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The Brief: Top Texas News for April 4, 2011

The House did its dance over the weekend, passing a stark $164.5 billion budget. Here are some highlights.

Texas Capitol

The Big Conversation:

The House did its dance over the weekend, passing a stark $164.5 billion budget that left virtually no area of state government untouched.

Debate began Friday morning, ran until roughly 1 a.m. Saturday morning and resumed Sunday. (The Tribune team was there the whole way.) The budget bill, which cuts $23 billion altogether from areas like public education and health and human services, was approved on a largely party-line vote, 98-49, late Sunday night.

"It lives within the available revenue that we have to work with," House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said of the final bill. He added, "This budget is the result of the worst recession that anyone in this room has ever experienced."

Some highlights from the weekend's debate:

  • Members from both parties used amendments — hundreds of which had been pre-filed — to try to score political points. Republicans tried to force difficult votes — like stripping funding from family planning services and moving it to autism programs — on Democrats, many of whom responded by voting "present, not voting."
  • The party divide — Republicans voting for cuts and Democrats casting protest votes — broke only twice, with a 67-61 vote to move $3.5 million from the Texas Commission on the Arts to the Department of Aging and Disability Services, and a 79-55 vote against moving $1.5 million from the governor's film and music marketing budget into state aid for libraries.
  • During debate over education funding, which lasted six hours, attacks on the Texas Education Agency fell short. (Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said he envisioned the agency as "one guy and one phone.") Lawmakers also voted to move funding from the prison public school system to community colleges.
  • Rep. Wayne Christian's proposal to require "family and traditional values centers" at any university that offers a gender and sexuality center or any "other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or any other gender identity issues" passed easily, 110-24.
  • Christian also set off a particularly fiery debate when he proposed an amendment that would require at least 10 percent of public university courses to "provide instruction in Western Civilization." Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, who is black, asked whether that would include African-American studies, which Christian said might fall into African studies. "Let's take this down, brother," Miles said. The amendment ultimately failed, 108-27.
  • Reps. David Simpson of Longview and Aaron Peña, who recently switched parties, were the only Republicans to vote against the final budget. "'Do right and risk the consequences' ~ Sam Houston," Peña tweeted last night.
  • The bill now heads to the Senate, which has expressed willingness to spend about $10 billion more than the House. Pitts said he expects the bill to change as lawmakers work to find middle ground with the upper chamber. "Thank God for the Senate," Dutton said. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, had his own sharp words about the weekend's debate: "This budget is not worthy of the Texas House of Representatives," he said.


  • The Austin American-Statesman reports that the recent storm over the hiring of a special adviser to the University of Texas Board of Regents — which has set off concerns about the future of academic research at public universities — can be traced back to a 2008 meeting between Gov. Rick Perry and college regents from across the state. "I'm not saying these are a dictate to you. One size does not fit all. … But the time is right for these types of reforms to go forward," Perry said of controversial reform efforts like financially rewarding professors based on student evaluations.
  • Texas Republicans in the U.S. House, shut out of power in 2008, now claim the largest GOP delegation in Congress and more seniority than members from most states. The Tribune's Matt Stiles, with a nifty interactive map in tow, takes a look at what it all means for Texas.
  • What happens when the mythology of Willie Nelson (i.e., marijuana) mixes with the law? As author Joe Nick Patoski writes in a column for the Trib, the brouhaha over Willie's recent arrest may say more about the state's drug laws than any politician could.


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