The Brief: Feb. 5, 2015

House Speaker Joe Straus leaned toward the familiar in filling open spots at the top of the chamber's top-tier committees.

State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, in the Texas House of Representatives, Feb. 8, 2011.
State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, in the Texas House of Representatives, Feb. 8, 2011.  Bob Daemmrich

The Big Conversation

House Speaker Joe Straus leaned toward the familiar in filling open spots at the top of the chamber's top-tier committees.

The chairmanships of the House's main committees on the state's finances — Appropriations and Ways and Means — were open after the chairs from last session opted not to run for re-election. Straus chose key lieutenants — John Otto, R-Dayton, and Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton — to step into those leadership roles.

Otto, for instance, was a House budget conferee last legislative session, so he's an experienced hand when it comes to writing budgets. And as the Tribune's Aman Batheja reports, he's the first CPA to lead Appropriations in more than 25 years.

Another budget conferee, John Zerwas, R-Richmond, was chosen to lead the Higher Education Committee. The chairman of that committee last session, Dan Branch, opted not to stand for re-election in order to run for attorney general last year.

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In one high-profile shuffle, Straus moved Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, from the chair of Transportation to chair of Homeland Security and elevated Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, to lead Transportation.

For a full rundown of Wednesday's committee assignments, click here.

The Day Ahead

•    Senate Finance continues reviewing the budgets of agencies covered under the general government article. Agencies up for discussion include the State Preservation Board, the Pension Review Board, the Veterans Commission and the Employees Retirement System (E1.036)

•    Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will interview Adm. William McRaven, the new chancellor of the University of Texas System, at the Austin Club at 8 a.m.. We will livestream the event for those unable to attend in person.

Trib Must-Reads

Price Plunge Adds New Wrinkle to Mexican Energy Reform, by Jim Malewitz and Julián Aguilar

Drug Testing for Welfare Benefits Back on the Table, by Alexa Ura

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Senate Health Committee Talks Contracts, Consolidation, by Edgar Walters

Patrick, Nichols: Put Car Sales Tax Toward Roads, by Aman Batheja

"Texas Seven" Member Executed, by Terri Langford

Analysis: Seeing Scandal as a Pre-existing Condition, by Ross Ramsey

Elsewhere

Lawmakers lean toward licensed open carry in face of video ultimatum, Houston Chronicle

Texas license rules could thwart open carry advocates, Houston Chronicle

Texas lawmakers pushing back against gay rights successes, The Dallas Morning News

Powers: Without boost in state funding, UT students could face tuition increases, The Dallas Morning News

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GOP senators block Ted Cruz move to hold up Loretta Lynch vote, Politico

New Alamo director sees 'new chapter’ for site, San Antonio Express-News

Texas Democrats announce new executive director, Austin American-Statesman

Amid measles outbreaks, non-vaccination movement grows, Houston Chronicle

Stephenville braces for trial in Chris Kyle slaying, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Quote to Note

“It quickly became clear that the original bill number carried many different negative connotations. We decided it was best to change it so people will focus on the content of the legislation, not the bill number.”

— Sean Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, to The Hill on the congressman's move to change the original bill number on his proposal to end a ban on crude oil exports. The original number? 666.

Today in TribTalk

Does the Texas Legislature care about kids?, by Kelly White

News From Home

As we follow bills on public ed during the 84th legislative session, we'll keep you updated on legislation addressing educator quality. Stay caught up with our 84th Lege page and subscribe to our Trib+Edu newsletter for more education news.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Houston & the Legislature: Previewing the 84th Session on Feb. 12 at the Wortham Center in Houston

•    A Conversation With State Rep. John Otto, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, on Feb. 12 at the Austin Club

•    A Conversation With U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro on Feb. 19 at The Austin Club

•    Immigration: The Next Five Years on Feb. 27 at at the University of Texas at Brownsville

•    A Conversation With State Sen. Kel Seliger and State Rep. John Zerwas on March 5 at the Austin Club

•    Meet the Mayors: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on March 12 at The Austin Club