Vol 30, Issue 12 Print Issue

Bill sponsor State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, is surrounded by members at the front mike while debate continues on HB 5 on March 26, 2013.
Bill sponsor State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, is surrounded by members at the front mike while debate continues on HB 5 on March 26, 2013.

A Head Start on the Big Stuff

With eight weeks to go in the legislative session, lawmakers got a running start at their big issues: water, education and the budget.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Debate over the balance between rigor and flexibility in high school graduation requirements dominated the House’s debate over legislation that would significantly change the courses students need for a high school diploma. It would lower the number of math and science courses required for graduation, and would also cut the number of tests students are required to take.

The Texas House approved legislation that would use $2 billion to start funding water projects in the state. House Bill 4, by state Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, would create a water bank that would offer loans for projects like new water reservoirs, pipelines and conservation projects. Only two members voted against the bill, which is now on its way to the Senate. 

University of Texas System regents chairman Gene Powell responded to a strongly worded letter from Texas senators, saying that a decision on how to proceed with a review of UT-Austin's law school foundation would be made in the "next few weeks." A majority of Texas senators signed a letter calling the UT System's planned review of the foundation unnecessary.

After peaking in September, applications for deferred action have dropped off dramatically. Immigration attorneys think most eligible undocumented immigrants are in a wait-and-see mode amid the federal immigration reform debate.

Family members of Christine Morton and Debra Baker filled a Tom Green County courtroom with tearful hugs and relieved smiles on Wednesday after a jury found Mark Alan Norwood guilty of murder. Norwood, 58, received an automatic life sentence after the jury decided he was guilty of the 1986 killing. Michael Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison wrongfully convicted of his wife's murder. He was released from prison and exonerated in 2011 after DNA testing linked his wife’s death and the murder of another woman to Norwood. Morton called the verdict a "mixed bag."

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, walked into the Montgomery County Jail on Tuesday morning to be booked on two counts of barratry. In a statement, he maintained his innocence.  His arrest came a day after authorities raided his Houston law office, the offices of seven other area attorneys and two chiropractic practices for their alleged involvement in a quarter-million-dollar kickback scheme. Last month, the Harris County district attorney dropped similar charges against Reynolds, a personal injury attorney.

Political People and their Moves

They might be fighting in other forums, but Gov. Rick Perry and University of Texas-Austin President Bill Powers will be on the same stage Monday, roasting Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, to raise money for the Texas Legislative Internship Program.

Speaker Joe Straus hired Lindsey Howe Parham as a senior advisor in his political office. She was an advisor and top aide to former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for the last 20 years and is, like Straus, a Republican from San Antonio. She'll work on organization and fundraising for Texans for Joe Straus.

Former legislative staffer Ricardo Lopez-Guerra is joining Strategic Public Affairs; he’ll remain in Austin, consulting clients of the Houston-based firm.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Victor Vandergriff of Arlington to the Texas Transportation Commission and reappointed Jeff Austin III to another term on that board. Vandergriff is an attorney and businessman and has been chairman of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board. Austin is vice chairman of Austin Bank in Jacksonville.

• Hays County Tax Assessor-Collector Luanne Caraway, Robert “Barney” Barnwell III of Magnolia, and Raymond Palacios Jr. of El Paso to the board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Barnwell, president of Universal Natural Gas, and Palacios, president of Bravo Chevrolet Cadillac, are being reappointed.

• Thomas Anderson of Richmond and Danny Osterhout of Andrews to the Commission on Human Rights. Both are reappointments. Anderson is human resources director at Houston Community College. Osterhout is vice president of Magneto Service and Supply.

Mike Novak of San Antonio, president and CEO of the Novak Group, to the Texas Facilities Commission.

MacGregor Stephenson as his deputy chief of staff and Rich Parsons as deputy director of communications. Stephenson has been at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Parsons, a former TV reporter, was most recently the spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State.