governor (Belatedly) Setting the Legislature’s Agenda

Gov. Greg Abbott is doing in advance of the special session what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did at the beginning of the regular session: laying out a bunch of priorities, setting the agenda.

Better late than never.

The governor is fiddling with something interesting here — using a special session as a way to focus an unfocused Legislature, to force them to work on his issues instead of issues of their own, to sidestep some of the parliamentary landmines that scramble the minds of all but a few of the Capitol’s wizards, to get things done.

Abbott started with a rule of his own, telling the Senate to pass the legislation that forced him to call a special session in the first place — a “sunset” bill that will extend the lives of a handful of government departments that would otherwise die, including the doctor-licensing Texas Medical Board. Once the Senate has temporarily mended its hostage-taking ways, the governor has promised to add 19 issues to the agenda, including lavatory legislation and property tax caps, that were the primary reasons for the Senate’s obstinacy.

The session hasn’t started yet — it hasn’t officially been called. But Abbott, after suffering the frustrations of the first six months of 2017, finally has the wheel.

Special sessions and their governor-driven agendas are nothing new, but it’s interesting to watch in the hands of a relatively new governor. Abbott took office in January 2015; this is the first special session he’s ever called.

He said at the outset what the issues would be. Now he’s trickling them out again, one at a time, naming the bill authors, picking his favorites and giving them each a moment in the gubernatorial spotlight.

There’s some stagecraft at work here, too. Lawmakers can always file bills that aren’t on the governor’s agenda for a special session. They’re not eligible for consideration, but filing is a way to shine attention on something and to try to get the governor to add it later. But lawmakers can’t file any bills until the official proclamation of a special session is released. Abbott hasn’t released that and is using the time available to bring a little more attention to the things he wants done.

He got a bellyful of lawmaker filings earlier this year. He’s going from a legislative session where more than 6,000 bills were filed and considered and passed or killed in 140 days, with or without his input, consent, guidance or knowledge, to a 30-day special session with an agenda entirely in his hands. Quite the luxury.

For a guy who’s been trying to extend the control of his office, this could be addictive. Two years ago, he got his fingers deeper into the budget than his predecessors, successfully (for now) challenging a limit on what is and is not within a governor’s veto power when it comes to state spending. Line-item vetos are allowed in Texas, but Abbott reached into “riders” — descriptive texts directing agencies on just how to spend the money appropriated in the budget. Before Abbott, those parts of the budget were considered out of reach.

Abbott is lately picking the pockets of cities and counties, joining with the Legislature to weed out local ordinances he doesn’t like in favor of overarching state laws. During this year’s regular session, ride-hailing regulations approved by voters in Austin and by elected city councils elsewhere in Texas were run down. Texting-while-driving laws, a regular feature in local statutes, are new to state law; one of Abbott’s special-session items would strike those local ordinances now that the state has stepped in. The property tax restrictions so dear to Abbott and the Senate (and to at least 77 percent of the state’s voters, by the way, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll) would require local governments to ask voters before raising taxes more than a small amount.

It’s safe to say local officials across the state are unhappy with the state’s ambitions.

And now the governor is getting his first taste of really and truly bossing the Legislature around. It’s a turn from regular sessions, where his handful of “emergency items” gets no more attention than the legislative package of any relatively powerful legislator. Abbott was successful with most of his pets earlier this year (his call for ethics reform got only a muted reply), but compare that to Patrick, who listed 30 items and put at least two dozen in the bank.

Now it’s Abbott’s turn: He’ll be in for the usual surprises when the session starts and the legislative animals chew up the furniture and tear up the lawn, but the lead-up has been going well. The governor looks like he’s in charge, for perhaps the first time this year.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas lawmakers will return to Austin in a month to take another swing at more than a dozen issues they couldn’t resolve during the regular legislative session. So what has changed? [link]
  • The state’s top leaders couldn’t close a session-ending deal over the final weekend, giving advocates of bathroom and property tax legislation — if the governor allows it — another chance. [link]
  • A review of Gov. Greg Abbott’s schedule during May provides a glimpse into the final stretch of the legislative session, where the governor tried in vain to bring together lawmakers to avoid a special session. [link]

 

Author: ROSS RAMEY – The Texas Tribune

Texas Governor Signs $217 Billion Budget, Vetoes $120 Million

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s two-year budget Monday, giving his approval to the $217 billion document crafted by the Legislature.

But the governor did cut about $120 million from various programs through a mechanism known as a line-item veto — including measures meant to improve the region’s air quality and assist the colonias, impoverished areas on the Texas-Mexico border.

The budget, the product of a compromise agreed to by state lawmakers last month, “addresses the most pressing challenges faced by our state,” Abbott said in a prepared statement.

“This budget funds a life-saving overhaul of Child Protection Services, continues to fund the state’s role in securing our border, and ensures that the workforce of today and tomorrow have the resources they need to keep Texas’ economy growing and thriving,” Abbott said.

Abbott vetoed about $860,000 for an initiative to help Texans living in colonias, impoverished areas on the Texas-Mexico border. He said the state budget already included other sources of funding for Texans living in colonias.

Environmental programs suffered some of the heftiest cuts.

For example, Abbott cut about $87 million for the state’s Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, saying it had done little to improve air quality in Texas. That program helps low-income Texans in some urban counties get funding to help repair or replace their cars if they fail emissions tests.

Abbott compared it to the Cash for Clunkers program, established under former President Barack Obama, which he called an “ill-conceived and dubious” program.

“That’s disappointing,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club. “He’s actually taking the money away that [Texans] paid for a specific purpose and not allowing it to go to that purpose.”

Abbott also cut $6 million for air quality planning at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The governor said he opposed the program because it would pay for bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness campaigns and other environmental items that “can be funded at the local government level.”

About $2 million intended for a study on brackish groundwater was also defunded.

Other items vetoed by the governor include $150,000 for a Legislative Law Clinic at the University of Texas, funding for state education employees who study dual-credit programs and about $4.7 million for “safety education” at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Abbott’s veto of the environmental programs was made possible by a nonbinding opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that expanded the governor’s veto authority. The opinion held that Abbott could defund budget riders — directives to state agencies that are included in the budget but do not actually make any appropriations. The debate over Abbott’s veto power was a point of contention after the 2015 legislative session.

Kiah Collier contributed to this report.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Abbott Pushes Back Announcement on Special Session

Gov. Greg Abbott‘s announcement on whether he will call a special session is not expected to happen before next week.

On Monday, Abbott said he would share his verdict “later this week.” On Friday, his office said he would not make the announcement Friday or over the weekend.

Abbott is facing pressure to bring lawmakers back to Austin to deal with unresolved debates over property taxes and a “bathroom bill” that would regulate which restroom transgender Texans can use. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been pushing for a special session to address those issues.

Asked Wednesday morning about a special session, Abbott said he was waiting for the budget to be certified and wanted to go through more bills on his desk. Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Thursday evening he had certified the budget.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Texas Legislature Sends $217 Billion Budget to Gov. Abbott

Both chambers of the Texas Legislature voted Saturday evening to approve a $217 billion, two-year budget that would boost funding for the state’s beleaguered child welfare agency, increase the number of state troopers on the Texas-Mexico border and avoid serious reforms to the state’s much-criticized school finance system.

The final vote in the House was 135-14. The vote in the Senate was 30-1.

Scrounging for cash in a tight-fisted legislative session, budget leaders from both chambers agreed to a compromise that settled a bitter debate over how to finance the state budget. The two-year budget is shored up by both $1 billion taken from the state’s savings account, often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund, and an accounting trick that would use nearly $2 billion from a pot of funding intended for highway projects. The House had favored tapping the Rainy Day Fund and leaving the transportation funding alone. The Senate had taken the opposite position.

“The budget today is a product of what is a true compromise” between the Texas House and Senate, said state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, the lower chamber’s lead budget writer. The two legislative chambers originally unveiled budgets that were nearly $8 billion apart.

Across the Capitol, Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, laid out the budget compromise to the upper chamber at the same time.

“This budget is smart. This budget is compassionate. It makes huge advances in several of our priority areas,” Nelson said.

Added Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, after the vote, “The budget has settled where the Senate wanted it to settle.”

The compromise proposal was skimpier than the original budget draft that the House voted out in April. In the House, the final version won the approval of Tea Party Republicans who had originally opposed the House version, while losing the support of almost one-third of the chamber’s Democrats.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, was the lone no vote in the upper chamber.

“This budget is more of the same and fails Texas families,” Garcia said in a statement. “There’s no new money for pre-k, there’s continued spending on more border militarization, and it continues to shortchange education and healthcare.”

The budget includes funding to cover growing enrollment at public schools, but it reduces state funding for schools by about $1.1 billion. That funding is offset primarily by growth in local property taxes.

Zerwas said state officials anticipated there would be a shortfall of around $1 billion that lawmakers will need to address when they return to the Capitol for the next regular session in 2019. The budget does not fully fund expected cost growth in certain programs, most notably Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Lawmakers set aside more than $500 million in additional funds for the state’s child welfare system, which has lately faced a shortage of foster homes and front-line Child Protective Services workers. In addition, lawmakers used funding from the Rainy Day Fund to make repairs to various state buildings including mental hospitals, state-supported living centers for people with disabilities, and the historic Alamo.

State lawmakers had less money at their discretion this year in crafting the next two-year budget. By cutting taxes in 2015, the Legislature reduced state revenue available to them for this session by about $4 billion. Lawmakers also dedicated nearly $5 billion that year to highways — a move that voters later approved in a statewide election — which left fewer dollars for priorities like health care and education.

In addition, a moderately sluggish economy slowed revenue growth, leaving the state’s coffers emptier than state officials had projected.

“We started with a sizable shortfall, but we are ending this session with a balanced budget that invests in some very important priorities,” House Speaker Joe Straus said in a prepared statement. “We’re keeping overall spending low while improving child protection and mental health care.”

One point of contention that riled House Democrats was the budget’s treatment of pre-Kindergarten funding. Lawmakers directed $236 million to go to a “high-quality” program for youngsters, but state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, criticized that proposal because it would divert existing school funds, rather than adding new ones. Johnson said he worried that Texas was asking school districts to raise their standards for pre-Kindergarten programs, “but we’re not giving them the resources to do it.” Johnson voted against the budget.

Another debate in the House revolved around a state-funded health care program for children with disabilities. The two-year budget would slightly boost payments to speech, physical and occupational therapists treating needy children in the state’s Medicaid program, but that would amount to a restoration of only about one-quarter of the funding cut by the Legislature two years ago. The House wanted more funding for therapy services, but the Senate opposed spending any more, Zerwas said.

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said he had hoped for more funding to pay therapy providers.

“I appreciate the 25 percent rate therapy increase but I’m not sure how far that will go,” Menendez said. “I’m concerned we have providers leaving and I’m not sure we have the full picture of why they’re leaving.”

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who led health and human services negotiations on the budget, said a provision of the budget will require state officials to track how many therapy providers are available to Medicaid enrollees, “to make sure we’re not dropping he ball on any lingering or growing concerns.”

On higher education funding, a topic that sparked controversy early in the legislative session, budget writers mostly avoided a major overhaul of university funding that the Senate had championed. The upper chamber had pushed for the elimination of a budgeting tactic known as “special items,” through which universities and colleges get dollars for specific projects allocated outside the standard funding formulas. The House opposed the elimination, saying it was too drastic of a move to take without further study.

In the end, the chamber’s budget negotiators decided to study the issue instead of making immediate changes. Though the preservation of “special item” funding will come as a relief to university officials, many schools will still feel some pinch in overall state funds.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar must certify that there is enough revenue available to cover the appropriations in the budget before Gov. Greg Abbott can sign it.

Author:  EDGAR WALTERS –  The Texas Tribune

Texas Lawmakers Pass Bill Making Attacks on Police, Judges a Hate Crime

Legislation that would make attacking police officers and judges a hate crime cleared the Texas Senate on Tuesday. Now the measure heads to Gov. Greg Abbott‘s desk.

Under House Bill 2908, making a terroristic threat that puts a police officer or judge in fear of imminent bodily injury would be a state jail felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.

Unlawfully restraining or assaulting a police officer or judge would be a second-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Any crime against either group that results in serious bodily injury would be a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison.

The legislation is an answer to two recent attacks: the 2016 ambush that left six Dallas police officers dead and many more injured, and the 2015 attack on state District Judge Julie Kocurek outside her Austin home. Kocurek survived the attack. (A separate bill focusing on court security cleared both chambers this week.)

Since those tragedies, state lawmakers have prioritized bills supporting police and judges. Abbott, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and other officials have called for enhanced penalties for attacking law enforcement.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said when pushing for such legislation.

In Texas, hate crimes are offenses committed with a bias or prejudice against someone’s “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference,” according to state law.

If it gets Abbott’s sign-off, as expected, the bill will take effect Sept. 1.

Read more:

  • Greg Abbott says targeted killing of police officers should be a hate crime in Texas.
  • Days after five police officers were killed by a lone gunman in downtown Dallas, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation that would make killing a police officer a federal crime.

Author:  JOHNATHAN SILVER – The Texas Tribune

Abbott, Patrick: More Work Needed as Special Session Threat Looms

THE WOODLANDS — With just over a week left in the legislative session — and the threat of a special session looming — Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Sunday said lawmakers still have more work to do.

Abbott was optimistic when asked if legislators will avoid an overtime round, saying things are “looking great,” especially after his office was up past midnight working through issues. But he also said “today will be a key day” — both chambers are convening later today — and suggested the property tax measure the House passed Saturday was not strong enough.

“As you know, I want to see the rate rollback part of property taxes achieved,” Abbott told The Texas Tribune after a bill-signing event here at a church. “And so we still have more work to do on property taxes. The session is not yet over.”

Abbott appeared to be referring to a proposal that would require local governments that want to raise property taxes by 5 percent or more to get voter approval. That proposal, Senate Bill 2, has stalled in the House, which passed a property tax measure Saturday that did not include the rollback provision.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott took turns preaching before signing Senate Bill 24 into law  at Grace Church in The Woodlands on May 21, 2017.  The legislation shields pastors' sermons from government subpoena power. (Photo by Michael Stravato)
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott took turns preaching before signing Senate Bill 24 into law at Grace Church in The Woodlands on May 21, 2017. The legislation shields pastors’ sermons from government subpoena power. (Photo by Michael Stravato)

Patrick has said he is prepared to go to a special session if the House does not act on the property tax issue and some version of a so-called “bathroom bill,” which would restrict transgender people from accessing restrooms in some public places that do not match their gender identity. Abbott, who has the power to call a special session, has said the two items are priorities in the home stretch, but has not gone as far as threatening a special session over them.

As he left the bill-signing ceremony, Patrick declined to comment when asked whether he was happy with the House’s property tax measure, saying he was not discussing issues at this time.

Asked about the possibility of a special session, Patrick held firm, saying: “I want to see bathrooms. I want to see a bathroom bill.”

“I’m willing to stay as long and until the place we’re staying in … freezes over, until we get that bill” passed, Patrick said during the bill-signing ceremony, with Abbott seated behind him.

Abbott’s remarks on property taxes were cheered by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who authored SB 2. The bill is on a tight timeline to make it to the House floor ahead of a critical Tuesday deadline.

“Without Senate Bill 2 as passed by the Senate being considered by the full House, there will be no property tax relief coming out of the 85th Regular Session,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “The governor said we still have more work to do on property taxes. I concur with that!”

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

McCaul, Castro and O’Rourke Give Cornyn’s Senate Seat a Look

WASHINGTON — At least three members of the U.S. House are mulling a run for a possible U.S. Senate vacancy, should President Donald Trump appoint U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as the new FBI director.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican, is one of those hopefuls for the would-be vacancy, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

“McCaul has put himself in a good position to be toward the top of the list of people who might succeed Sen. Cornyn,” a source close to McCaul told The Texas Tribune. “He’s built statewide name recognition and a political effort that could be quickly turned on for a statewide campaign for Senate.” 

There was a similar readout on the Democratic side.

“If there’s a special election called, Joaquin would strongly consider that,” a source close to Castro told the Tribune of a would-be Senate vacancy.

“He’s already running for Senate, and … if an election came up for a Texas [U.S.] Senate [seat] before that, he would undoubtedly look at it,” a source close to O’Rourke told the Tribune. “There’s no question he would take a look at it.”

O’Rourke is currently running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, as the junior senator aims for a second term in 2018. The O’Rourke source did not elaborate on what these deliberations might mean for the 2018 race.

The Senate vacancy is a serious possibility: Cornyn met with his former Senate colleague, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Saturday afternoon at the Department of Justice headquarters to interview for the job, according to news reports.

Should Cornyn leave the Senate, Gov. Greg Abbott would appoint a placeholder, and then the state would hold a special election several months later.

The political calculations for Castro and McCaul — both men of stature within their party caucuses who’ve mulled Senate runs in the past — are a little different. A special election would allow each man a free pass — a chance to run without vacating their House seats.

McCaul considered running for the Senate in 2012, and again last year in what would have been a primary challenge to Cruz. McCaul is chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, and he could be on deck for the gavel at the House Foreign Affairs Committee once he is term-limited out of his current leadership role.

Castro recently passed on a challenge to Cruz after a lengthy deliberation process.

In his previous deliberations, Castro had to weigh leaving behind his climbing rank within the U.S. House — he’s a deputy whip within his caucus, and he is racking up seniority as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

But more than anything, Castro in recent months has become a high-profile party spokesman on the investigation into the 2016 Russian cyberattacks on the U.S., thanks to his assignment on the House Intelligence Committee.

The positioning in the GOP field is highly volatile and involves a different calculation.

In the event of a vacancy, it is assumed Abbott would appoint a Republican, which could — or could not — clear the nomination field for the special election. Senate hopefuls are both gaming out who might be his pick, and whether that person would be a weak enough primary candidate to challenge in a special election.

Since Friday morning, political insiders across the state have weighed the different scenarios and contenders. But actual Republican contenders are fairly quiet — for the time being.

A key consideration for many GOP contenders is the 2012 Senate race. A number of high-profile Republicans passed on running for retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison‘s Senate seat, out of a fear of then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — only to see the once-unknown Ted Cruz take the nomination.

This could be a second chance for ambitious GOP politicians eyeing the Senate. And the same circumstances as Castro would also apply to Republicans: They can run in this special election without risking their current seats in the congressional delegation or in state government.

Despite the Democratic interest, this is still a likely hold for the Republicans. No Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994.

All the speculating aside, there are no assurances this race will come to pass: Cornyn is one of around a dozen serious contenders for the FBI post.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • U.S. Sen. John Cornyn could be the next FBI director, a White House official says. Cornyn is one of about 11 contenders for the post, according to a news report.
  • U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has decided not to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON –  The Texas Tribune

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Signs “Sanctuary Cities” Bill into Law

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a ban on “sanctuary cities” into law on Sunday, putting the final touch on legislation that would also allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

“Texas has now banned sanctuary cities in the Lone Star State,” Abbott said in a brief video address on Facebook. Abbott signed the bill without advance notice in a five-minute live broadcast on the social media site, avoiding protests a customary public signing might have drawn.

“We’re going to where most people are getting their news nowadays and talking directly to them instead of speaking through a filter,” said John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott.

Senate Bill 4 makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to Class A misdemeanor charges if they don’t cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates who are subject to deportation. It also provides civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and climb to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction. The bill also applies to public colleges.

The final version of the bill included a controversial House amendment that allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment — perhaps including traffic stops — as opposed to being limited to a lawful arrest. It has drawn fierce opposition from Democrats and immigrants rights groups, who are already gearing up for a legal battle against the law.

Abbott defended the legality of the law Sunday, saying key parts of it have “already been tested at the United States Supreme Court and approved there.”

That could soon come to a test. Sunday night’s signing prompted a fast and negative reaction from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, which referred to the new Texas law as “a colossal blunder” and promised to fight it, “in court and out.”

The proposal was one of Abbott’s priorities; he listed it as one of four emergency items at the start of the legislative session and it is the first of the four to reach his desk.

He had said it was especially needed after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced earlier this year that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Moments before signing the bill, Abbott also invoked the case of Kate Steinle, a California woman who was killed in a 2015 shooting by a Mexican man who had been previously deported multiples times.

“Kate’s death was more than a murder — it was gross negligence by government policy,” Abbott said. “Texas will not be complicit in endangering our citizens the way Kate Steinle was endangered.”

Read related coverage:

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

In State of State, Abbott Imposes Hiring Freeze, Declares 4 Issues “Emergencies”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday asked lawmakers to immediately take on so-called “sanctuary cities,” the state’s broken child welfare system and a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday laid out a largely expected agenda for the 85th legislative session while declaring four issues as emergencies for lawmakers to take up immediately: banning so-called “sanctuary cities,” overhauling the state’s broken child welfare system, implementing ethics reform and approving a resolution to support a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution.

In his State of the State address, Abbott said Texas remained “exceptional” and expressed optimism the state’s economy would bounce back from an oil downtown. At the top of his priority list for lawmakers was the child welfare system, which a federal judge declared broken in 2015 and lawmakers have since been scrambling to overhaul.

“If you do nothing else this session, cast a vote to save the life of a child,” Abbott told lawmakers in a joint session of the Texas House and Senate.

Beyond emergency items, Abbott announced Tuesday he was directing state agencies to impose a hiring freeze as a way of dealing with the state’s tight budget. He said the move would free up about $200 million in the current budget.

Abbott had sharp words for lawmakers on the pre-K program that he championed last session. He said he was “absolutely perplexed” by the insufficient attention given to it by the budget proposals both chambers unveiled earlier this month.

“If you’re going to do this,” Abbott told lawmakers, “do it right or don’t do it at all.”

Abbott did not mention what could end up being the most controversial legislation of the session: the so-called “bathroom bill” being pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The legislation would restrict people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their “biological sex,” and Abbott has taken a largely neutral stance on it so far.

Abbott earned perhaps the loudest applause when he said this session will be the one lawmakers ban sanctuary cities, or places where local officials do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Abbott has been locked in a standoff with Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez over the issue, though he did not mention her in the speech.

On ethics reform, Abbott applauded lawmakers for crafting legislation this session that avoids “the pitfalls that led to the demise” of it in 2015. Ethics reform was also among his emergency items that year.

And on the convention of states, Abbott made clear the election of President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, does not change the need to repair the Constitution.

“It must be fixed by the people themselves,” Abbott said.

Beyond his four emergency items, Abbott touched on a litany of issues that have already sparked spirited debate under the pink dome. Among them is education, an issue where the two chambers have prioritized different approaches.

“Both the House and the Senate are right to tackle the vexing issue of school finance now rather than putting it off,” Abbott said, while also nodding to a Patrick priority that has gotten a chilly reception in the House. “Let’s make Texas the 31st” state that offers school choice, Abbott added, pitching a program that would let parents use public money to send their children to private schools.

Abbott repeatedly acknowledged that lawmakers have less money to work with this session than they did in 2015. Yet he expressed little concern about the squeeze’s ultimate effect, especially with his new hiring freeze in effect.

“I am confident we are going to be able to balance the budget without looting the Rainy Day Fund,” Abbott said, referring to the state’s politically touchy savings account. Largely fed by taxes on oil and gas development, the fund is the fund is projected to have a balance of $11.9 billion at the end of the next two-year budget if lawmakers don’t tap it this session. Some House leaders have suggested using the fund this session to address some key funding concerns.

Despite the tight fiscal picture, Abbott continued to push for tax relief, emphasizing his desire to see further cuts to the business franchise tax. Ideally, Abbott said, the tax will be trimmed “until we can fit it in a coffin.”

Read more: 

Author: Patrick Svitek –  The Texas Tribune

Video+Story: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Calls for House, Senate Vote on School Choice this Session

At a “National School Choice Week” rally Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott urged the Legislature to take a vote on school choice legislation this session.

Addressing a crowd of cheering supporters on the Texas Capitol’s south steps, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared Tuesday that he wanted both the House and Senate to take a vote on his upcoming private school choice bill.

“We want a vote up or down in the Senate and in the House this session on school choice. It’s easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it,” Patrick said at the “National School Choice Week” rally, which drew thousands of students and family members from charter schools and private schools. Gov. Greg Abbott also spoke at the rally, saying he wants a chance to sign school choice legislation into law this year.

“Who else needs a choice? The governor of Texas needs a choice,” he said to the crowd wearing bright yellow scarves, a signature accessory of the school choice event.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice on January 24, 2017. LAURA SKELDING FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice on January 24, 2017. LAURA SKELDING FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

Patrick is expected to file a bill advocating for education savings accounts, which allow parents to use taxpayer money for private and parochial school tuition, as well as other education costs. The education savings accounts are expanded versions of school vouchers, which use public money to pay for tuition costs.

In the 2015 session, the Senate voted through Patrick’s private school choice bill. But the legislation did not get a vote in the House.

“I know Lt. Gov. Patrick and legislative leaders from both the House and the Senate have been working on a school choice law,” Abbott said. “I hope and I urge that that law reach my desk. And when it does, I will make the choice to sign it and authorize school choice in the state of Texas.”

School choice advocates are also backing another option this session. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, filed bills creating a $100 million tax credit scholarship pilot program, allowing corporations to contribute to nonprofits that award students with scholarships to private schools. In return, corporations get an insurance premium tax credit from their state tax bill. 

Critics argue that education savings accounts have the same effect as vouchers, and would siphon much-needed funds from the state public education system.

“State leaders seem committed to force our neighborhood public schools to do more with less for the sake of private school vouchers,” said Kathy Miller, president of state education board watchdog Texas Freedom Network. “Vouchers, by any name, are a scheme that strips critical funds from public schools and gives a discount to individuals who can already afford private school, and all at taxpayer expense and with zero accountability.”

Patrick has not filed his bill yet, leading to confusion about which families would actually be eligible for education savings accounts.

Some members of the crowd showed up to rally for or against their idea of what the bill would contain.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. |  Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. | Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Shawna Williams and Anne Wylie are parents of students at River City Christian School, a non-denomination San Antonio Christian school that serves students with disabilities. They are supporters of education savings accounts — because they want to be able to use state money to fund their children’s school tuition.

“I’m here because I want to spend our taxpayer money on tuition,” said Williams, the mother of a fifth-grader at River City.

Wylie said her daughter’s public school ignored her learning disability and pushed her through the school system. “I have to pay a lot of money” in taxes, she said. “I want to be able to use a voucher or a tax credit scholarship” for tuition.

But Williams and Wylie are likely not to be eligible for education savings accounts and other voucher-like options. Last year’s private school choice bill only allowed parents to transfer their children from public schools to private or parochial schools. Private school choice advocates say Patrick’s bill this session is likely to say the same.

A contingent of homeschooling parents dressed in red formed a counter-rally near the front of the steps Tuesday, scared that a private school choice bill would put restrictions on parents who educate their kids at home.

Karla Jahangit headed to the Capitol on Tuesday morning from Hutto, north of Round Rock, to hold a sign that read, “ESAs hurt homeschool choice.” She homeschools four kids between the ages of 3 and 15.

She worries that a bill for education savings accounts, in giving public money to parents who want to homeschool, will also institute guidelines for curricula and testing for those parents. “We already have school choice, and we don’t want to lose our choices,” she said.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

EPW SUMMER SAFETY 728X90