The Brief: Top Texas News for March 11, 2013

The Big Conversation

Lawmakers waited until the last minute to file several bills that could give rise to some of the most heated debates of this year's legislative session.

The deadline for state lawmakers to file bills for the 2013 session passed Friday at 6 p.m. Amid the usual burst of final submissions — 763 pieces of legislation were filed on Friday — a handful of bills stood out.

One, filed by state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, would allow the state's Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate with the Obama administration over the expansion of Medicaid, a major component of federal health care reform.

“We felt like it was time to start to get the ball moving on this," Zerwas said. "We’ve made it pretty clear that we’re not for current Medicaid expansion, but we do need to be for something else."

 

The bill was filed the same day a House committee hearing exposed some of the challenges the Legislature may face reaching a compromise over the expansion, which has already emerged as a leading issue this session.

Another bill filed on Friday, by state Sen. Dan Patrick, the Houston Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, would create a business tax scholarship for low-income students to attend private school. Though Gov. Rick Perry on Friday praised the long-anticipated bill, as well as several other pieces of school-choice legislation, other Republican leaders have indicated that such proposals may struggle to gain traction in the House.

A high-profile criminal justice reform bill that would help prevent wrongful convictions was also filed just before the deadline.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, the total number of bills filed this year compared with 2011 is about the same. But unlike 2011, when issues like immigration and voter ID dominated the session, this year's most heated debates will likely center on issues like Medicaid and school choice.

Culled

•    Right-to-life groups split on end-of-life decision (The Associated Press): "A battle is brewing at the Texas Legislature among right-to-life groups, but rather than debating when life begins, they are fighting over the rules that govern the end of a terminally ill person's life. The dispute revolves around what should happen when the patient's family wants to continue medical treatment when the doctors think it would only prolong the suffering."

•    Tax committee leader weighs options to boost state’s economy (Austin American-Statesman): "The chairman of the state’s powerful tax-writing committee is considering a package of bills aimed at fixing — not phasing out — the state’s primary business tax, giving incentives for research, and putting state officials in charge of granting temporary reductions in school property taxes to companies relocating to Texas or expanding here."

•    SpaceX chief to Texas: Let's make a deal (San Antonio Express-News): "California billionaire Elon Musk remains hopeful that plans to build the world's first commercial spaceport near Brownsville will take flight later this year. But first, Texas faces stiff competition from other states also hoping to land the project."

•    Conflict between UT president, regents taking new turns (Austin American-Statesman): "The UT president and his bosses have clashed on numerous issues in recent years, including tuition, faculty productivity and even the question of whether the university’s fundraising office should be led by a vice president or someone with a different title. Now the debate is about to take another turn — or two or three."

Quote of the Day: "With all these new faces, it’s hard to keep track of who is in, who is out. And I know it’s difficult for you guys as reporters. But I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team: If Ted Cruz calls somebody a Communist, then you know they’re in my Cabinet." — President Barack Obama on Saturday at the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C.

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