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The Brief: April 9, 2013

With the budget fight largely over, attention in the Capitol has moved back to other contentious issues, like school choice and gambling.

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

The Big Conversation

With the budget fight largely over, attention in the Capitol has moved back to other contentious issues, like school choice and gambling.

The Senate Education Committee today will take up two Republican-backed bills intended to expand school choice in Texas. The higher-profile bill, filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would give businesses in Texas a 15 percent state tax credit in exchange for donating to a scholarship program that would help low-income students attend private school.

As the Tribune's Morgan Smith reports, however, the bill faces uncertainty after the House voted last week during its budget debate in favor of an amendment that would ban the use of public dollars for private schools. The anti-voucher amendment passed with bipartisan support, but it remains unclear whether it would apply to Patrick's legislation. The amendment's author, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, specified during the debate that the measure would pertain to bills like Patrick's.

Meanwhile, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Wednesday will take up major gambling legislation by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. Carona's measure, which he touted at a news conference on Monday, would let Texas voters decide whether to legalize casino gambling in the state.

The Legislature has resisted similar bills in previous sessions, and Carona's legislation isn't expected to break the trend. But Carona, who chairs the committee, said a more united push from gambling interests this year bodes well for the future of such efforts.

"As more and more states pass legalization or expanded gaming, with Texas being one of only 10 states left that don't, I think the opportunity will present itself if not during this session then perhaps next or [during] a special session on school finance, should there be one," he said.

Culled

•    Bill That Cuts Early-Voting Period Likely to Be Pulled (The Texas Tribune): "A bill that would slash the number of days allowed for early voting is likely to be pulled after scathing testimony Monday from opponents who said the bill was discriminatory and retrogressive. House Bill 2093, by state Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, would limit the early-voting period in Texas to seven days before general and primary elections. Current law mandates 12 days. Harless initially said the measure was necessary to help elections administrators hire workers and volunteers, saying that a 12-day early-voting period as a possible deterrent."

•    Lege panels eyeing tax breaks (San Antonio Express-News): "From capping the sales tax on yachts to phasing out the state business levy, some lawmakers are pushing for tax breaks even as others say the system already is riddled with too many special-interest exemptions. The breaks most often are cast as a driver for economic development, and a Monday hearing on the yacht tax break was no exception. Senate Bill 862 'is not about giving tax breaks to the rich. It is all about jobs and protecting our Texas economy,' said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who pitched it before Senate Finance's Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters as necessary for the state to compete for boat business."

•    Texas GOP lawmaker pledges support for gay rights, says party is changing (Dallas Voice): "Log Cabin Republicans from across Texas met in Austin this weekend to share ideas on the Republican Party’s growing support for gay rights and how they could influence lawmakers in the state to back equality. … State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, addressed a group of about 35 people Friday as the keynote in the speaker series. Davis began her speech by acknowledging the audience’s 'courage and the bravery that I think many of you have shown probably spending a great period of your life struggling with your identity and then finally having the courage and the strength of character to come out to your friends and family as a Republican.'"

•    Seliger: Perry Should Address UT System Tensions (The Texas Tribune): "Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, is asking Gov. Rick Perry to step in and help ease the mounting tensions between the University of Texas System and members of the Legislature. 'When things turn out to be bad for an institution or bad for the state, the person who can resolve this quickest is the governor,' Seliger told the Tribune on Monday. 'He ought to do what's best for the state of Texas. Turmoil in an institution for no good reason is something we certainly ought to be wary of. It's not productive.'"

Quote of the Day: "We are going to track down these murderers ... and bring them to justice to protect the men and women who prosecute these criminals in the first place and put them behind bars." — Attorney General Greg Abbott at a Tarrant County Tea Party event on Monday night, speaking about the Kaufman County prosecutor murders

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