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The Brief: April 2, 2015

The blowback experienced by Indiana over its religious freedom law has Texas' largest business organization worried about efforts this session to update this state's law on the subject.

Bill Hammond is the CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

The Big Conversation

The blowback experienced by Indiana over its religious freedom law, seen by many as a vehicle to protect discrimination against gays and lesbians, has Texas' largest business organization worried about efforts this session to update this state's law on the subject.

Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, told the Houston Chronicle's Lauren McGaughy, "This thing is equally bad or worse than Indiana, and look what's happening there." McGaughy reported that at least three lawmakers have religious freedom legislation in the works this session.

Backers of the measures say criticism has been overblown. And Hammond's position has drawn the ire of some social conservatives.

Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values wrote in an op-ed that Hammond's organization "has now aligned itself with hard left anti-freedom organizations, like the ACLU, that not only want to redefine marriage but also want to redefine how Texans do business."

GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, meanwhile, defended the Indiana law during his first stop as a candidate to Iowa, site of the first presidential caucus contest next year. As reported by The Dallas Morning News' Todd J. Gillman, Cruz said that Indiana is “doing the right thing. … We’re seeing in the news right now a lot of noise because the state of Indiana bravely stood up and passed a law defending religious liberty.”

Whether any of these bills gets out of committee remains an open question. McGaughy writes, "Citing the 'national attention' Indiana's proposal has garnered, State Affairs Committee Chair Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said the House must be 'very thoughtful' about bringing it up for a vote. In the Senate, his counterpart, Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said there were no plans at this time to hear the legislation."

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must-Reads

Legislation Would Ban Fees for Conserving Electricity, by Jim Malewitz — One state lawmaker has an idea to encourage Texans to conserve energy: Stop charging them for doing so. Rep. Sylvester Turner's legislation would bar companies from charging customers for using too little energy – a common practice.

Ducking Child Support by Becoming a "Contractor", by Julián Aguilar — Often seen as a workers' rights issue, worker misclassification can have a direct impact on the state's child support collections. Some workers want to be classified as contractors to dodge wage garnishment.

Analysis: A Grand Jury With a Taste for Commentary, by Ross Ramsey — A grand jury in Travis County did a peculiar thing this week. It decided Wallace Hall had not broken the law, and then recommended removing him from the University of Texas System Board of Regents.

Sid Miller Backed, Then Nixed, Ag Agency Remodel, by Jay Root — Hand-scraped wood floors. Custom ceiling tile. A shower. Those items may not sound like upgrades a cash-strapped agency would need, and new Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller ultimately didn't think so, either. After initially supporting a big renovation at the agency, Miller decided to nix it, officials say.

House Approves $503 Million Boost to Current Budget, by Ryan McCrimmon — After an 18-hour marathon Tuesday night to sign off on a $210 billion two-year state budget, lawmakers were back in the Texas House on Wednesday afternoon for a bit of unfinished business: plugging holes in the current budget.

Huston-Tillotson University Names New President, by Matthew Watkins — Colette Pierce Burnette will be the first woman to run the private school since Tillotson College and Samuel Huston College merged in 1952.

3 Texas Sites Apply to Host Presidential Debate, by Patrick Svitek — The city of McAllen, Houston Community College and Texas A&M University have applied to host a presidential or vice presidential debate in 2016, organizers announced Wednesday.

Poll: Cruz in "Top Tier" of GOP White House Hopefuls, by Patrick Svitek — A week after becoming the first major candidate to announce he's running for president, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has risen to the "top tier" of Republican White House hopefuls, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Day Ahead

•    The House Economic & Small Business Development meets at 8 a.m. to consider a number of bills dealing with the state's economic incentive funds. Among the bills to be considered are Chairwoman Angie Chen Button's HB 26 and HB 27 calling for changes in the administration of the Texas Enterprise Fund and the abolishment of the Emerging Technology Fund (E2.010).

Elsewhere

Health and human services overhaul curtailed, bill advances to Senate, Austin American-Statesman

Texas Senate panel approves $2.9 billion for college bonds, Austin American-Statesman

State, county spar over using Beaumont facility for sex offenders, Houston Chronicle

Van de Putte about face on campaign contributions, San Antonio Express-News

Ted Cruz’s family story: Poignant but incomplete, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

House panel mulls increasing juvenile criminal age to 18, The Associated Press

Effort to move Senate ethics bill derails, Houston Chronicle

Windstorm association reform could have new name, Corpus Christi Caller-Times

DPS trooper required to get counseling for posing with Snoop Dogg, The Dallas Morning News

Quote to Note

“I sincerely have enjoyed this process. When you’re a CPA by background, you’re sort of like a hog in a mud puddle.”

— House Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, expressing his sheer delight to his House colleagues at managing the 17-plus hour floor debate on the state budget

Today in TribTalk

Kill voucher proposals once and for all, by Sara Stevenson — Although private-school voucher bills continue to fail in the Texas Legislature, session after session, they’re like zombies — they never really die. And they’re back again this year.

News From Home

The Texas House discussed its budget plan Tuesday, and 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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