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No Word Yet From Abbott on Special Election Runoffs

The work of setting up committees has begun in both chambers, and an interesting poll surfaces on support for ending diversions from the sporting goods tax.

State Reps. José Menéndez (left) and Trey Martinez Fischer, both Democrats from San Antonio, are seeking the Texas Senate ...

As of late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott had not set dates for the runoffs in the SD-26, HD-17 and HD-123 special elections. He has until Saturday to do so. But according to our math, waiting past Thursday now means the earliest day for those elections is Saturday, Feb. 7.

The latest possible date for holding elections is Tuesday, Feb. 17.

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The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation — the nonprofit arm of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — this week ran the results of a poll that found 70 percent of respondents supported a constitutional amendment that would "permanently dedicate sufficient sales tax revenue generated from outdoor sporting goods to fund the parks budget."

Parks funding has been a poster child of sorts for the budgetary tactic of not using dedicated funds for the purposes for which they have been raised. Lawmakers in recent sessions have talked a lot about limiting or ending these “diversions” and made some progress in that direction last session.

According to the TPWF, the state has collected more than $2 billion from the outdoor sporting goods tax since 1993, but only 36 percent has been appropriated for parks.

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House members turned in their committee requests on Tuesday. Now begins the traditional parlor game of guessing when the speaker will hand out those assignments. The process usually takes up to a few weeks.

And while the speaker has a great deal of discretion in assigning members to panels, it’s good to remember that he doesn’t have absolute discretion. Up to half of the seats on standing committees are seniority picks, meaning those members who have been in the chamber the longest have an easier time getting their first choice of assignments.

Now also might be a good time to remember that 15 of the 19 members voting against Straus for Speaker are either freshmen or sophomores.

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It’s been noted already that senators voted this week to kill four standing committees — open government, jurisprudence, economic development and government organization — this session.

It’s also worth noting that senators chose not to consolidate the education and higher education panels, a move that had been rumored in the months leading up to session.

Here’s the rundown on other changes to the Senate’s standing committees:

•    The Agriculture Committee loses homeland security from its portfolio but adds water. It also increases by two members, to seven.

•    The Education Committee expands by two members, to 11.

•    The Intergovernmental Relations Committee expands by two members, to seven.

•    The Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee increases by two members, to seven. This panel also gets a three-member subcommittee on border security.

•    The Natural Resources Committee has economic development added to its portfolio.

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