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The Brief: March 26, 2015

The first salvos in the legislative fight this session over school vouchers will be fired this morning as three bills come up for consideration in committee.

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The Big Conversation

The first salvos in the legislative fight this session over school vouchers will be fired this morning as three bills — Senate Bills 4, 276 and 642 — come up for consideration in committee.

The Tribune's Morgan Smith sets up the coming conflict, writing:

"Similar proposals failed to make it out of the Senate during the 2013 legislative session, despite vocal backing from top elected officials including former Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Now lieutenant governor, Patrick has vowed to use his office to move voucher legislation, which he argues would offer an essential lifeline for students at low-performing schools whose families can't move to a better neighborhood."

If a voucher bill passes the Senate, Smith writes, success is far from assured in the House, where Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, "has said that for lawmakers in the lower chamber to even start a conversation about private school vouchers, the state would have to be assured of adequate quality control."

Trib Must-Reads

Blood Lessons: An Investigation Into Refinery Deaths, by Jim Malewitz, Jolie McCullough, Mark Collette and Lise Olsen, Houston Chronicle — Take a look back at Blood Lessons, a Texas Tribune/Houston Chronicle investigation into whether the nation’s oil refineries learned the lessons of the deadly explosion at BP’s Texas City plant in 2005.

Texas Counties, Metros Among Fastest-Growing in U.S., by Alexa Ura — Three Texas counties and four metropolitan areas ranked among the rapidly growing areas in the country, according to population estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

Anti-Gay Marriage Bill Scrutinized in Committee, by Alexa Ura — After fielding emotional please and various complaints in a committee hearing, Rep. Cecil Bell plans to revise his bill that would bar the state from recognizing same-sex marriages even if the courts declare it legal.

Hays County Water Fight Tumbles Into Committee, by Neena Satija — Dripping Springs state Rep. Jason Isaac went before the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday to make the case for his four-bill cocktail, aimed at stopping a controversial groundwater pumping project in Hays County.

Video: Kay Bailey Hutchison Will Endorse Jeb Bush, by Alana Rocha — Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Wednesday on MSNBC that she will endorse Jeb Bush for president, calling him "the trusted father-type that you want to run our country."

Senate's Property Tax Cut May Stall in House, by Aman Batheja — The Senate's notion of lowering property taxes for homeowners may lose steam when it reaches the House, where leaders appear more inclined to lower state sales taxes and avoid a collision with the spending cap.

Senate Passes Patrick's Tax Cut Package, by Ryan McCrimmon — The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s $4.5 billion tax relief package to cut property and business margins taxes. Now the ball is in the House's court.

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Latest Texas v. EPA Challenge, by Neena Satija — Texas again went head-to-head with the EPA before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, this time challenging federal limits on the emission of pollutants like mercury, acid gases and other toxic metals from power plants.

Texas Ditches Plan To Privatize Terrell State Hospital, by Terri Langford — A plan to privatize Terrell State Hospital is dead following a scathing audit that raps the state health commission for bypassing its own contracting procedures.

Texas House OKs Ban on Texting While Driving, by Bobby Blanchard — The Texas House on Wednesday tentatively approved a statewide ban on texting while driving, a measure that made it all the way to Gov. Rick Perry's desk in 2011 before getting vetoed. 

Texas House Will Tackle School Finance This Session, by Morgan Smith — With a plan that would add $3 billion to the state's public education budget, the Texas House has decided to take on school finance reform this legislative session.

Chris Christie Hires Austin Digital Firm, by Abby Livingston — An Austin digital firm signed on Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's leadership PAC.

Abbott to Foster Care Agency: Get Your Act Together, by Edgar Walters and Terri Langford — In the wake of three child deaths under the state’s ward so far this year, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday told the Department of Family and Protective Services to straighten up and fly right.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m.

•    House Transportation meets at 8 a.m. where they will take up Chairman Joe Pickett's constitutional amendment, HJR 13, dedicating a portion of sales tax revenue toward increased transportation funding and his HB 13, which would change how TxDOT decides which projects to fund (E2.012).

•    House General Investigating & Ethics meets at 10:30 a.m. One bill up for consideration, HB 1059 by Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, would lower reporting thresholds for personal financial statements and would require their posting online (E2.026).

•    Senate Finance meets at 9 a.m. to continue work on the budget (E1.036).

•    Senate Education meets at 8 a.m. with Chairman Larry Taylor's school voucher bill, SB 4, up for consideration (E1.028)

•    Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will have a breakfast conversation with Clay Johnston, the first dean of UT-Austin's Dell Medical School. The 8 a.m. event takes place at the Austin Club, and we will livestream the talk for those unable to attend in person.

Elsewhere

Abbott orders CPS to improve screening of temporary caregivers, Houston Chronicle

House panel approves $3.1 billion for campus construction projects, Austin American-Statesman

With bills getting hearing, water firm goes on PR offensive, Austin American-Statesman

Study: Eagle Ford producers hurt most by crude export ban, San Antonio Express-News

Ted Cruz already missing Senate votes for White House run, The Dallas Morning News

Ted Cruz ‘still weighing options’ on Obamacare, Politico

Former Ethics Chief says agency should stop enforcement actions, San Antonio Express-News

Again dodging shortage, Texas executioners obtain drugs for April executions, Houston Chronicle

Will wet weather help North Texas ranchers beef up herds?, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Quote to Note

“He's not a braggadocios guy. He's not a guy that does sweeping gestures. He is kind of the trusted father type that you want to run our country.”

— Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, announcing on Wednesday that she is backing Jeb Bush in his 2016 presidential bid

Today in TribTalk

Texas' economic segregation crisis, by Heather Way — The largest metro areas in Texas now lead the nation in economic segregation. This is bad for Texas and our children.

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 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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