Vol 30, Issue 4 Print Issue

TribLive at the Austin Club featuring State Sen. Tommy Williams and State Rep. Jim Pitts on financial issues facing the 83rd Texas Legislature.
TribLive at the Austin Club featuring State Sen. Tommy Williams and State Rep. Jim Pitts on financial issues facing the 83rd Texas Legislature.

Signs of Legislative Motion

Lawmakers are diving into the state budget, figuring out which parts of the governor's State of the State speech they liked and didn't like, and watching out of the corners of their eyes at the latest in the 2014 race for governor.

A U.S. Border Patrol helicopter patrols over the Paso del Norte International Bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on Tuesday March 27, 2012.
A U.S. Border Patrol helicopter patrols over the Paso del Norte International Bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on Tuesday March 27, 2012.

Legislature Considers Softer Line on Immigration

Two years after legislation to ban "sanctuary cities" was made a top priority, immigration legislation is barely discussed at the state Capitol. It’s put some lawmakers in a weird spot — especially when some of their own recently came out in support of what’s  a no-no in politics — amnesty. 

The Wind Blows, the Sun Shines: The Tax Breaks

Ten years ago, the renewable energy industry basked in political popularity. With the rise of the Tea Party, it is now under fire. Clean energy advocates will spend part of the legislative session fending off attacks. But they also have some big dreams.

Newsreel: State of the State

In this edition in the Texas Weekly Newsreel: Gov. Rick Perry delivered his State of the State address this week. It was big on large-scale spending, but didn't touch hot-button issues like abortion, immigration or gun control. Anti-abortion advocates rallied on the steps of the state Capitol. And U.S. Representative Roger Williams raised his Second Amendment banner.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

A complicated employment contract and pay structure uncovered by the Austin American-Statesman reveals that one executive at the Texas Department of Public Safety is the highest paid, and it is not the agency’s director. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management received $223,000 in compensation in 2012, beating out his boss, Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw by almost $60,000. His negotiated deal of employment also allows him to earn overtime, have contributions made to his San Antonio firefighter retirement plan and have a state-provided vehicle. Those numbers and perks don’t show up on the DPS payroll. 

A new poll may not bode well for Gov. Rick Perry’s chances of being re-elected. Public Policy Polling reported that just 31 percent of Texas voters think he should run for governor again, while 62 percent said he should move on. Matched up against Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is not as widely known, Perry’s scored best with voters who self-described as very conservative. Moderate and somewhat conservative voters indicated their desire for a change of candidates. The poll also showed that Democrats stand a better chance of winning the governor’s race if Perry is the Republican candidate.

Families who have lost loved ones in car accidents involving texting gathered at the Capitol to voice their support for the latest bills filed to prohibit the practice. Thirty-nine states have banned texting while driving, and Texas passed legislation in the last session to join them, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the measure. Identical bills have already been filed again in the House and Senate this session. Perry and other lawmakers who have taken a stand against texting bans say existing laws should be used to prosecute offenders.

All tobacco use has been banned on property belonging to Travis County effective April 7. The comprehensive ban was unanimously approved by commissioners and includes smoking, chewing tobacco and vapor-emitting electronic cigarettes. Commissioners created an exception for major events held at the Expo Center, which can be granted an exemption.

A female death row inmate won a reprieve from execution as her lawyers continued to follow up on an appeal that jury selection in her case was racially biased. Kimberly McCarthy’s punishment was delayed until April 3, and Dallas County did not protest the rescheduling. Meanwhile, McCarthy’s lawyers will attempt to prove that racial discrimination occurred in the selection of the jury that convicted McCarthy. Eleven of the 12 jurors were white.

High school sophomores — the first class required to pass Texas’ new, more rigorous STAAR test — showed significant improvement when tested at the end of December. Passing rates rose from 54 to 73 percent in writing; other subjects saw similar gains. The Class of 2015 is required to pass 15 end-of-course exams to graduate. They are the first class to be governed by the STAAR testing requirements. The bad news is that 27 percent of students are not on track to graduate and that district officials fear that may make those students at high risk of dropping out.

The Texas Women’s Health Program, which replaced the federal Women’s Health Program, revised its list of providers. It initially listed 3,500 providers of low-cost health services, but when women’s health advocates attempted to verify the list, they found numerous glitches. Almost 1,000 providers were removed from the list, and an additional 700 providers had their contact information updated. 

The Rally for Life, held on the Capitol grounds last weekend, drew a crowd of thousands and state officials who spoke of their hopes to end abortion. Gov. Rick Perry’s speech outlined the measures he and the Legislature have already taken, and stressed that there are other steps they can take this session to further restrict abortions. The Texas Alliance for Life estimated that the rally drew more than 5,000 people; public safety officials put the number closer to 2,000.

After the absence of a University of Texas-Texas A&M football game in 2012 for the first time in almost 100 years, a legislator has filed a bill requiring the schools to play each other. The storied rivalry was interrupted when Texas A&M moved to the Southeastern Conference. Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, filed House Bill 778, requiring the two schools to meet and penalizing them with restrictions on their athletic scholarships should they fail to live up to the obligation. Guillen is an A&M alumnus.

Political People and their Moves

Everything for Houston’s SD-6 runoff is set — except the date. Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and state Rep. Carol Alvarado survived the first round on Saturday, getting 45.4 percent and 41.6 percent, respectively. The winner of the runoff — date to be set by the governor — will succeed the late Mario Gallegos in the Texas Senate.

House Democrats elected Yvonne Davis of Dallas as leader of their caucus and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie as their chair, surprising members (and watchers) who expected either Abel Herrero of Portland or Armando Walle of Houston in one of those slots. Davis replaces Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who decided not to seek another term.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus elected its officers: Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman; Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, vice chair; Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston, legal counsel; Armando Martinez, D-Edinburg, secretary; and Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, treasurer.

Elizabeth Ames Jones has a new gig as senior policy advisor at Patton Boggs. The former state representative and railroad commissioner will split her time between the firm’s Washington and Texas offices. 

Former Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, is joining Right on Crime, a criminal justice offshoot of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Madden was chairman of the House Committee on Corrections.

Wayne Wilson is now the deputy executive commissioner for procurement and contracting with the Health and Human Services Commission, a new position there.

Karey Barton is hanging out his own consulting shingle (tax policy, legislation and such) after several years with Ryan & Co. and a long stint at the comptroller’s office before that. 

Ken Whalen is starting his own lobby practice after 11 years with the Texas Daily Newspaper Association. He’s a former legislative staffer and newspaper reporter.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Robert Cadena of Del Rio, an assistant U.S. Attorney, as judge of the 83rd Judicial District Court in Val Verde, Pecos and Terrell counties.

Perry appointed Michael Welborn of Aransas Pass the new district attorney for Aransas and San Patricio counties. Welborn is a state district judge.

Both will serve until the next general election.