The Brief: Top Texas News for April 5, 2013

State Rep. Hubert Vo, l, D-Alief, and Chairman state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, vote to table an amendment to SB 1 on April 4, 2013.
State Rep. Hubert Vo, l, D-Alief, and Chairman state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, vote to table an amendment to SB 1 on April 4, 2013.

The Big Conversation

A few bursts of drama punctuated an otherwise tame day of debate over the House budget on Thursday.

After about 12 hours spent working their way through 267 amendments, House lawmakers last night passed a $193.8 billion two-year budget by a vote of 135-12. Eleven Democrats and one Republican, Rep. David Simpson of Longview, voted against the bill.

The theatrics on the floor Thursday paled next to the battle that played out last session as lawmakers confronted historic budget woes. This time, several contentious amendments on topics like women's health and gender and sexuality centers on college campuses were withdrawn early, averting several floor fights. 

Still, a few moments of tension still managed to define the debate on Thursday. In the day's biggest surprise, lawmakers voted 103-43 in favor of banning the use of public dollars for private schools. The anti-voucher amendment, which drew bipartisan support, marked a significant defeat for several high-profile Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry, who have pressed for school choice legislation this session.

Later in the day, lawmakers backpedaled on an amendment they passed hours earlier that would have opened the door to Medicaid expansion, a major component of federal health care reform. The amendment's author, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, pulled the measure after Republicans voted to reconsider it. 

Lawmakers also passed three amendments that would limit the authority of the University of Texas System regents, who have been accused of trying to oust UT-Austin President Bill Powers.

A so-called conference committee will be formed later in the session to merge the House and Senate budget proposals.

Culled

•    Reward Is Increased by Officials in Texas (The New York Times): "On the day that hundreds gathered amid tight security to remember this county’s slain district attorney and his wife, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday offered up to $200,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of those responsible for their killings and for the killing of another prosecutor."

•    Napolitano says new budget may ease border impact (The Associated Press): "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says a new congressional budget should ease the need to furlough or cut overtime hours for border agents. Napolitano said Thursday after meeting with Houston law enforcement officials and business leaders the agency still is reviewing the numbers but it appears security will 'get back to where we were before sequestration.'"

•    Texas A&M opt-out bill faces obstacles (Bryan College-Station Eagle): "Texas A&M students who want more religious freedoms, or who don't support a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Resource Center, have many hurdles to clear before they can pocket their dollars. The Texas A&M student senate late Wednesday voted 35-28 to pass a bill aimed at letting students opt out of funding the center, or other university services, based on religious grounds."

•    Texas Senate approves use of cellphones to prove insurance coverage (The Dallas Morning News): "Texas drivers would be allowed to reach for their cellphone rather than root through the glove box to show proof of insurance under a bill the Senate approved Thursday. The measure by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would bring Texas in line with six other states that already enable drivers to prove insurance coverage with a wireless device. Another 21 states also are considering such a change."

Quote of the Day: "I move passage." — House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts' closing argument after the House budget debate on Thursday, to cheers

Must-Read

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