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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 31, 2011

House debate over this session's heavyweight bills — the only legislation that has to pass this year — gets under way today.

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The Big Conversation:

House debate over this session's heavyweight bills — the only legislation that has to pass this year — gets under way today.

This morning, the House will take up House Bills 4, which cuts about $1 billion from the state's current budget (through 2011), and 275, which authorizes lawmakers to tap the state's Rainy Day Fund.

Expect both to pass, but not without lengthy debate. (Keep an eye on freshman Republicans, in particular, many of whom have said they were elected in November to make cuts, not to tap the state's reserves.)

Prepare for even lengthier debate tomorrow, though, when the House will take up the full budget bill, HB 1, which appropriates funding for 2012-13 — and includes those sweeping cuts to virtually all areas of state government (an $8 billion cut to public education, for instance) that have ginned up so much unease among concerned Texans and lawmakers alike.

House members have filed about 370 amendments, clocking in at 400 pages, which we've uploaded and made searchable. Though the bill is also expected to pass, along party lines, debate could run through the weekend, with lawmakers using those amendments, in many instances, for political purposes.

State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, for instance, has authored an amendment, the Austin American-Statesman notes, that would require a university to create a family and traditional values center if the school has a gender and sexuality center "or other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues."

Democrats, though outnumbered, have said they won't back down. "Our constituents expect us to fight for them," Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, told the Statesman.

The Tribune's Thanh Tan will be live-blogging from the House floor today. And, as always, check out our live stream of the debate for full coverage.

Culled:

  • The back-and-forth over the methodology behind a recent Legislative Budget Board analysis that said HB 1 could cost the state hundreds of thousands of jobs isn't over yet, with business groups and think tanks joining the fray.
  • The Senate Criminal Justice Committee is set to vote today on legislation that would allow concealed handguns on college campuses. Opponents of the measure have called the hearing "hastily scheduled."
  • Lawyers for two Texas death row inmates scheduled for execution have accused the state of illegally obtaining the execution drugs it has used to put inmates to death since the 1980s by using the Drug Enforcement Agency registration information of a closed facility. For the Texas Department of Criminal Justice "to have misrepresented for 25 years the information the DEA relies upon to assess the legitimacy of these drugs reflects a profound disregard for protocol and the law,” said Maurie Levin, an attorney for the inmates. The department said it would cooperate with any investigation but was confident it hadn't violated any law.

"I'm hearing every bill I can hear that has revenue in it, whether I'm for it or not." — State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, on the hunt for revenue

Must-Read:

In this week's TribCast: the budget, gambling and Willie Nelson

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