The Brief: Top Texas News for April 24, 2013

The Big Conversation

Surprise votes in both chambers of the Legislature capped off a dramatic day at the Capitol on Tuesday.

The first surprise came in the House, where lawmakers voted 81-65 to abolish the Texas Lottery Commission, potentially ending scratch-off tickets, charity bingo and other games. The move would have also cut about $2 billion from public schools, which the lottery supports.

The vote, led by Republicans, set off a scramble among lawmakers as the budgetary consequences came into focus. Hours later, after lobbying among members of both parties, the House voted 91-53 to keep the commission running.

Still, some lawmakers who reversed course said the original vote sent an important message.

"I don't like gambling, but I do like school funding," said state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, chairman of the House Public Education Committee. "It was, for me, at least, a signal vote. I sort of anticipated I would switch that vote when I made it."

The Senate, meanwhile, offered up a surprise of its own, approving a proposal that would restore $3.7 billion of the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education made two years ago. The plan, which voters must approve, would put $800 million from the Rainy Day Fund toward public education, $2.9 billion toward transportation and $2 billion toward water infrastructure. Updated property evaulations from the comptroller also meant another $1.4 billion could be allocated to schools.

"I woke up at 2:30 this morning worried about how I was going to get this bill out of the ditch," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who filed the legislation. "It’s a miracle."

Whether the measure will find support in the House, however, remains unclear. Gov. Rick Perry has also voiced opposition to tapping the Rainy Day Fund for education expenses.

Culled

•    House Committee Gives Tesla Motors a Chance (The Texas Tribune): "The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state's franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company's efforts to operate in the state."

•    Campus gun measure looks to be stuck in Texas Senate (The Dallas Morning News): "The chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee says he has no plans for a hearing on a measure to allow concealed guns on college campuses, and supporters are changing course to keep the bill alive. Their focus is turning to a measure by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, that would allow students with concealed handgun licenses to store firearms and ammunition in their locked cars in a campus parking lot or street. Private and public universities would not be able to opt out."

•    Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues baiting Illinois and city officials (Chicago Sun-Times): "Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday wrapped up his two-day visit here on his quest to lure Illinois businesses to Texas — but not before continued baiting of state and city officials with his dissing of Illinois."

•    Supreme Court justices tackle Texas-Oklahoma water fight (Reuters): "Supreme Court justices on Tuesday wrestled with the sensitive issue of whether a thirsty Texas water district has the right to access water across the Oklahoma state line. … It was unclear based on Tuesday's hour-long oral argument how the court would rule, although several of the nine justices voiced concerns about the water district's argument."

•    Judge allows petition to remove Lehmberg to proceed (Austin American-Statesman): "A Travis County district judge signed an order Monday that allows an Austin attorney’s petition to remove District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office after her drunken driving arrest to continue to work its way through the legal system."

Quote of the Day: "The House is a mercurial place. There’s all kinds of surprises in the House, and this was one of them." — Rep. Rafael Anchia on the Lottery Commission vote in the House on Tuesday

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