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The Brief: April 1, 2015

It took more than 17 hours, but the House gave preliminary OK to a budget. Anticipated fights over vouchers and in-state tuition for undocumented students failed to materialize.

State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, carries literature laying out House Bill 1 as he prepares to discuss the appropriations bill on the House floor March 31, 2015.

The Big Conversation

The House gave preliminary approval to the budget after 17-plus hours of debate, wrapping up floor action at 5:40 a.m. The vote was 141-5.

With the House leadership holding its voting bloc together on most key votes, many of the expected conflicts on hot button issues like education evaporated before they were aired out on the floor.

An anticipated fight over school vouchers failed to materialize. The Tribune's Morgan Smith reports that Corpus Christi Democrat Abel Herrero said "his amendment had become a 'moot point' as a result of earlier votes the chamber had taken to increase funding to public schools."

Another potential fight spurred by conservatives' discontent with the state's law offering in-state tuition to undocumented students likewise fizzled as amendment authors chose to withdraw their language rather than offer it on the floor. The Tribune's Julián Aguilar reported that Bedford Republican Jonathan Stickland pulled down his amendment that would have taken money from universities that give financial aid to undocumented students.

And Arlington Republican Tony Tinderholt abandoned an effort to defund the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which is aimed at keeping doctoral students on the border to teach.

But that's not to say there weren't some odd moments. Probably the most unexpected turn of events was the vote in favor of an effort by state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education.

As the Tribune's Eva Hershaw reported, the debate took a strange turn as the freshman Spitzer offered himself as an example of the virtues of abstinence education. She writes:

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, took to the podium and asked Spitzer, "Were you taught abstinence education? Did it work?" 

Spitzer replied that he was a virgin when he married at age 29. "I've only had sex with one woman in my life, and that's my wife," Spitzer said.

Dutton continued. "And since you brought it up, is that the first woman you asked?"

"I'm not sure that's an appropriate question," Spitzer responded.

Trib Must-Reads

Rules Hurt Family Violence Programs, Nelson Says, by Eva Hershaw — State regulations are unnecessarily holding up funds for shelters and programs that help victims of family violence, state Sen. Jane Nelson says. She wants to loosen the rules, even as she leads the charge to tighten other state contracting procedures.

Interactive: Demographics of State Health Professionals, by Alexa Ura — Minorities are largely underrepresented among the state's health care professionals. Use these interactives to explore the demographics of some health professions by race/ethnicity, gender and age.

Look at Texting-and-Driving Ordinances in Texas, by Alana Rocha and Annie Daniel — A bill that would enact a statewide texting-while-driving ban is advancing in the Texas Legislature, and it could affect some local ordinances already in place. Here's a look at which municipalities currently have restrictions.

Efforts to Divert Border Security Funding Mostly Fall Flat, by Julián Aguilar — House Democrats tried – and mostly failed – to divert funds  allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s budget debate.

Texas House Avoids Voucher Vote in Budget Debate, by Morgan Smith — The Texas House was poised to take a vote banning private school vouchers as it adopted the state budget Tuesday. But about nine hours into the debate, the lawmaker carrying the measure withdrew it from consideration.

Two Democrats Go to Runoff for Menéndez Seat, by Patrick Svitek — Two Democrats are advancing to a second round in the race to replace former state Rep. José Menéndez, likely adding a few more weeks to the last in a series of special elections.

Tense Debate as House Shifts HIV Funding to Abstinence, by Eva Hershaw — Some of the most emotional, and uncomfortable, debate on the House budget Tuesday came when a state representative asked fellow lawmakers to move money from HIV and STD prevention to abstinence education.

Aiming for Upset, Cruz Brings Presidential Campaign Home, by Patrick Svitek — Ted Cruz returned home Tuesday evening to a hero's welcome, rallying hundreds of supporters outside the headquarters of his week-old presidential campaign with an impassioned plea to replicate the energy that propelled him to Congress in 2012.

Analysis: Budget Debate is About More than Money, by Ross Ramsey — The House is working on the budget, the only bill lawmakers have to pass. And that's why there are 354 proposed amendments: If you can get your idea attached to the only bill that has to pass, your chances get much better.

UH to Pay $135,000 for Matthew McConaughey Speech, by Matthew Watkins — Call it the Houston Buyers Club: The University of Houston is paying $135,000 plus travel expenses to get Matthew McConaughey to speak at its spring commencement. The actor is donating the money to charity.

Budget Debate Tackles School Funding, Incentive Programs, by Aman Batheja and Morgan Smith — With more than 350 proposed amendments before then, the Texas House is likely to go well into the evening before getting to a final vote on the $210 billion budget. Early discussions addressed school funding and incentives programs.

Senate Moves to Bolster Infectious Disease Response, by Jim Malewitz — Months after three Ebola diagnoses stirred fears in Dallas, the Texas Senate on Tuesday approved legislation aiming to clarify how the state should respond to its next infectious disease outbreak.

Contracting Overhaul Sails Through Senate, by Jim Malewitz — Amid an ongoing scandal over how the state awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a private company, the Texas Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would overhaul the state’s contracting processes.

Bill to Allow Guns on Campus Sent to Texas House, by Ryan McCrimmon — The Texas Senate has already passed a bill allowing handguns on college campuses. Now the House is poised to consider its own measure.

Texas Plays Host to 2016 Fundraising Scramble, by Patrick Svitek — Texas is quickly settling into its role as a lucrative state for White House hopefuls, playing host this month alone to several candidates looking to tap the state's deep pool of donor dollars.

Grand Jury Recommends UT Regent's Removal, by Matthew Watkins and Terri Langford — In an unusual, strongly worded report, a Travis County grand jury recommended this week that University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall be removed from office.

Barry Smitherman Lands Job at Law Firm, by Jim Malewitz — Barry Smitherman, the only person to serve both on the Texas Railroad Commission and the state’s Public Utility Commission, will practice energy law at Vinson and Elkins, the international law firm announced Tuesday.

Zachry Group to Donate $25 Million to Texas A&M, by Matthew Watkins — Zachry Group, a San Antonio-based construction and engineering firm, is donating $25 million to Texas A&M University’s engineering college, aiming to help the college's plans to become the country's largest engineering school.

The Day Ahead

•    The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. The House is scheduled to take up the supplemental budget bill that would cover unpaid bills for the current budget cycle.


Editorial: Janek should resign as health commissioner, Austin American-Statesman

Garcia: Why Van de Putte’s fund transfer matters, San Antonio Express-News

Cruz MIA at Armed Services hearings, Politico

Ted Cruz and the New Politics of Texas, The New York Times

Texas House panel votes to bar cities from banning fracking, The Dallas Morning News

Senate panel approves next step in juvenile-justice reforms, Houston Chronicle

Conservative leader lobbies Texas court on gay marriage, Austin American-Statesman

DPS watches lawmaker’s house after South San shooting, San Antonio Express-News

State to delay request to continue waiver from education law, Houston Chronicle

Texas Slot Machines Ring Up Big Business in a Legal Gray Area, The New York Times

Quote to Note

"This is my first year here, and I'm not sure what is normal. But I'm pretty sure it doesn't usually devolve into discussion of a person's sexual history."

— Freshman state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, after floor debate on his proposal to move money from from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education in which he cited himself as an example of the effectiveness of abstinence education

Today in TribTalk

Finding common ground on budget transparency, by Sara E. Smith and Peggy Venable — Many states are starting to outpace Texas in providing citizens with easy-to-understand budget spending information. That’s a problem, and our elected leaders need to step up.

News From Home

As the Texas House discusses its budget plan Tuesday, you can use our Texas Legislative Guide to catch up on the budget process so far. Read more about what legislators have discussed, and get links to our past coverage.

Trib Events for the Calendar

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

•    A Conversation With Sen. Kevin Eltife on April 9 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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Abel Herrero Harold Dutton Jr. Jane Nelson José Menéndez Ted Cruz