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The Brief: March 25, 2015

GOP budget writers had help closing the books on the Medicaid program for the current fiscal year with help from an unlikely source — the Affordable Care Act.

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The Big Conversation

GOP budget writers had help closing the books on the Medicaid program for the current fiscal year with help from an unlikely source — the Affordable Care Act.

The Tribune's Edgar Walters reports that under the health care law, which is routinely criticized by state Republicans, Texas is having more of the Medicaid program's administrative costs covered by the feds. That amounts to $102 million, which helped pay down the $338 million balance on the program.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Texas Women’s Health Program also spent less than expected because expanded health coverage under the ACA translated to less demand for service.

“Many individuals are running away from the ACA, but then we’re taking the benefits, and we’re using the benefits, at least at this point, to pay down on the unfunded Medicaid bill,” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, told Walters.

Trib Must-Reads

Blood Lessons: Oil Refining Remains a Deadly Industry, by Jim Malewitz, Jolie McCullough, Mark Collette and Lise Olsen, The Houston Chronicle — How many people die at oil refineries each year? Longstanding federal record-keeping practices make it incredibly tough to answer that simple question. Review the deaths at refineries in the 10 years before and after the infamous Texas City explosion.

Clancy: Ethics Commission Should Stop Enforcing Law, by John Reynolds — The Texas Ethics Commission can't do its job if compliance is "wholly voluntary," says one member who thinks the commission should stop all enforcement activities in response to a judge's recent dismissal of its ruling against conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Proposed Change to Election of Judges Gets Cool Reception, by Terri Langford — Legislation that would remove Texas judges from the straight-ticket voting process garnered a mostly cool reception Tuesday at a hearing, as both Democrats and Republicans said that tinkering with the ballot turns off voters.

Border DAs Back Amped-Up Prosecution Unit, by Julián Aguilar — The final piece of a high-profile border security package got moving Tuesday when a House committee heard House Bill 12 by state Rep. Oscar Longoria, which would elevate the state's Border Prosecution Unit into an official statutory being.

Greg Abbott, Scott Walker to Tour Texas-Mexico Border, by Patrick Svitek — Likely 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker is headed to the Texas-Mexico border on Friday, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will be there to show him the ropes.

Senate Committee Advances "Denton Fracking Bill", by Jim Malewitz — A Senate committee has advanced legislation to limit local control over oil and gas activities across Texas. The proposal is among nearly a dozen filed in response to a North Texas town's vote to ban hydraulic fracturing.

House Committee Considers E-Cigarette Ban for Minors, by Ryan McCrimmon — The House Public Health Committee on Tuesday discussed five bills that would extend current restrictions on tobacco products to vapor products like e-cigarettes. The Senate passed similar legislation last week.

Ted Cruz: I'm No Back Bencher, but Obama Was, by Abby Livingston — On his second official day as a presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz sat down with the Tribune's Jay Root for a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview that touched on global warming, marijuana legalization and his use of email.

$209.8 Billion Budget Plan Headed to House Floor, by Aman Batheja — The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday backed a $209.8 billion two-year budget that would leave $8.4 billion on the table, along with billions more in the state’s savings account. The budget plan now goes to the full House.

Lawmakers Say Sports Shaped Their Political Careers, by Ryan McCrimmon — Five state lawmakers — all former college athletes — gathered at the University of Texas at Austin to talk about the parallels between athletics and governing and the lessons they learned from high school and college sports.

The Day Ahead

•    The Senate convenes at 11 a.m.; the House convenes at noon. The House is expected to take up HB 80 by Midland Republican Tom Craddick, which would impose a statewide ban on texting while driving. The Senate is set to take up Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's $4.6 billion tax cut package, which would cut property taxes and the margins tax paid by businesses.

•    House Higher Ed meets at 8 a.m. Up for consideration are bills that would repeal the B-On-Time loan program and another one related to UT's Top 10 Percent rule (E2.014). House State Affairs meets at 10:30 a.m. with bills up for consideration aimed at preventing same-sex marriage and at requiring more disclosure of political donors (JHR 140). House Natural Resources meets at 2 p.m. or on final adjournment to take up a series of bills by Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, related to an ongoing conflict in his district over the pumping and export of water (E2.010).

•    Senate Finance meets on adjournment to continue work on budget workgroup recommendations (E1.036).

Elsewhere

Cruz says he’s raised $1 million since launching bid, The Hill

Ted Cruz’s Risky Bet, Politico

Ted Cruz to sign up for government health care, Des Moines Register

Appeals court sets April hearing on Obama immigration action, The Associated Press

Senator strikes back at big business over tax-cut criticism, San Antonio Express-News

As Texas college tuition climbs, lawmakers to air ideas, The Dallas Morning News

Fort Worth officials are asked to help rewrite drilling bill, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

North Texas lawmaker aims to get rid of gun-free zones, The Dallas Morning News

Texas House panel OK’s leading pre-K bill, Austin American-Statesman

Local strikes continue despite nationwide agreement, Houston Chronicle

Glitch grounds DMV vehicle record system for more than 5 hours, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

"On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. ... What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.' They brand you a heretic. Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers."

— GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz doubling down against "global warming alarmists" during a wide-ranging interview with the Tribune's Jay Root

Today in TribTalk

Supreme Court must reconsider UT's admissions policy, by Ilya Shapiro — An explosive new report should give the U.S. Supreme Court all the more reason to again review the use of race in the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy.

What's next for the gay rights movement in Texas, by Kevin Nix — As marriage equality waits in the wings, LGBT Texans still lack basic protections when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodations. That's our next fight — and it's already underway.

News From Home

Check out the Texas Tribune's Texas Legislative Guide, your go-to resource for the 2015 Texas legislative session. You can stay updated on the issues our reporters are covering, look up bills, and watch livestreams of the House and Senate chambers.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation With UT-Austin Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston on March 26 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Joe Pickett on April 7 at The Austin Club

•    Transportation: The Next Five Years on April 10 at Austin College in Sherman

•    A Conversation With Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. John Zerwas on April 16 at The Austin Club

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