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The Brief: April 9, 2015

Republicans leery of granting more eminent domain authority acted to fast-track to nowhere a proposed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas.

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The Big Conversation

Republicans leery of granting more eminent domain authority acted to fast-track to nowhere a proposed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas.

The Tribune's Aman Batheja reported that five Republicans on the Senate Transportation Committee passed out a bill Wednesday by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, that would deny developers of a high-speed rail line the use of the eminent domain tool. Two Houston Democrats and two Dallas-area Republicans voted against the bill.

Kolkhorst explained the impetus for the bill was skepticism the project would ever come to fruition. “I just don’t see it, and I’m not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this,” she said. As such, she did not want to put landowners along a proposed route in a position to lose their property.

Republican supporters of Kolkhorst's legislation said they were uncomfortable with giving eminent domain authority to a for-profit company. The developers of the rail line have made their reliance on private funding a selling point of the venture.

Batheja wrote, though, that "hundreds of private firms" in Texas already have eminent domain authority with many of them private railroad companies.

“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless told the committee. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

Trib Must-Reads

Juárez Valley Cartel War Drives Many Across Border, by Julián Aguilar — Despite improvements in pockets of northern Mexico after years of bloodshed, instability still reigns in areas of Chihuahua state that continues driving people north to seek safe haven. What determines whether a person lives or dies near this part of the Rio Grande could be as simple as geography.

Texas Lawmakers to Consider Police Body Cameras, by Neena Satija — As a bystander's video of a South Carolina cop shooting and killing an unarmed black man reignites a national debate over police brutality, Texas lawmakers are set to discuss police body cameras in a public hearing.

Sanctuary Cities Bill Heads to Full Senate, by Julián Aguilar — Along party lines, a Senate committee Wednesday advanced a controversial "sanctuary cities" bill from Lubbock Sen. Charles Perry that would cut state funds to cities that don't let their peace officers enforce immigration laws.

UT Regents Will Let Wallace Hall Review More Documents, by Matthew Watkins — The University of Texas System Board of Regents will allow member Wallace Hall to see some data and documents compiled during an outside investigation into outside influence on UT-Austin admissions.

Spurning Tea Party Opposition, House Passes Pre-K Bill, by Morgan Smith — Key early education legislation backed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott overwhelmingly passed the House Wednesday after surviving multiple challenges from Tea Party-backed representatives.

Bill Repealing In-State Tuition for Undocumented Heads to Senate, by Julián Aguilar — A Senate committee has passed state Sen. Donna Campbell's bill to repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented students on to the full chamber with a party-line vote.

Senate Committee Moves $211.4 Billion Budget Forward, by Aman Batheja — Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she expected the Senate version of the budget to be debated by the full Senate next week, “probably Tuesday.”

House Tentatively OKs Campus Construction Bond Plan, by Matthew Watkins — The Texas House on Wednesday tentatively approved a package of bonds worth $3.1 billion to support construction on college campuses. Legislators haven't authorized such spending in a decade.

Senate Backs Bill That Would Relocate Integrity Unit, by Bobby Blanchard — The Texas Senate has preliminarily passed a bill that would move the state’s public integrity unit from the Travis County district attorney’s office to the Texas Rangers.

Bonnen's $4.9 Billion Tax Cut Plan Targets Sales Taxes, by Aman Batheja — House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, laid out a $4.9 billion tax cut plan Wednesday featuring cuts in sales taxes and business taxes. The Senate's plan cuts business taxes and property taxes.

Committees Moving on Bills to Limit Tuition Increases, by Matthew Watkins and Ryan McCrimmon — A Senate committee has approved a bill that would limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation unless universities meet "performance measures." Meanwhile, a House committee is considering a bill to tie tuition increases only to inflation.

Pro-Cruz Super PACs Expect $31 Million First-Week Haul, by Patrick Svitek — A quartet of super PACs is coming to the aid of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as he embarks on his 2016 presidential campaign, and they expect to raise a whopping $31 million during their first week.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m. The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. The House considers its first local and consent calendar.

•    House Transportation meets at 8 a.m. One bill up for consideration — HB 2440 by Chris Paddie, R-Marshall — would allow the state, rather than cities, to regulate businesses like Uber and Lyft (E2.012). House Economic & Small Business Development takes up bills at its 8 a.m. meeting that would abolish the Texas emerging technology fund (E2.010).

•    A House select committee on emerging issues in Texas law enforcement takes up legislation on police body cameras at a meeting today on final adjournment (E2.030). House General Investigating & Ethics takes up several ethics bills dealing with lobbying, contracting and conflicts of interest (E2.026).

•    Senate Finance meets at 9 a.m. Two bills up for consideration would call for investing portions of the balance in the Rainy Day Fund (E1.036).

•    Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will interview Senate Business and Commerce Committee Chairman Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. The 8 a.m. conversation at the Austin Club will be livestreamed for those unable to attend in person.

Elsewhere

House’s proposed sales tax cut a Texas first, The Dallas Morning News

Collin County grand jury wants to look into Paxton case, Houston Chronicle

City reviews of would-be Uber drivers find crimes the company missed, Houston Chronicle

Abbott-backed bills target school district spending on lobbyists, San Antonio Express-News

Amid STAAR changes, state grants a reprieve from poor math test scores, Austin American-Statesman

House committee set to discuss eliminating abortion coverage in heath care exchange, The Dallas Morning News

Will taxpayers feel the relief?, San Antonio Express-News

Federal judge dismisses Fort Worth police pension lawsuit, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Rand Paul Gets the TV Spotlight and Turns It on Interviewers in Testy Encounters, The New York Times

Quote to Note

“I wanted to quit while I can still do my job. I covered the Senate long enough to see people carried out on a gurney, and I didn’t want to be one of those people in my profession.”

— Veteran newsman and host of CBS' Face the Nation Bob Schieffer, explaining his desire to retire from the news business this summer. He made an announcement Wednesday at his Schieffer Symposium on the News at TCU in Fort Worth.

Today in TribTalk

What a tax fight says about Texas' future, by Jim Henson and Joshua Blank — How exactly the Legislature will reduce taxes has emerged as the defining fight of the 84th session, highlighting the tension between Texas’ political culture and the state’s rapid economic growth.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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

•    A Conversation With John Sharp on May 7 at The Austin Club

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