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The Brief: June 17, 2011

What looked to be a small special-session victory for Democrats unraveled on Thursday.

State Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, votes on an amendment for Senate Bill 8 on June 16, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

What looked to be a small special-session victory for Democrats unraveled on Thursday.

At the urging of state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the House on Thursday backed away from a proposal by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that would have steered any surplus in the Rainy Day Fund to public schools.

The House voted 87-59 to instruct budget negotiators to strip the proposal, which initially appeared to have attracted substantial support, from an education bill.

The lower chamber on Thursday also approved, as the Tribune's Morgan Smith reports, a so-called mandate-relief bill that would allow school districts to cut pay for teachers and furlough them to help schools cope with a $4 billion cut to public education.

Democrats and teachers groups successfully fended off such legislation during the regular session. This time, the House voted 81-55 in favor the bill, attaching a slew of amendments — like one that would apply teacher salary reductions to administrators — along the way. Democrats voted unanimously against approval.

"I think the budget crisis has been an excuse to do things to schools that they always wanted to do," Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, told the San Antonio Express-News.

Republicans have insisted that the measure, which now heads back to the Senate, will help school districts save jobs.

Culled:

  • More than half of Texans approve of the job Gov. Rick Perry's doing, but only 9 percent of Republicans say he's their choice for president, according to a new poll. Meanwhile, a spokesman confirmed Thursday that the governor, who will speak Saturday in New Orleans at a Republican leadership conference, will undergo minor back surgery on July 1. The spokesman said the operation "will not affect [the governor's] current schedule."
  • Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for a special session, in part, to pass legislation reforming the Texas Windstorm Insurance Assocation. But as the Austin American-Statesman reports, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, thinks he has a better idea: abolish it. "The Texas Legislature has spent the previous three sessions working on legislation to correct the association and its inherent funding problems," Fraser said in a statement. "I think after three sessions, we should recognize that TWIA is a problem that cannot be solved, and the association should be abolished."
  • The Trib's Morgan Smith reports that in light of cuts to state grants for full-day pre-kindergarten, some public schools will begin charging tuition to keep their programs alive.

"I'm doing Social Security today. I don't want to make news on Perry." — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, on Thursday at a press conference on Social Security, when asked of the governor's possible presidential run

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