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The Brief: May 20, 2011

House and Senate lawmakers struck a major deal on education funding late Thursday that could help avert a special session. But with time running short, they're still not out of the woods.

State Rep. Ralph Sheffield (r), R-Temple, visits with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the House chamber following Dewhurst's visit with House Speaker Joe Straus on May 19, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

House and Senate lawmakers struck a major deal on education funding late Thursday that could help avert a special session. But with time running short, they're still not out of the woods.

The conservative House passed a stark budget in April that slashed $7.8 billion from public education funding, but in a breakthrough last night, leaders in the lower chamber announced that they'd agreed to a proposal by the more moderate Senate to bring that number down to $4 billion.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said the deal put the ball in the Senate's court. "The House has gone more than halfway to meet the Senate," he said in a statement after the deal was announced, "and it is now time for the Senate to do its part by making additional spending cuts."

For the Senate, that could mean caving on use of the Rainy Day Fund and higher-education funding, the two remaining sticking points. House negotiators want to draw $3.1 billion from the fund instead of the $3.9 billion sought by the Senate. Expect more debate there. But a deal may be closer on higher education: $300 million now separates the House and Senate proposals, which started $1 billion apart.

A final deal also hinges on House approval of two other fiscal bills, one of which — school finance reform — was shot down Thursday night after it was amended to include a provision that would legalize concealed handguns on college campuses. The House could also take another crack today at a bill that would defer payments to schools. Both bills were delayed Wednesday after negotiations fell apart, and further delays could force lawmakers into summer overtime.

Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the fray, telling reporters he's been "kind of pushing people" to reach a compromise on the budget so they don't have to return to Austin this summer. "The people expect us to get our work done," he said. "The last thing I think folks want to go home to is, say, 'You know, even Washington is functioning with a budget. You can't?'''


  • The House passed a Medicaid savings bill late Thursday that included an amendment to cut off all state funding for providers of "abortion-related services." "It's not my intent to punish hospitals," said Jim Landtroop, the Plainview Republican who authored the amendment. "It's to protect the lives of unborn children." A controversial provision dealing with health care costs for illegal immigrants also entered the contentious debate.
  • Austin, El Paso and San Antonio are among the 30 U.S. cities that will lose their anti-terror funding from the government in light of recent federal budget cuts, the Department of Homeland Security has announced. Only high-threat urban areas like New York City and Washington, D.C., will continue to receive funding.
  • The state Senate on Thursday passed a resolution urging the U.S. government to push for an amendment to the Constitution that would require a federal balanced budget, marking the passage of the fourth of Gov. Rick Perry's five originally declared "emergency items" for the session. Bills on voter ID, pre-abortion sonograms and eminent domain have already made it to the governor's desk, but sanctuary cities and tort reform legislation could be stuck in the Senate.

"I personally don’t noodle, but I would defend to the death your right to do so." — State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, author of a bill the Senate passed Thursday that would legalize hand-fishing for catfish, a practice known as "noodling"


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