The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 1, 2011

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Notice something different about The Brief and its surroundings? It's a whole new us (aesthetically, at least), and we hope you like it. But back to your scheduled programming:

The Legislature's been under way for weeks now, but the last fight for a seat in the lower chamber isn't over.

As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports today, hearings begin this morning in the election contest brought by Republican Dan Neil against state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.

Neil lost to Howard in November by just 16 votes, and in a recount, he lost again, by a similarly razor-thin 12 votes. He has disputed those results, throwing the case to the Texas House, where a committee, overseen by state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, could decide the outcome.

 

Neil claims illegal votes were counted in the final round and that more than 200 overseas military votes were counted in federal, but not local, races.

"I feel very confident about it," Neil said. "I've had no problem, all along, putting my faith … in the hands of the voters and also in the hands of the people that do the recount and also opportunities to contest it to the House. There are entities that are there to make sure every legal vote gets counted, and I feel very good about how this process has gone.

Howard said she was optimistic but admitted that "with an election that's only won by 12 votes, and not knowing what some of these legal arguments might be yet, until we have the hearing, it hard for me to say what the outcome will be."

On Howard's side? History. In the 14 election contests filed since 1979, eight were dropped before even coming to a vote in the House. Of the remaining six, five were decided against the challenger, while only one led to a new election.

CULLED:

  • Texas and 25 other states claimed victory Monday after a federal judge in Florida upheld their challenge to the constitutionality of federal health care reform, taking issue with the law's so-called individual mandate. State Republicans, upbeat, sounded off: "This is a great day for liberty and the vitality of the U.S. Constitution," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. Gov. Rick Perry added, "Today’s ruling represents a victory in the ongoing effort to end federal intrusion into the lives of every American through this one-size-fits-all approach to health care reform." One Texas Democrat, state Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston, echoed what by midday had become the Democratic talking point in Washington: "It's disconcerting that General Abbott is actively working to dismantle a law that will improve the health coverage that Texans already have and help countless others purchase insurance," he said. "This court case is nothing but a political sideshow."
  • The Senate Finance Committee convened Monday in what's sure to be just the first in a string of disquieting hearings on proposed budget cuts. Senators from both parties voiced grave concern for proposed reductions in funding for the mentally ill and disabled children. "When I look at children with autism … and we’re talking about [going] from 180 [children served] to 90, I want to be sure you’ve cut to the bone everywhere you can possibly cut that does not impact people," said state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston, according to The Dallas Morning News.
  • Public-school superintendents from across Texas met in Austin on Monday to fight proposed cuts to public education that they've said would devastate their districts. The superintendents specifically called on the Legislature to fix the state's notoriously byzantine school-finance system.

"Mr. Chairman, I enjoyed the math but that’s not putting a face and an impact on the decisions that we have to make." — Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, interrupting a presentation detailing proposed budget cuts to state health services during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Monday

MUST-READ:

 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.