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Home | Tag Archives: Gov. Greg Abbott

Tag Archives: Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Abbott, Challenger Lupe Valdez Spar Over Arming Teachers, Harvey Recovery in Debate

Lupe Valdez, the Democratic nominee for governor, swung away at Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in their first and only debate Friday evening, while Abbott largely ignored her and defended his first term.

Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, hammered Abbott in response to nearly every question, accusing him of focusing on the wrong issues in his first term. Abbott often responded to the criticism obliquely and rarely mentioned his opponent.

There were nonetheless tense moments, such as when Valdez criticized Abbott for not calling a special session after Hurricane Harvey last year to tap the state’s savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund.

“He calls a special session for bathrooms but does not call a special session when people are dying,” Valdez said, alluding to the “bathroom bill” that was among Abbott’s agenda items for a special session last summer. “The Rainy Day Fund is the biggest savings account in the United States. Governor, it rained!”

Abbott explained in response that the governor “has the authority to spend state money without having to call a special session to tap the Rainy Day Fund. That money, he said, will be repaid from the fund when the legislature meets for its next session in 2019.

Abbott made news on several fronts, starting with providing his clearest position yet on the historically inaccurate Confederate plaque at the Capitol that has drawn calls for removal by many Democrats and some Republicans. He said it was installed by a vote of the Legislature and thus lawmakers have a responsibility to take it down.

“Should they take it down because of a factual inaccuracy?” Abbott said. “Absolutely.”

Valdez was more forceful about removing the plaque, saying, “We just need to take care of it and get it done.”

Abbott also made clear that he will not be prioritizing a “bathroom bill” next session similar to the one that drew a business backlash last year, saying it is “not on my agenda” for 2019. However, he declined to say whether he would sign such a proposal if it made it to his desk, saying he “won’t sign hypothetical bills.”

Finally, Abbott expressed openness to reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana — 2 ounces or less — from a class B misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor. “We agree on something,” Valdez subsequently declared.

Other moments showed stark differences between the two, particularly when it came to guns. Abbott reaffirmed his support for letting teachers be armed in the aftermath of the deadly shooting earlier this year at Santa Fe High School. Valdez, meanwhile, insisted “teachers should be teaching, not being armed and in defense.”

The two also split on red flag laws, which would allow courts to order the seizure or surrender of guns from people who are deemed an imminent threat by a judge. Abbott raised due process concerns about such legislation, while Valdez said she supports it and accused Abbott of having “confusion between gun ownership and gun violence.”

Valdez continued to confront Abbott when it came to immigration, particularly over the 2001 Texas DREAM Act, which gives in-state tuition to some undocumented immigrants. Valdez said she believes in a path to citizenship for young people brought to the country illegally as children — “and therefore we need to prepare them to be here and be educated.” Abbott called the law flawed and in need of fixing, claiming it has no way to ensure that recipients are working toward legal status while receiving tuition.

Valdez then charged Abbott with “blaming the students for a broken immigration system.” Given an opportunity to respond, the governor again declined to mix it up with her while emphasizing “our job first is to make sure we educate Texas students.”

Abbott did directly acknowledge Valdez at least once — after she expressed support for expanding Medicaid in Texas.

“She wants to make a deal with a federal government that’s $21 trillion in debt,” Abbott said. “She’s willing to write a blank check to the federal government that I will not write.”

“Lying again, lying again,” Valdez said as moderators moved on to the next question.

Abbott and Valdez do not have another debate planned between now and Election Day, when Libertarian Mark Tippetts is also on the ballot. Tippetts was not included in Friday’s debate and held a news conference before it to voice his objections.

The hourlong event was was hosted by the Nexstar Media Group and held at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.

Like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Abbott and Valdez had a back and forth over debates. Abbott made the first move in July, announcing he had accepted an invitation to the Nexstar debate. About a week later, Valdez said she was planning to participate in a separate debate that had been planned for Oct. 8 in Houston. But Abbott held firm on the Nexstar debate, and Valdez agreed to it last month while claiming victory in getting Telemundo on board as one of the sponsors.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott has 40-point Plan for Improving School Safety. Here’s What it Would Do

Gov. Greg Abbott’s suggestions for limiting mass shooting deaths in Texas include a bevy of changes to state law, a culture shift in how law enforcement officers patrol their communities, increases in mental health practices at schools and help for educators who want to improve their abilities to remove potentially dangerous students from classrooms.

Here’s what you need to know about the 40-page “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan” that Abbott released in Dallas on Wednesday.

Limiting who can buy and keep guns is part of the plan, though in narrow ways

While Abbott’s plan doesn’t call for any new state statutes that directly limit who can buy guns, it does aim to close some loopholes in laws that already bar some people from purchasing or owning firearms. And it does call for lawmakers to strengthen existing criminal penalties for some people whose guns are used to injure or kill people.

“I can assure you I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership,” Abbott said Wednesday.

The governor wants courts to report felony convictions, mental health adjudications and protective orders that can block people from buying guns within 48 hours instead of 30 days.

In Texas, parents can be criminally prosecuted if they don’t safely store loaded guns that end up being used in certain crimes by children who are 16 years old and younger. Abbott wants to include 17-year-olds in that law, remove the provision that only allows for prosecution if the guns were loaded when children accessed them and increase the criminal penalty from a Class A misdemeanor to a third degree felony. The plan also calls for requiring gun owners to report when their firearms are lost or stolen.

Other possible gun laws are identified, but not explicitly recommended

The plan mentions a potential “red flag” law that would allow judges to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous if there is legal due process. Abbott didn’t call for legislators to pass such a law — he instead wants to “encourage” lawmakers to “consider the merits” of adopting it. Outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus took him up on that late Wednesday and instructed a committee of the lower chamber to study such legal provisions.

“In the coming days, I will issue other interim charges designed to help prevent another school shooting,” Straus said in a prepared statement.

Abbott’s proposal also calls for encouraging voluntary use of gun locks. It mentions that Ohio requires dealers to also sell access prevention devices and that Maine requires dealers to demonstrate how to use trigger lock devices. The plan says “Texas could emulate these laws,” but does not list them as an explicit recommendation for lawmakers.

Campuses could see more cops and armed marshals

The safety action plan says that schools and local law enforcement agencies should work closer together to increase how often officers are at schools. That includes making campuses regular stops on officers’ patrols and giving them rooms inside schools to stop and file reports while on duty.

Abbott also wants to increase the number of school marshals legally allowed at each campus, streamline the 80-hour training course required to become a marshal and repeal the legal requirement that marshals safely store their firearms. And he’d like to see schools prioritize the hiring of retired police officers and military veterans as resource officers.

Gov. Greg Abbott says he may call lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session on school and gun safety -- but only if legislators reach consensus on what bills to pass first.
Gov. Greg Abbott says he may call lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session on school and gun safety — but only if legislators reach consensus on what bills to pass first.  John Jordan

There’s a high bar for a special session

A litany of the recommendations would require legislative action. But that may not begin until the next regular legislative session begins in January.

Abbott hasn’t ruled out calling a special session before then. But he attached a key caveat that didn’t apply to last year’s special session: Lawmakers must reach consensus on what bills they plan to pass before he’ll convene them in Austin.

“A special session is not a debating society,” he said Wednesday.

But some recommendations are already moving forward

Several school officials could spend the summer being trained in ways that Abbott hopes will prevent more deaths. The state is paying to train campus staffers who want to become school marshals. Educators and other school officials can also participate in free training for responding to active shooters, a workshop for emergency planning and courses on how to teach emergency incident response to others.

Two state agencies are also increasing the amount of mental health first aid training they provide this summer. And the Texas School Safety Center is partnering with SIGMA Threat Management Associates to train staffers on behavioral threat assessment, a technique used to identify potentially dangerous students and determine the best ways to intervene before they become violent.

The threshold for kicking kids out of class or school could get lower

A student at Bammel Middle School receives the talking piece and listens to her teacher give the prompt in the restorative circle on April 20, 2018.
A student at Bammel Middle School receives the talking piece and listens to her teacher give the prompt in the restorative circle on April 20, 2018.  Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune
Abbott wants teachers to have the power to immediately place students in alternative classrooms if they threaten violence. He also wants lawmakers to expand the criminal offenses that allow school officials to expel or put a student in disciplinary classrooms. Current felonies that can prompt removal from regular classrooms include murder, kidnapping, sexual offenses, assaults and aggravated robbery. Abbott wants that list to include stalking, cruelty to animals, any weapons-related felony and any organized crime offense.

But when students are placed in alternative classrooms, Abbott’s plan recommends that officials use what’s called restorative practices to identify underlying mental health issues that influence behavior.

Some Texas schools are already using similar practices, which encourage students and teachers to talk through problems and build stronger bonds to prevent conflict and violence.

Increased mental and behavioral health programs are also a major pillar

A key tenet of the proposal relies on expanding use of behavioral health programs and increasing the number of mental health professionals at schools.

Abbott wants his office and lawmakers to identify $20 million in state funds to begin expanding a mental health screening program operated through the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. One major change proposed would create two classes of school counselors — one that focuses on academic issues like college acceptance and one that concentrates on students’ mental health.

“This plan puts the state on a pathway to ensure healthier families, safer schools and safer communities,” Abbott said Wednesday.

Students’ behavior — and social media posts — could get closer scrutiny

The Texas Department of Public Safety next month will launch an app called “iWatch Texas,” which allows Texans to report suspicious behavior or criminal activity statewide. The safety plan recommends increasing awareness of the app among teachers and students.

“Using a single, statewide reporting system, as opposed to a school-specific system, ensures that tips from different parts of the community are all integrated linking critical data,” the plan says.

Reported information is then supposed to be disseminated to relevant law enforcement agencies.

“For example, a student may report strange behavior and statements made by another student,” the report says. “Later that day, a citizen reports that the same student was attempting to purchase ammunition at a sporting goods store and became belligerent when refused. The iWatch system would link these separate incidents, and all future reports involving this student on or off campus would be monitored by law enforcement.”

Abbott’s plan also suggests linking that data to a proposed increase in existing social media monitoring programs.

“Several recent perpetrators of mass shootings had left clues as to their potential homicidal or suicidal intent on publicly accessible social media sites in the months before committing their crimes,” the plan says.

Some funding is already available, but it’s not clear yet how much more is needed

The safety action plan doesn’t detail how much it would cost to implement all of the suggestions. Some may not come to fruition. The price tag for others may depend on how many school districts buy in to voluntary proposals.

The plan says the state already has access to $70 million for some of the recommendations and that the Texas Education Agency is working with school districts on how to prioritize $62.1 million in federal funds for several of the suggestions. State agencies are also seeking federal funding for mental health first aid training.

The plan notes that “additional funds” could be “offered by the Legislature.” But when the legislature convenes for the 2019 regular session, lawmakers will be about $7.9 billion short of what they need to fund current programs, services and policies, according to a recent report. And in Texas, lawmakers are already largely criticized for decreasing the amount of state spending per student in recent years.

Disclosure: Texas Tech University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Author –  BRANDON FORMBY – The Texas Tribune

Less Than 2 Weeks After Santa Fe Shooting, Gov. Abbott to Announce School Safety Plan

Gov. Greg Abbott will announce a plan Wednesday to make Texas schools safer in the wake of the deadly Santa Fe shooting, according to his office.

Abbott is set to unveil the set of proposals during two events, one in the morning in Dallas and the other in the afternoon in San Marcos. They come less than two weeks after the shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School, which left 10 people dead.

Abbott’s plan will follow three school safety roundtables he held last week at the Capitol, soliciting input from victims, parents, teachers, lawmakers, law enforcement officials and other experts. Abbott tweeted Friday night that he would “soon announce many substantive details that can be implemented before the next school year begins.”

Abbott’s proposals are expected to fall into two categories: those that can be implemented immediately and those that the Legislature will have to consider the next time it convenes.

Lawmakers are not due to return to Austin until January, though Abbott has not ruled out calling a special session to bring them back earlier.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Lupe Valdez Sees Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as President Donald Trump’s “Puppet”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lupe Valdez, fresh off securing her party’s nomination in a runoff a week ago, is wasting little time tying the Republican incumbent, Greg Abbott, to President Donald Trump.

“He’s basically a puppet for the president,” Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, said in an interview Sunday, arguing Abbott is “trying to find favor” with Trump, particularly on issues related to the border. “He’s just following in Trump’s footsteps, and we’re strongly gonna go against that.”

Abbott, who is seeking a second term, has generally aligned himself with Trump on border policy, most recently heeding the president’s call to send hundreds of new National Guard troops to the area. Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for Abbott’s re-election bid, including last month during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Dallas.

Still, Abbott has sought some distance from Trump in his re-election bid, particularly in his efforts to grow the 44 percent of the Hispanic vote he won in 2014. Last year, Abbott said he was confident Hispanic voters in Texas would see him and Trump as “completely independent” and warned Democrats that any money spent connecting him to Trump would be “like setting that money on fire and incinerating it.”

Like many Democrats, Valdez expressed deep skepticism that Abbott would get as large a share of the Hispanic vote in November, pointing to both Trump and arguably Abbott’s biggest legislative achievement in office: the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban, Senate Bill 4, which seeks to punish local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“Look, he made some very good comments when he was running for office, but look what he did when he was in office,” Valdez said when asked about Abbott’s Hispanic outreach, citing SB 4. Democrats, she added, need to “get that message out and tell the folks that he talks a good game, but when it comes to action, he doesn’t do it.”

Valdez made the comments in an interview Sunday, five days after she captured her party’s nod for governor in a closer-than-expected runoff against Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White. Before she even took the stage to accept the nomination, Abbott’s campaign released a video recounting how she said during the primary she would be open to raising taxes as governor but then backtracked on it the same day.

In the interview Sunday, Valdez did not rule out increasing taxes if elected.

“I don’t want to do anything that’ll hurt the working everyday Texan, and I’m certainly against” a state income tax, she said. Asked whether that meant she was specifically considering tax increases for wealthy Texans, she said she planned to review the tax code for loopholes and make sure everybody “pay their fair share.”

In addition to tying Abbott to Trump, Valdez was critical of the governor’s response to the Santa Fe High School shooting, which happened four days before the runoff and left 10 people dead. Abbott convened three school safety roundtables last week at the Capitol, and he tweeted Friday night he will “soon announce many substantive details that can be implemented before the next school year begins.”

“That’s good, but that’s not good enough,” Valdez said of Abbott’s roundtables, arguing the discussion should be much broader than school safety and include new gun regulations such as universal background checks.

Second Amendment rights have already flared up as an issue in the U.S. Senate race, where Republican incumbent Ted Cruz has pounced on Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke‘s support for an assault weapons ban to paint him as a too liberal for gun-loving Texas. In the interview, Valdez stopped short of voicing support for the same ban but criticized assault weapons as “weapons of war” — “Who are you trying to go to war against?” she asked rhetorically — and said they do not have a place in “regular, everyday sports activities.”

In the interview, Valdez did not express any concern about wooing Republicans in the general election, voicing confidence that the issues she is emphasizing — health care and public education, for example — “go across both parties.” Even Republicans “who voted for Abbott are still having to struggle like many of the Democrats,” Valdez added.

Valdez’s campaign included a few high-profile setbacks in the primary, and she was followed for weeks by the question of whether she would debate White, which they ultimately did 11 days before the runoff. As for whether she is willing to spar with her November opponent, Valdez said she is game.

“Sure,” she said. “I don’t have any problem with debates. I’ve said from the very beginning, I don’t have any problem with that. I’ll debate him anytime.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Vows to Challenge Lupe Valdez on Border Issues

KINGWOOD — Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday vowed to challenge Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez over her views on border security and immigration, emphasizing an early contrast with the former Dallas County sheriff who has not yet secured her party’s nomination.

Abbott’s comments drew a full-throated response from Valdez, who suggested the Republican incumbent “would rather spend his time sowing division than talking about his failed leadership.”

Abbott offered his most extensive comments on Valdez’s candidacy yet after a Tea Party meeting here Monday night, telling The Texas Tribune that he and she “have been locked in a battle for an aspect of Texas ideology” that goes back to their clash three years ago over her department’s policy on compliance with federal immigration authorities. Like he did in a tweet earlier this month — when he broke his silence on Valdez’s campaign — Abbott treated her as the Democratic nominee Monday, despite the fact she is in a May 22 runoff against Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White.

“It’s clear that she’s not only obviously the frontrunner and had the most votes in the initial go-around, but it’s our analysis that she’ll be the nominee,” Abbott said. “And so every time she comes out and starts talking about ways that are antagonistic to the Texas perspective on making sure that we ban sanctuary cities, secure our border, I’m going to challenge her on it.”

Valdez opposes the state’s ban on “sanctuary cities”  — known as Senate Bill 4, or SB 4 — that Abbott signed into law last year, looking to punish local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. She has also been critical of his decision to heed the call of President Donald Trump and send hundreds of National Guard troops to the border earlier this month — criticismthat prompted Abbott’s April 4 tweet declaring her his November opponent.

“I think she embodies the Obama approach, which is more open borders, obviously not enforcing the ban on sanctuary cities,” Abbott said Monday. “We went through a big legislative process to make sure that Texas would pass a ban on sanctuary cities. If Lupe is elected, she will eviscerate that ban on sanctuary cities, and all these concerns that so many Texans have will be threatened.”

Valdez fired back in a statement Tuesday morning, saying it’s “back to business as usual with Greg Abbott spewing his fear-based open borders nonsense.”

“I’ve spent 42 years working in law enforcement, working to keep Americans safe, I know what smart security looks like and this isn’t it,” Valdez said. “Demonizing immigrants, and spreading fear and hatred is exactly the wrong approach.”

As for the “sanctuary cities” law, Valdez added, “You can bet this military veteran, former federal agent and four-term Sheriff of Dallas County is going to eviscerate SB 4.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

 

Will Texas School Finance Panel tell Schools to do More with Less? Some Members Think it’s Predetermined

A state panel responsible for proposing improvements to Texas’ embattled public school finance system is facing criticism from an unexpected source: some of its own members, who say the panel’s hearings seem geared toward a predetermined outcome of making schools do more with their current funding.

Texas school districts have repeatedly sued the state over the past few decades, arguing it hasn’t provided enough money to ensure public school students an adequate education. During the 2017 session, lawmakers failed to make immediate changes to how the state allocates money to public schools — and instead agreed to create a 13-member commission to undertake a longer-term study.

That panel, which includes appointees from House Speaker Joe Straus, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and the State Board of Education, has held four hearings since it was assembled in January. Its next hearing is scheduled for Monday.

In those hearings, some commission members argue, presentations by experts have been skewed toward making the case that schools do not necessarily need more money to produce better outcomes for students.

“There’s a steady stream of presenters … trying to convince us that there’s enough money in the system and that adding more will not show results — that districts are essentially spending the money incorrectly,” said State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, one of four members appointed by Straus.

He said the commission has also heard from school leaders with innovative ideas, such as how to keep the best teachers at the most challenging schools and how to use full-day pre-K to get students at an academic baseline early in life.

“Those two things without question cannot be funded or sustained with the current funding levels we have,” Bernal said. “Even the districts that piloted it said they were about to run out of money.”

But the panel’s chair, Scott Brister, disagreed that the hearings were staged for any predetermined outcomes. He said the Texas Education Agency’s staff has worked to bring experts who can provide a framework for how school finance works and what an adequate education looks like.

“You’ve got to figure out what you would like the schools to look like before you figure out whether you need more money or less money or where that money’s going to come from,” said Brister, a former state Supreme Court justice. Appointed to the commission by Abbott, Brister was the sole justice to dissent in a 2005 lawsuit brought by school districts claiming the school finance system was inadequate and inefficient. The court ruled in favor of the districts and forced lawmakers to overhaul the funding system.

“I’m not interested in spending more money and getting no change. What’s the point of that?” Brister said this week. “The Constitution requires school districts to be free and efficient. … Surely it means you don’t waste money on stuff that doesn’t work and doesn’t make a difference. That’s one of our constitutional standards. We have to consider it.”

Over the past decade, the state has decreased its share of public education funding, allowing rising local property taxes to make up the difference. Currently, less than 40 percent of school funding comes from the state, while local property taxes pay for more than half. In 2011, lawmakers cut more than $5 billion from schools to close a budget deficit and never completely restored the money.

Texans will have their first, and potentially only, chance on Monday to publicly address the commission. Texas school leaders and public education advocates are expected to spend several hours, if not the whole day, testifying that they want the state to invest more money in public schools, instead of relying on local property tax revenue, and that they cannot educate students on the budget they have.

“Only after you get past that question [of adequate funding] do you get to talk about how to spend that funding,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators, who plans to testify Monday. Exter said he sees three different groups on the commission: one that wants to increase funding to public schools, another that believes public schools are important but that increasing funding isn’t feasible, and a third that wants to defund public schools.

“My argument is that you haven’t funded us enough to get better outcomes,” said Nicole Conley Johnson, a member of the commission and chief financial officer of Austin ISD.

According to the TEA, Austin’s school district is expected to pay the state $545 million this school year to help subsidize poorer school districts, through a function of the school finance system nicknamed “Robin Hood.” Austin ISD has the highest Robin Hood payment in the state and has gone through several rounds of budget cuts over the last few years.

Johnson, who was appointed to the commission by Straus, agreed that the commission hearings seem to be skewed toward efficiency: “They want more for the same amount of resources.”

During the inaugural commission hearing in January, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch showed members a chart of 2011 student state test scores for school districts mapped against the amount of money those districts spent.

“There is a pattern here, but the pattern is not based on how much money is available,” he said. “In fact, the school district that performs the best is the school district that gets $2,000 less per student than the average funding.”

He suggested the state look into why certain school districts do better with less funding, and why others do worse with more. “Scholars and education experts are divided on the extent to which there is a demonstrable correlation between educational expenditures and the quality of education. The thing that matters is student outcomes,” based on test scores or high school graduation rates, he said.

Johnson and fellow commission member Doug Killian, the superintendent of Pflugerville ISD, pushed back on Enoch’s chart, pointing out the data was outdated and not comprehensive.

Chandra Villanueva, policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the commission should be trying to ask what schools need to educate students, instead of asking what they can do with existing resources. “Let the Legislature decide if they want to raise taxes or shift other priorities in the budget,” she said. “I don’t think the [commission] should prematurely tie their hands.”

The commission will split into three subcommittees to brainstorm recommendations to the Legislature at the end of the year on where the state should get revenue to fund public schools, how it should overhaul existing formulas to allocate funding more equitably, and what it should expect its public school students to achieve. Each subcommittee will get to decide whether and how to include the public in its discussions, according to Brister.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican chairing the panel’s revenue subcommittee, said it’s too early to say what those recommendations will look like.

“We’ve been drinking from the fire hose on public policy. I haven’t had any discussions with anybody yet to step back and get out of the line of fire and see where we are now. For me personally, I’m still in listening mode,” he said.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Center for Public Policy Priorities have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

In Harvey Response, Gov. Greg Abbott Finds a Hospitable Spotlight

Just three weeks ago, Gov. Greg Abbott was making the rounds in the media, faulting state House Republican leaders for the failure of half his agenda in a summer special session and planting the seeds for a bruising 2018 primary season.

Then Harvey hit.

The hurricane, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25 near Corpus Christi, has cast a decisively new kind of spotlight on Abbott after a summer of political battles under the pink dome — that of Texas’ crisis-commander-in-chief. By all appearances, Abbott is embracing the role, using the trappings of his office to project the image of a governor in charge during a potentially unprecedented crisis — and winning positive reviews in the process.

That was on full display Thursday, when Abbott held a news conference at the state Capitol to unveil a the newly formed Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas. Abbott named John Sharp, the chancellor of Texas A&M University, to lead the commission, elevating a longtime moderate Democrat to effectively serve as Texas’ Harvey recovery czar.

Speaking with reporters after the news conference, Sharp said he was “minding my own business” when Abbott called him roughly a week ago to discuss the new job.

Did Sharp have any hesitation in accepting the job, a likely years-long commitment?

“I don’t think he asked,” Sharp said of Abbott.

That no-nonsense assertiveness is among the reasons Abbott has won plaudits for his leading role in the Harvey response. There was an early dustup with Houston officials over whether the city should evacuate, but since then, Abbott’s received generally high marks for being measured, engaged and visible. 

“Abbott has performed flawlessly in the wake of what appears to be the worst natural disaster in U.S. history,” said Ray Sullivan, a former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Rick Perry. “It really is not as easy as it looks. He struck the exact right balance of being very visible, very much in command, and someone offering comfort and support for the victims of the storm.” 

Officials who have worked with Abbott in Harvey’s aftermath have been particularly struck by how hands-on the governor has been. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican whose district was directly in Harvey’s path when it made landfall, recalled in an interview how she recently texted Abbott’s chief of staff and immediately got a call back — from the governor himself.

“He’s 24/7,” said Nim Kidd, Texas’ top emergency management official. “I like to think I’m a 24/7 guy. He’s up before I am, and I think he’s awake while I’m trying to get rest. He’s always present.”

Abbott’s been particularly visible at the State Operations Center, where he’s made near-daily appearances for briefings and news conferences since the storm struck. He even created a video offering words of encouragement to members of the night shift, which goes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Kidd said.

Abbott has also basked in praise from President Donald Trump, who has visited Texas twice since the storm struck — each time with Abbott by his side throughout the trip. Trump has taken to calling Abbott by his first name, and during the president’s trip to Houston on Saturday, he delivered a seemingly endless stream of compliments to Abbott.

“The cameras are blazing, I have to say it,” the optics-obsessed Trump said, addressing a crowd of volunteers at a Pearland church. “You have a great, great governor.”

Abbott’s time in the post-Harvey spotlight has not been without a few less flattering moments, though. His suggestion before the storm that Houstonians should consider evacuating riled some leaders there who had been urging residents to stay put. Abbott’s message “was a mistake, there’s no way around it,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a fellow Republican, said at the time.

Then there were the explosions at a Crosby chemical plant following the storm, which have renewed a debate over safety and transparency in Texas’ petrochemical industry. In 2014, when Abbott was attorney general, he ruled that the state no longer has to give citizens data about dangerous chemical locations — the same kind of information the company that operates the Crosby plant declined to provide after the explosions began.

Some Democrats have pounced on Abbott in the wake of the explosions for the 2014 ruling, which was a big issue in the governor’s race that year. “Harvey Cleanup Hampered by Abbott’s Chemical Negligence,” read one news release issued Thursday by the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political research group.

Democrats have yet to find a serious candidate to run next year against Abbott, who is sitting on a massive $41 million war chest. Before Harvey, Abbott had made clear he planned to devote some of his time in the 2018 election cycle to helping legislative incumbents who were supportive of his special session agenda, potentially getting involved in primaries.

In Abbott’s world, the Harvey response has been an all-hands-on-deck effort, putting on hold what was expected to be a transition to campaign mode after the special session that ended in mid-August. Staffers who were thought to be stepping away from the office are sticking around for the time being to see through the storm response.

Abbott’s has shown little tolerance for some of the more politically charged issues that have arisen in Harvey’s wake. Asked at a news conference last week if he was worried politics would get in the way of Congress passing Harvey aid, Abbott offered a two-word response: “I don’t.” And on Thursday, Abbott swatted away a question from a reporter asking him to square his vocal aversion to some local regulations — a major theme of the special session — with the storm response in Houston.

“I think it’s pretty clear that tree ordinances don’t have anything to do with what happened” with Harvey, Abbott said at the news conference with Sharp.

To many, the launch of Sharp’s commission Thursday morning marked the beginning of a second, much longer stage of the Harvey recovery. In a way, the new chapter provides bigger challenges for a governor, Sullivan and others agreed, pointing to undertaking of a longer-term aid package in Congress, the short- and middle-term impact on the Texas economy and the growing impatience of displaced citizens. There are also thorny questions of whether the state’s largest city should restrict or temper development in some areas to reduce future flooding events.

Also on the horizon is increased debate over what kind of financial assistance the state can provide. The Legislature is not scheduled to meet again until 2019. Abbott has said the storm will not require his calling a special session but some lawmakers have raised the possibility of doing so so in order to tap some of the roughly $10 billion in the state’s savings account, officially called the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund but better known as the Rainy Day Fund.

On Tuesday, Abbott expressed openness to dipping into the Rainy Day Fund — only once the state completes an assessment of the storm’s impact and what other funding sources can be used to address it.

“As it concerns needing to tap into the ESF, the right approach is for us to take in all the information that we need to gather, to find out what the needs are, what needs are not yet satisfied, to what extent does the governor’s disaster fund provide resources to cover that and if we’re short, then consider the necessity to tap into the ESF,” Abbott told reporters while visiting Wharton to meet with local official about the Harvey response. “But you don’t dip into it without knowing exactly what your needs are, so we need to first determine what your needs are.”

Officials like Kolhorst say they have faith in Abbott to make the right decision when the time comes.

“For now I think it’s a wise decision to realize what the impact is, what the federal government is going to and not going to pay for,” Kolkhorst said. As for any final decisions, she added, “I’m going to leave that up to him.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University and a former longtime Democratic elected official, to lead the rebuilding effort in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. [Full story]
  • In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, an exploding chemical plant has highlighted how little the public knows about potential dangers from the oil and chemical industries. Critics say one reason for the darkness: tons of campaign money. [Full story]
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Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Judge Temporarily Blocks Immigration Enforcement Law

A federal district judge on Wednesday ruled against the state of Texas and halted major provisions of a controversial state-based immigration enforcement law just days before it was scheduled to go into effect.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s key legislative priorities that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

As passed, SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Garcia halted the part of the bill that required jail officials to honor all detainers, and another that prohibits “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws.”

The detainer provision, he said, would violate the Fourth Amendment

Garcia did let stand one of the most controversial portions of the law — allowing police officers to question the immigration status of people they detain.

Because the inquiry into status isn’t a prolonged detention, he said, it wasn’t enjoined. But he explained that officers who make the inquiry are limited in what they can do with the information.

“If during a lawful detention or arrest an officer obtains information that a detained or arrested individual is undocumented he may not arrest the individual on this basis,” he said, adding that the officer is not required to ask the question. But he said if the officer feels like they should, they can only share the information.

“In sum, SB 4 gives local officers discretion to inquire and share information, but it does not provide them with discretion to act upon the information that they may obtain,” he wrote in a footnote to his 94-page ruling.

The bill was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, but opponents of the legislation, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued the bill violates several provisions of the Constitution. Garcia’s decision means the bill is on hold until that issue is decided or until the preliminary injunction is appealed.

His decision is a temporary but significant blow to Abbott and other Republican backers of the bill who said it would help keep Texans safe from undocumented immigrants that have been arrested on criminal charges but released from custody by sheriffs or other elected officials who refuse to hold the alleged criminals for possible deportation.

Abbott on Wednesday night promised an immediate appeal.

“Today’s decision makes Texas’ communities less safe,” he said in a statement. “Because of this ruling, gang members and dangerous criminals, like those who have been released by the Travis County Sheriff, will be set free to prey upon our communities. U.S. Supreme Court precedent for laws similar to Texas’ law are firmly on our side. This decision will be appealed immediately and I am confident Texas’ law will be found constitutional and ultimately be upheld.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton added: “Texas has the sovereign authority and responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. We’re confident SB 4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful.”

In his ruling, Garcia also noted the injunction would serve the public and cited the overwhelming opposition to the bill during public testimony at the Capitol.

“The public interest in protecting constitutional rights, maintaining trust in local law enforcement and avoiding the heavy burdens that SB4 imposes on local entities will be served by enjoining these portions of SB4,” he said.

In another footnote, Garcia said that placing the law on hold would also benefit the state due to the sheer number of subsequent lawsuits that would likely follow if the legislation stood.

“If SB4 is implemented the state will begin spending public funds to enforce SB4 against local entities that will also spend public funds to defend themselves,” he said. “Both state and local entities will also need to expend public funds to defend against spin off litigation.”

Opponents of the law cheered the injunction.

“The court was right to strike down virtually all of this patently unconstitutional law. Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe,” said Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “That’s why police chiefs and mayors themselves were among its harshest critics — they recognized it would harm, not help, their communities.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed the state of Texas’ lawsuit against Travis County and other defendants over the state’s new immigration enforcement law. [Full story]
  • Monday was the first day of what could be a lengthy legal battle over Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. [Full story]

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

State Senator Rodriguez Statement on Court Ruling that Blocks S.B. 4

Austin – Sen. José Rodríguez, Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, released the following statement regarding the preliminary injunction granted by the federal court in the Western District of Texas finding that provisions of S.B. 4 are preempted by federal law and unconstitutional:

Senate Bill 4, also referred to as the “show me your papers” bill, the racial profiling Bill, and the sanctuary cities bill, is a signal to law enforcement throughout Texas that it is okay to ignore the orders and policies of your local police chiefs and Sheriffs and profile folks by asking anyone they detain if they have immigration papers. 

This bill not only undermines public safety, it raises serious constitutional and legal questions that I and my colleagues brought up during the numerous debates leading to the enactment of S.B. 4. Thankfully, today a federal judge found that Texas violated the U.S. Constitution — the latest in a long line of legislation aimed at minorities — and enjoined all provisions of S.B. 4 from going into effect on Friday.

This is only the first step to stopping this harmful, immoral, and illegal legislation. Law enforcement, civil rights leaders, students, municipal and county leaders, and residents will continue the fight until all the harmful provisions are fully repealed.   

Texas Guardsmen Mobilize in Support of Hurricane Harvey

AUSTIN – At the request of Gov. Greg Abbott, through the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), approximately 700 members with the Texas Army and Air National Guards and Texas State Guard with the Texas Military Department have been activated and are pre-positioning throughout the state ahead of Hurricane Harvey and its anticipated landfall later this week.

“This is what we train for,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Hamilton, Commander of Domestic Operations Task Force. “And we’re proud to stand beside our civilian partners, first responders and volunteers to serve the citizens of Texas.”

The Texas Military Department will continue to work with TDEM to project additional personnel and equipment requirements as needed based on the impact of Hurricane Harvey and the needs of the state. Hurricane Harvey is the first hurricane to make a direct landfall on the Texas coast since 2008.

“This is Texans helping Texans – neighbors helping neighbors,” Hamilton said. “While we don’t want to have to put our training to the test during a tragedy, our citizen-guardsmen remain prepared to help save lives and property, when called.”

Currently, UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-72 Lakota air crews remain prepositioned and on standby in Austin and San Antonio to assist with any emergency search and rescue, swift water rescues and/or emergency evacuations.

In addition, multiple Texas Army National ground transportation teams have been activated to support local and state agencies with any request for swift water rescues, high water ground transportation and personnel evacuation needs. They remain prepositioned in Victoria and College Station with other locations expected as the storm track becomes clearer.

Members of the Texas State Guard are mobilized to provide any local shelter operations and Electronic Tracking Network assistance in the affected counties.

Additional personnel remain on standby to respond to impacted areas as needed.

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:

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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

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