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Home | Tag Archives: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Tag Archives: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says Senate won’t pass bill to lower penalties for marijuana

Less than 24 hours after the Texas House gave preliminary approval to a bill reducing the criminal penalties for Texans found to possess small amounts of marijuana, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared the measure dead in the Senate.

House Bill 63 by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would lower possession of 1 ounce or less from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, which is the same classification as a traffic ticket. Those found to possess 2 ounces or less or marijuana but more than 1 ounce would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor — punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, jail time or both.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, never gave Moody’s companion bill in the Senate a public hearing and previously told The Texas Observer he didn’t see an appetite for marijuana reform in the upper chamber.

In a tweet Tuesday, Patrick confirmed that to be the case.

“Criminal Justice Chair @Whitmire_John is right that #HB 63 is dead in the @TexasSenate,” Patrick tweeted Tuesday morning. “I join with those House Republicans who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”

Patrick has spoken against bills to relax the state’s marijuana laws in the past. In a previous statement to The Texas Tribune, his spokesperson Alejandro Garcia said the lieutenant governor is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

To make his bill more palatable to Gov. Greg Abbott — who previously opened the door to reducing the penalty for low-level possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor — Moody on Monday introduced a watered-down version of his original bill.

As originally proposed by Moody, HB 63 would have replaced the criminal penalties for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana and replaced it with a civil fine of up to $250. Only those fined more than three times would face misdemeanor criminal charges.

On the House floor Tuesday, just after the lower chamber gave final approval to his bill in a 103-42 vote, Moody said that Patrick was “the odd man out” and that “the ball is in his court.”

“Whatever you think about Colorado-style legalization, this isn’t it. It isn’t even a step toward it,” Moody told his colleagues on the House floor. “Mr. Patrick has been tweeting about this bill instead of giving us the courtesy of talking to us here in the House. … Let’s vote this across the hall so they can get to work on the House’s priorities, and so we can see how those priorities are respected as we consider Senate bills over here over the next few weeks.”

Despite Patrick’s comment, some advocates for marijuana reform said they still hoped to push the bill forward.

“Working through the legislative process means overcoming objection that some folks may have and working with them to find common ground,” said Heather Fazio, the director for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “That’s exactly what we did in the House yesterday and what the vote yesterday demonstrates … and we intend to bring that spirit to the Texas Senate.”

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Author: ALEX SAMUELSThe Texas Tribune

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, other top leaders, propose raising the sales tax to provide property tax relief

Texas’ top three political leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — threw their support Wednesday behind a proposal to increase the sales tax by one percentage point in order to lower property taxes across the state.

But that’s only if lawmakers agree to limit future local property tax increases.

The proposal would raise the state’s sales tax from 6.25% to 7.25%, generating billions of additional dollars annually for property tax relief, if voters approve a constitutional amendment. But the idea will be a hard sell to Democrats, since the sales tax is considered regressive, meaning lower-income Texans end up paying a larger percentage of their paychecks than higher-income Texans.

“Today we are introducing a sales tax proposal to buy down property tax rates for all Texas homeowners and businesses, once Senate Bill 2 or House Bill 2 is agreed to and passed by both Chambers. If the one-cent increase in the sales tax passes, it will result in billions of dollars in revenue to help drive down property taxes in the short and long term,” said a joint statement from the three Republicans.

Neither chamber has passed HB 2 or SB 2, which would require voter approval of property tax increases over 2.5%.

The House Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to take public testimony on the House’s sales tax swap proposal this week but delayed hearing the bills. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who authored House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621, is considering changing the legislation to use a fraction of the additional money generated by the sales tax for public schools — in order to get more Democrats on board.

The bills are intended to provide another revenue source to help significantly cut down local school property taxes, which make up more than half of the local property taxes levied in Texas.

If the Legislature approves the resolution, the constitutional amendment would go to voters to approve in November, and if voters sign on the tax rate change would apply in January 2020.

The idea is picking up solid but not unanimous support from conservatives. The Texas House Freedom Caucus, the hardline conservative faction of the House, said in a statement that it would back the idea if all the additional money went to property tax cuts, and if lawmakers also approve a 2.5% revenue cap on school districts. The caucus also wants to make sure the Legislature passes a bill requiring other local taxing units to get voter approval for property tax increases above 2.5%.

“There has to be a firm lid on local property taxes — including schools — that keeps the growth of property taxes from washing out the benefit you get over time,” said Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, a member of the caucus.

Since the tax swap would require a constitutional amendment on the upcoming November ballot, Huberty would need to convince 100 members — two-thirds of the lower chamber — to vote in favor of the resolution on the House floor. If all 83 Republicans vote yes, he’d also need 17 Democrats. Some Democratic opposition quickly emerged Wednesday.

“It’s a dangerous idea, one that increases taxes on working families to disproportionately provide tax cuts for corporations and the rich over everyday homeowners,” said state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, a member of the House Democratic Caucus.

Romero suggested Republicans instead back a bill he filed to double the exemption homeowners are entitled to on their home values for school taxes, from $25,000 to $50,000, which would give an average yearly tax cut of about $325.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, has filed Senate Joint Resolution 76 and Senate Bill 2441, which would also use an increase in the sales tax to lower school district tax rates. The Senate would need 21 votes to pass the resolution.

Raising sales taxes for public education appears deeply unpopular among voters, with 74% of Texans in a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll reporting that the state Legislature should not consider increasing sales taxes to boost public education money. In fact, increasing the sales tax was slightly more unpopular than creating a state income tax, which 71% gave a thumbs down in the poll.

Arya Sundaram contributed reporting.

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Author: ALIYYA SWABYThe Texas Tribune

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.


With major policy differences emerging, state leaders continue to project unity

The three Republicans who lead Texas state government have made it clear: They know what the state’s top problems are and they’re working together to fix them now, during the brief window they get every two years. But resolutions on those consensus issues have — predictably — proved harder to settle on.

As the 140-day session marks its halfway point this week, must-do reforms to the state’s property tax and school finance systems remain only partially baked. A property tax bill originally filed with identical language in both chambers remains in purgatory, with approval from the Senate’s property tax committee but without a vote from the full body; in the House, it’s yet to advance past the panel.

And the chambers are perhaps further apart on the second priority issue, school finance. The House is charging ahead on its version, but an as-yet unfinished Senate proposal takes a different tack.

But even with the different approaches the Texas Senate and House have adopted on those two issues — and despite the pace that’s causing some at the Capitol to worry about getting it all done in time — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, along with Gov. Greg Abbott, appear determined to keep the negotiations civil, at least in public. In the Legislature’s recent past, personal feuds stymied policy priorities; this year, even with public displays of cooperation, the challenges remain steep.

Of course, for some seasoned political observers, the current dynamic at the Capitol is to be expected — even when lawmakers agree on the focus, the devil is always in the details. Still, others wonder: In a session billed as one big campfire sing-along, what’s taking so long?

“Even though it sounds like we’re halfway through, it just kind of shifts into a second gear,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican shepherding property tax reforms through the upper chamber. “The halfway point really isn’t the halfway point. It’s really when things start picking up.”

The chambers have hardly stalled. A House committee is expected to vote on its budget proposal Monday. That budget bill, House Bill 1, could then hit the floor of the lower chamber by the end of March — the earliest House members have debated the only piece of legislation that’s constitutionally required to pass in several years. The Senate, meanwhile, has already unanimously passed its supplemental budget, which would put roughly $6 billion toward leftover state expenses, such as Hurricane Harvey recovery, and work continues on its own budget proposal.

Still, the pace is notably more sluggish than the most recent legislative session, particularly in the Senate. By March 1, 2017, the upper chamber had passed all four of the governor’s legislative priorities — along with a controversial anti-“sanctuary cities” bill that would prove among the most divisive measures of the legislative year. This year, that same milestone came and went without even a public unveiling of the lieutenant governor’s priority bills. Those were announced a week later, in a Friday evening press release that included a host of priorities Patrick has made little mention of in recent months.

Patrick has said the upper chamber’s slower start this year is by design — a chance for new leadership in the House to keep pace — but skeptics wonder if some of his priority measures simply don’t have the support to move.

“We moved very fast in the Senate the last two sessions, pushing a lot of strong conservative legislation to the House because the former speaker had a different view on things,” Patrick told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty last month. “Now, it’s not as important. … It’s more important that we try to work together. The House will lead on some issues; we’ll lead on some issues. It’s a different pace.”

Still, with that cooperation ongoing, inter-chamber policy differences continue to dog Republican leaders, particularly on school finance — an issue that state leaders have long been promising to fix. After proposed overhauls ended in stalemate during the 2017 legislative sessions, a group of legislators appointed by Abbott, Patrick and former House Speaker Joe Straus spent months studying ways to improve the system as part of a school finance commission.

That panel — including House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood — released more than 30 recommendations aimed at addressing deep flaws in the state’s public education system. Now, the chambers have unveiled proposals that are at odds in significant ways.

Surrounded by dozens of his House colleagues, Huberty unveiled earlier this month a roughly 200-page bill that would put $9 billion toward public schools and property tax relief. Days later, amid a Friday evening filing deadline, his Senate counterpart, Taylor, filed an incomplete version of his own bill. Unlike the House proposal, the Senate bill would institute some type of outcomes-based funding for school districts, paying them more based on how well third graders perform academically. The House has proposed compressing property tax rates by 4 cents, meaning lower bills for homeowners; such a proposal doesn’t appear in the Senate version, at least in its current form.

Beyond that, the Senate’s school finance proposal is difficult to scrutinize, as it’s not finished. Bettencourt said he and Taylor are still working on the meat of the proposal, a pitch for how to overhaul school district property taxes, which constitute a significant chunk of homeowners’ property tax bills. Until that takes shape, the tax chairman added, he’s not whipping the Senate floor for a vote on the property tax bill he filed in January.

Perhaps the most notable break between the chambers is over teacher pay. All three state leaders have made clear that it’s a priority, but their approaches have differed: While Patrick has pushed heavily for a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise — that measure passed the Senate unanimously — Bonnen has suggested that he would prefer to let school districts decide how to best use their education dollars. Those differences sharpened earlier this month, when the House unveiled its school finance bill that instead proposed tackling the issue by raising minimum salaries for educators and increasing health and pension benefits, among other things.

Asked about the Senate’s teacher raise proposal, Bonnen said, “I don’t know how you call a $5,000, across-the-board teacher pay raise” a “plan.”

“What we have is a plan,” Bonnen continued. “I think teachers are some of the smartest people in Texas, and they are going to figure out that the Texas House has a winning plan for the teachers and students in Texas.”

Through a spokesperson, Patrick acknowledged at the time that the two chambers “have taken different approaches” on the issue but emphasized that both remain focused on property tax and school finance reform.

Last session, such stark policy differences might have devolved into inter-chamber finger pointing. The 85th Legislature was defined by a showdown between Patrick and Straus, the former House speaker who Patrick blasted as uncooperative and insufficiently conservative. Amid a policy stalemate, Patrick ended the legislative year by slamming Straus in the most insulting Texas terms.

“Thank goodness Travis didn’t have the speaker at the Alamo,” Patrick said. “He might have been the first one over the wall.”

But this year, with a new speaker who those on the right and left are still hesitant to criticize, leaders have taken care to give off the impression that negotiations remain on the rails. At least publicly, the “Big Three” have maintained the unified front that kicked off the session with joint press conferences hailed as historic.

Bonnen, in an effort to keep negotiations running smoothly, told his top House lieutenants at a weekly lunch meeting last Monday to avoid publicly disparaging the upper chamber over differences on school finance. Bonnen’s message during that meeting, according to several people who heard the speaker’s comments, was clear: Let’s not poke the bear in the Senate.

Patrick, meanwhile, told conservative activists in North Texas later that day that his “number one goal this session” is to ensure Bonnen is re-elected as speaker in 2021.

“I love it,” Bonnen told Hasty, the Lubbock radio host, in February. “We will disagree at some point, but we’re not going to get on your radio show … and talk about those disagreements.”

In a separate interview with Hasty, Patrick had made much the same point: “If we disagree, we’re gonna disagree without being disagreeable,” he said.

But even if everyone’s playing nice, the thorny issues that have stymied lawmakers in sessions past aren’t getting easier to resolve. And the pressure is only mounting as they near the finish line — the official end, or “sine die,” to the session on May 27.

The pace beneath the Capitol dome has some insiders quietly questioning whether the 140-day session will be long enough, or whether the governor might need to call lawmakers back to Austin after May for additional work. For their part, state leaders remain confident the issues will be addressed this legislative year — no matter how long it takes.

“They have to be passed. If they have to be passed in a special [session], they have to be passed in a special,” Bettencourt said. “I’m optimistic that we won’t have to do that. But I also told my landlord I need the place.”


Texas Lawmakers Punt on Setting a Spending Cap for 2019 Session

Some of the state’s political leaders, including House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, took the unusual step Friday afternoon of declining to set the state’s spending cap after calling a meeting to do just that.

Straus and Patrick met Friday meeting in their role as part of the 10-member Legislative Budget Board, a group whose responsibilities include setting a limit each session for how large the next two-year budget can be based on projections of Texans’ personal income growth.

Typically, the board of state lawmakers sets the spending cap late in November before an upcoming legislative session. Friday’s meeting was scheduled with that action in mind. But Straus, who is retiring in January, said the board would instead vote on a spending cap at an unspecified later date, saying there was no reason to rush into a decision that lawmakers might come to “regret.”

Straus told reporters he wanted to give the next speaker more time to consider his options, noting that the board had similarly postponed a spending cap decision in 2006. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who has drawn the support of most of the state House to become the next speaker, was also at the meeting as another member of the Legislative Budget Board, but did not comment on Straus’ decision.

The Texas Constitution requires that certain spending in the budget can’t grow faster than the state’s economy, but doesn’t specify how to measure that growth. State lawmakers have long used projections of personal income growth as a proxy. The 10-member budget board fielded growth estimates from the Comptroller’s office and four other financial forecasters, all of whom projected a growth rate for the state between 8 and 11 percent.

The spending cap only covers nondedicated revenue, those parts of the budget that are funded by taxes but are not required by law to go to specific programs. While the legislature can vote to break the cap, it’s a politically dicey move that lawmakers have worked to avoid in recent years.

In 2016, facing a sluggish economy, the budget board adopted a spending cap of 8 percent, limiting the state’s spending covered under the cap at about $100 billion. But actual state spending for that budget cycle, which is ongoing through most of next year, is expected to be well below that amount. Lawmakers will pass a supplemental budget when they meet in 2019, to plug leftover holes in state spending in the current budget cycle and to address additional costs from Hurricane Harvey.

Tom Currah, the chief revenue estimator for the Texas Comptroller, told the board that the state’s unemployment rate of 3.7 percent was “the lowest it’s been” and that lawmakers should “expect continued economic growth.” In January, the comptroller will issue an estimate for how much tax revenue the state expects to collect over the next budget cycle.

Author: EDGAR WALTERS – The Texas Tribune

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

Lt. Gov. Patrick Asks Senate Panel to Study Free Speech on Texas College Campuses

A little more than two weeks after a conservative state lawmaker had his speech at Texas Southern University disrupted by protestors and canceled, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked members of the state Senate to spend the coming months studying whether students’ free-speech rights were being infringed at state universities.

Patrick’s mandate, announced Tuesday, was included in a list of subjects he wants the Senate committees to study before lawmakers reconvene in 2019. Other issues on his list include gun rights, religious liberty and human trafficking awareness.

The campus free-speech issue has been assigned to the State Affairs Committee, not the one that normally handles higher education issues. Patrick instructed the committee to “recommend policy changes that protect First Amendment rights and enhance the free speech environment on campus.”

Free-speech issues have been a hot topic among conservatives in recent months after numerous conservative speakers have had their talks disrupted on campuses across the country. A talk by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, was protested and eventually canceled this month. University officials said they halted the talk because it was an “unapproved event.” Soon after, Cain asked Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to include free speech on campus on their lists of things to study.

The State Affairs Committee often handles controversial issues that come before the Legislature. This year, it was the committee that heard a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use. That bill passed the Senate but died in the House. The issue was not included on the list of things to study before next session.

Patrick also announced a special committee to “review voting security protocols as well as the responsibilities and duties of members of the Electoral College.” He indicated that he hopes to see recommendations that would ensure the confidentiality and security of voting records, and ensure the will of the people is reflected through their ballot and carried out through their presidential electors.”

Patrick’s announcement was the second wave of “interim charges” he wants the Senate to take up. On Monday, he asked them to study funding for the Alamoand to study the “the integrity of our state’s workforce.” And he previously instructed the Senate to take on a number of issues related to Hurricane Harvey.

He said in a news release that Tuesday’s list was the final one.

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

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Baylor University’s accreditation appears to be safe after a special committee investigating the school found that it was in compliance on a number of key issues. [Full story]
  • At the urging of Gov. Rick Perry, Texas A&M University-Commerce developed an online degree program that can be completed for less than $10,000. So why doesn’t it want its freshmen to sign up? [Full story]
  • After campus officials at Texas Southern University halted his planned speech Monday, state Rep. Briscoe Cain said later that evening that he would be “very open to revisiting the issue” of returning to campus to speak. [Full story]

Author:  MATTHEW WATKINS – The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Proposes Millions for Teacher Bonuses and Retirement

With less than a week before the start of a special session of the Texas Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid out a proposal Thursday to give teachers bonuses and increase their retirement benefits, with plans to pay for both long-term using money from the Texas lottery.

Patrick called a press conference to roll out his own priorities for the next 30 days and tear down the House’s plan for revamping a faulty school funding system as a “Ponzi scheme.”

Patrick’s plan, in part, would provide $600 to $1,000 bonuses to long-term and retired teachers, inject $200 million into the Teacher Retirement System, give $150 million to struggling small, rural districts, and provide $60 million for new facilities for fast-growth school districts and charter schools.

Over the next two years, Patrick said, $700 million to pay for the plan would come from a deferral of funds to managed care organizations. Over the long-term, $700 million would be directly allocated from the Texas Lottery if voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution to ensure that transfer of funds continues indefinitely.

Patrick called on school districts to reprioritize 5 percent of their funds over the next four years to increase teacher salaries. Districts, he said, “have to be better about how they spend the money. They have to put more focus on teachers.”

Mark Wiggins, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said most schools don’t have the financial wiggle room to reallocate funding without additional money from the state. “We haven’t seen any of these proposals. That’s why it’s tough to say where our members would come out on them,” he said.

The House passed a bill during the regular session that would have put $1.5 billion into public schools, in part by deferring a payment to schools to 2019. Patrick Thursday called that budget trick a “dangerous political stunt” and a “Ponzi scheme.”

The Senate tacked a “private school choice” provision to the House’s school finance reform package, effectively killing both issues in the regular session, since House members oppose public subsidies for private schools.

House Speaker Joe Straus and top House education leaders have appeared before education groups in the last month, chastising the Senate for not approving key reforms to the school finance system and refusing to change their positions on controversial issues such as “private school choice.”

Gov. Greg Abbott announced a 20-item agenda for the a special session beginning on July 18, including several education issues that the House and Senate clashed over during the regular session. Patrick stressed Thursday that he supported all 20 items, while pitching a multi-layered plan beyond the governor’s agenda.

Soon after Patrick’s press conference, Abbott praised the lieutenant governor’s efforts.

“My office has been working with lawmakers in both the Senate and House these past six weeks, and if these items do not get passed, it will be for lack of will, not for lack of time,” Abbott said.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Rep. Dan Huberty, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he plans to file a bill during the special session to reform school finance — and to continue to reject “private school choice.” [link]
  • Speaking to hundreds of educators ahead of a special session packed with education bills, House Speaker Joe Straus chastised the Senate for underfunding school finance reform. [link]
  • Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor on Wednesday afternoon said that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House on a proposed school finance overhaul. “That deal is dead,” he said. [link]

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – 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

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

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Fires Back at Critics of “Bathroom Bill”

Patrick continued to fire back Wednesday at criticism of the so-called “bathroom bill” he has championed, saying its opponents are concentrated in the media.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continued to fire back Wednesday at criticism of the so-called “bathroom bill” he has championed, saying its opponents are concentrated in the media and denying that Texas could experience the same economic — and political — fallout North Carolina did when it passed similar legislation.

“Every report of North Carolina shows that they have the second-strongest economy in the country or the second-best place to do business, the second best-place where executives want to move their companies to,” Patrick said in an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. “It’s having no effect.”

Texas business leaders are warning such legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and over 100,000 jobs. But Patrick and his allies have challenged those figures, saying they are based on flawed data, and pushed forward with Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.”

Patrick also said Wednesday he was not worried about a political backlash to the Texas bill, which he unveiled Thursday with state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. He disputed the idea that North Carolina’s bathroom bill recently led to the defeat of its governor, Pat McCrory, saying it was Lt. Gov. Dan Forest who championed the bill in the state’s legislature, while McCrory “sat on the sidelines until the very end.”

“If anyone should’ve lost an election, it was Dan Forest,” Patrick said. “He got more votes than anyone on the ticket.”

Patrick complained vigorously about media coverage of Senate Bill 6, saying it overlooks polls that show broad support for the cause. The only people who oppose the bill in the surveys, Patrick insisted, are “Anglo liberals, and many of them work in the media.”

The bill is expected to face an uphill battle in the Legislature, where House Speaker Joe Straus has said the issue is not the “most urgent concern of mine.” Patrick declined to say Wednesday whether he believes there is even enough support for the legislation in the chamber he oversees.

“We will find out when we bring it to the floor,” Patrick said, adding he is “always confident” but has not counted the votes yet in the Senate.

He said the proposal is about public safety.

“Does anyone in here who has grandchildren, have a granddaughter who’s 8 or 9, want them to walk into a bathroom with a man?” Patrick asked the downtown Austin audience.

In addition to criticism for opponents of the bathroom bill, Patrick also had strong words for foes of the state’s A-F grading system for public schools and districts. Education leaders have fought the new system, which released its first marks earlier this month, saying it relies too much on state test performance.

“Anyone who thinks in the education community that … that system is going away — not going away,” Patrick said. “If we can grade our students — if their futures are impacted like that — our schools should be under the same grades.”

“Now does the system need some tweaking? It may,” Patrick said later Wednesday during a speech at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank.

Addressing more recent news in the Tribune interview, Patrick acknowledged lawmakers are facing a tighter fiscal picture than they did last session, especially following the dour revenue estimate Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivered Monday. Asked if the state could still afford additional tax relief, Patrick struck a somewhat less enthusiastic tone about the prospect than he has in recent weeks.

“Well, like I said before, some things are pretty obvious,” Patrick said. “You don’t have as much money to work with this session. You have to meet the needs of our constituents and the people of Texas, and we will address that issue as we go along. We have a long way to go.”

Yet Patrick chafed at the suggestion that he was backing down from his longtime ambition of phasing out one unpopular tax, the business franchise tax. “My point is that our goal is to chip away at it each session, and how much we can chip away at that depends on the revenues we have,” said Patrick, who has listed reducing the franchise tax as a priority this session.

Another Patrick priority is private school choice, or using taxpayer dollars to subsidize parents who choose to send their children to private or parochial schools or to educate them at home. On Wednesday, Patrick reiterated his belief that implementing a school choice program is “linked together” with efforts to improve the state’s public school finance system but stopped short of suggesting he would insist lawmakers not tackle one without addressing the other.

“I don’t hold hostages,” Patrick told Smith. “It’s not the way I operate.”

At the TPPF conference, Patrick vowed to fight for school choice as long as it takes, invoking previous battles he has waged under the pink dome.

“Like the sonogram bill, like the 19-vote rule,” Patrick said, “I’m not going away.”

Read more: 

  • Texas Republicans unveiled Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.”
  • Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs, according to a Texas Association of Business report.
  • The 10 most populous districts in the state received more Ds than As in the new A-F rating system, according to a preliminary report out to educators Friday. By comparison, the 10 biggest charters saw more As and a smattering of Fs.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK –  The Texas Tribune

With Bathroom Bill, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick plows into “tough fight”

While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called a so-called bathroom bill a legislative priority, the issue has largely cooled off on the national stage and opposition to similar legislation in Texas had begun to gain momentum.

Eight months ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stormed the Texas GOP convention in Dallas as a man on a mission.

He had recently picked a fight with Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner over his approval of bathroom guidelines for transgender students, and in a twist of perfect political timing, President Barack Obama had just issued a similar guidance to all public schools in the middle of the convention. Shortly after the convention, Attorney General Ken Paxton punctuated Patrick’s drum-beating with a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the directive.

“He says he’s going to withhold funding if schools do not follow the policy,” Patrick said at the convention. “Well, in Texas, he can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not be blackmailed by the president of the United States.”

Standing in front of reporters Thursday, Patrick was still a man on the mission, but the political moment had shifted. In the months prior, a Texas judge had blocked the Obama guidance and the bathroom issue had largely cooled off on the national stage — even contributing to the re-election loss of North Carolina’s governor, by some accounts — and opposition to similar legislation in Texas had begun to gain momentum.

Patrick is now in for a self-admitted “tough fight” in the Texas Legislature, where he faces fierce opposition from the business community and lukewarm support from fellow Republicans, at least outside his Senate.

That reality did not immediately change Thursday, when he joined state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to roll out the highly anticipated Texas Privacy Act, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The bill would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Patrick ally and a fellow Houston Republican who chairs the Texas Senate GOP caucus, acknowledged Thursday that it is “going to take some time to talk to the business community, make sure they understand what that bill is” — especially after alarm-sounding by business groups that Patrick allies have criticized as unfounded.

“The beginning of that was obviously” Thursday, Bettencourt said. “Once people can understand what the bill is, certainly the fear of [economic harm] will obviously disappear because it wasn’t real in the first place.” 

Patrick was characteristically combative at Thursday’s news conference, saying he had never seen so much misinformation about a piece of legislation before it was filed. He singled out one recent report that suggested he had struggled to find a senator to carry the bill, revealing that he and Kolkhorst had been working on it since Sept. 1. Kolkhorst, for her part, said some of her staff did not even know she was taking up the cause.

The bill’s supporters are betting big that public opinion will overpower whatever resistance they encounter at the Capitol. Their reference point is polling that Patrick’s political operation commissioned last year, which it says shows there is broad support for making it “illegal for a man to enter a women’s restroom.” They also point to the 2015 demise of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, better known as HERO, which featured much of the same message Patrick is now using with the statewide legislation.

“I think what you will see is when it comes to the legislative process, let’s look at where the people are,” said Nicole Hudgens, a policy analyst for Texas Values, a socially conservative group allied with Patrick. “There are so many Texans that are for this policy and this legislation, and I think that’s going to be reflected in the Legislature.” 

Patrick and Kolkhorst launched the effort without any clear support from Gov. Greg Abbott, who involved himself in the HERO debate but has been less vocal about the need for statewide legislation. Speaking with reporters last month, Abbott said the issue was worthy of attention but he was waiting for more information on the bill. Abbott’s office was quiet after Patrick and Kolkhorst unveiled the legislation Thursday.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has been even cooler toward Patrick’s push, calling a so-called “bathroom bill” not the “most urgent concern of mine.” That has fueled the perception that the bill is dead on arrival in the lower chamber, which in general has been less receptive to Patrick’s signature proposals than the Senate.

Bettencourt expressed hope that Senate Bill 6 would get a fair hearing in the House. He said the two chambers are “actually much further along at having substantive discussions” before the forthcoming session compared to the last one, which began with a major leadership turnover stemming from the 2014 statewide elections. 

“I think it’s all premature to say what that discussion is going to be because I don’t believe the bill is what it is being portrayed as,” Bettencourt said when asked about the House’s receptiveness to Senate Bill 6. “And once that is obvious, there may be a different reaction.”

In the House, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, has been outspoken on the issue. On Thursday, he said he was crafting legislation that would only “prevent any local government from regulating bathrooms,” which would be similar to one component of Senate Bill 6. By solely focusing on local governments, the House bill would avoid the more incendiary debates sparked by a potential statewide mandate, Shaheen suggested. 

“This bathroom issue is just sucking up a bunch of time and resources,” Shaheen said. “I think because my approach is more of a scope-of-government-type of discussion — I avoid the whole bathroom dialogue in general — I think there’ll be a receptiveness to the bill.” 

In any case, the business community has spent months looking to derail any bill related to the issue, warning it could lead to the same turmoil that visited North Carolina when its lawmakers pushed similar legislation. The Texas Association of Business and its allies have been the most vocal, touting a report the group released last month that said such legislation could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. 

Caroline Joiner, executive director for the Texas and the Southeast for TechNet, a technology industry group opposed to the bill, said one of its challenges is convincing “individual legislators and their constituents that this is not hypothetical — we will have real, devastating economic impacts.” And while Joiner, like many others, expects the issue to be better received in the Senate than in the House, she said TechNet has an interest in educating lawmakers from both chambers about the potential economic consequences. 

“I think we absolutely need to be telling that story as aggressively in the House as we are in the Senate,” Joiner said. “Yes, it’s going to be less of a priority for Speaker Straus, but we want to make sure he has the support from his members to oppose it.”

For Democrats, the debate provides an opportunity to capitalize on the growing schism between the increasingly conservative Texas GOP and the more moderate business community. On Thursday, the state Democratic Party quickly branded Kolkhorst’s legislation as an “$8.5 billion bathroom bill,” citing the Texas Association of Business study. 

The report itself has been a source of controversy, with Patrick and his allies denouncing it as misinformation and fear-mongering. Bettencourt said the study “had some holes you could drive a Mack truck through,” while Shaheen said he wants it known that he and several colleagues are “highly disappointed in TAB about they’ve misrepresented the business impact of these types of bills.”

Patrick continued to rail against the report Thursday, suggesting in a radio interview after the bill unveiling that the study’s findings were not uniformly supported by the business community.

“The members of the Texas Association of Business have already said they don’t even believe their own report,” Patrick told Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council. “That report was based on not any economic data, but just extracting some numbers that some people who I believe are with the TAB who are just against the bill. Period. Just want to try to make their argument, but it’s no real data. It’s ridiculous.” 

A Texas Association of Business official did not return requests for comment for this story.

Read more:

  • There are now 12 Texas cities with a population of more than 100,000 that have some rules or legislation in place to protect residents or city employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. See how those protections compare.
  • Last month, A Texas judge halted a federal mandate aimed to protect transgender people, finding that the federal health rule violates existing law.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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