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Agenda Texas: Gambling, Education and the Week Ahead

On the latest Agenda Texas, from KUT News and the Tribune: Action in the Capitol moves from the House and Senate floors back to the committee rooms, and senators prepare to take up bills on gambling and public education.

The Texas Capitol on the opening day of the 83rd legislative session, Jan. 8, 2013.

As your guide to everything under the dome and how it hits home (yes, that's our tagline), Agenda Texas will try to keep you in the loop on the big bills moving through the Legislature each week.

To help us do that, we check in Mondays during the session with Ross Ramsey, the Tribune's executive editor, to talk about the week's big items. This week, much of the action moves from the House and Senate floors back to the committee rooms.

"Now that both chambers have the budget out of the way, they can concentrate on bills they have been working on. For example, in the Senate this week, they're going to take on all of the gambling bills probably on Wednesday," Ramsey said. "They're having some behind-the-scenes discussions over some of the things they've done in the budget and how those roll into the things that they're working on in committee."

Senators may also finally get around to a bill that changes graduation requirements for Texas high school students. The bill has been sitting on the Senate Intent Calendar for several days.

"There's a conversation about what the standards ought to be for graduation from high school," Ramsey said. "In the House they moved them back some and said college prep courses like algebra II maybe shouldn't have to be included. Students could take them if they want to, but maybe they shouldn't be required. In the Senate, there's a push for keeping the current higher standards, where everybody getting out of high school would have to have those college prep course."

During last week's budget debate in the House, an amendment was added, then removed, that would have allowed the state to negotiate with the federal government on Medicaid expansion. Removing the amendment could make it a little harder to have off-session negotiations. But there's another bill in the House that would also allow the debate to proceed.

House Bill 3791, from state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, would create a way for Texas to pay its part of Medicaid expansion, but only if the state and federal government come to an agreement on what expansion would look like in Texas.

Zerwas would use revenues from insurance plans bought through the state’s new health care exchange to pay the state’s eventual 10 percent match.

"This allows us to comfortably draw down the money from the federal government attributed to providing insurance, and really bring some relief to the people that are providing the health care services to the uninsured," Zerwas said. "But, you know, most importantly, what this is about is bringing insurance policies to people that don’t have access to them right now."

The goal of Zerwas’ bill and a similar Senate budget provision is to ensure that the state and feds can continue to negotiate over Medicaid expansion after lawmakers leave at the end of May.

What are you following this week? Drop us a line at agendatexas@kut.org, and follow us on Twitter: @AgendaTexas.

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