The Brief: May 1, 2015

The decision earlier this week by Gov. Greg Abbott to get involved in the controversy over a planned military exercise taking place across several Southwestern states continues to draw comment.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to reporters at  Texas Public Policy Foundation's grand opening of new building on April 21st, 2015

The Big Conversation

The decision earlier this week by Gov. Greg Abbott to get involved in the controversy over a planned military exercise taking place across several Southwestern states continues to draw comment.

The Tribune's Patrick Svitek reports that Abbott's move — asking in a letter that the Texas State Guard monitor the exercise — didn't seem to faze military experts. "It seems like a lot of ado about nothing" was the reaction of one Marine Corps Reserve officer.

Among politicians, the reaction was more harsh, whether from the White House or from a former GOP Texas House member. Former state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, wrote Abbott a letter, Svitek wrote, in which he said Abbott was "pandering to idiots" and that he was "horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn't have the backbone to stand up to those who do."

And former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wrote in an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News that U.S. soldiers "love their country and they’re willing to die to defend your liberties. Unfortunately, some Texans have projected their legitimate concerns about the competence and trustworthiness of President Barack Obama onto these noble warriors. This must stop ... Instead of viewing our hard-working troops with suspicion or greeting them with insults, let’s increase our prayers for them and their families as we send a message of welcome and encouragement."

Abbott's office is responding by saying his action was just a way to address concerns being raised by the public and that he rejects criticism that he is showing distrust of the military.

Trib Must-Reads

UT's Powers Touts Gains, Has No Regrets, by Matthew Watkins — Outgoing UT-Austin President Bill Powers said this week that he felt he always acted in the best interest of the school and is proud of the reforms he helped implement. He also defended his actions related to university admissions.

Analysis: Does "Voucher" Label Fit the Bill?, by Ross Ramsey — You can slow down or even kill a piece of legislation with a single word or phrase, if it's poisonous enough.

Dennis Bonnen, From Loud Mouth to Mouth of the House, by Julián Aguilar and Aman Batheja — Rep. Dennis Bonnen has become a go-to mouthpiece for House leadership, and the votes for his legislation are indicative of how closely in step with him his colleagues are. If he were off the leash, someone would yank it. Nobody has.

House Advances Bill to Speed Permits, Limit Protests, by Jim Malewitz — Contending that Texas is struggling to lure businesses, House lawmakers on Thursday gave initial approval to bill to quicken the pace at which regulators crank out permits for major industrial projects – by limiting public scrutiny.

Abbott's Pre-K Bill Headed to Full Senate, by Morgan Smith — The bill that helped spark last week's blowup between the state's top officials is suddenly moving in the Senate, despite fierce opposition from Tea Party conservatives.

Senate Bill Makes It Harder To Sue Insurers, by Jay Root and Julián Aguilar — A controversial bill that would make it harder for homeowners and companies to recover certain damages from their insurance companies — cheered by the insurance industry and criticized by liberal groups and some businesses — cleared the Texas Senate on Thursday.

Bettencourt Hopes to Slow Property Tax Growth, by Aman Batheja and Eva Hershaw — State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, managed to add an amendment to a bill Thursday that would make it more difficult for some local entities to raise property taxes.

House Approves Use of Sales Tax for Highways, by Ryan McCrimmon — The Texas House gave initial approval Thursday to a major boost in transportation funding from sales taxes, setting the stage for a showdown with the Senate over the best way to pay for Texas roads.

Senate Passes Tax-Free Holiday to Spur Gun Sales, by Eva Hershaw — The state Senate on Thursday gave the green light to a proposal to designate one weekend a year when Texas shoppers would not have to pay sales tax on guns.

Amid Truancy Debate, Whitmire Questions Program's Referrals, by Terri Langford — State Sen. John Whitmire is asking questions about a program for at-risk youths run by the Texas Military Department where more than half of the applicants are truant students referred by justice of the peace courts or from the schools themselves.

House Panel Debates Bills to Rein In Film Incentives, by Ryan McCrimmon — A Texas House committee on Thursday considered a pair of bills taking aim at the state film incentives program. One would block state grants for films and video games containing adult content. Another would abolish the program altogether.

Lawmakers Call for End to Controversial Driver Responsibility Program, by Eva Hershaw — A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday called for the repeal of a state program that requires drivers convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay annual surcharges to keep their driver's licenses.

Study: Texas' Rate of Uninsured Falls, by Edgar Walters — The rate of Texans without health insurance has fallen 8 percentage points since enrollment began in the federal Affordable Care Act, according to a new study.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 9 a.m.

•    Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith will interview HUD Secretary Julián Castro. The 8 a.m. breakfast conversation takes place at the Austin Club and will be live streamed for those unable to attend in person.

Elsewhere

Rep. Joe Pickett tosses Rep. Jonathan Stickland from hearing room, Austin American-Statesman

Patrick: Churches, clergy need protection if court upholds gay marriage, The Dallas Morning News

Senate OKs bill to change how court cases against state are heard, Houston Chronicle

Electro Purification groundwater regulation effort hits skids, Austin American-Statesman

Senate moves to rein in rising college tuition rates, The Dallas Morning News

Garcia: Taylor’s robust poll numbers bolstered by religious right, San Antonio Express-News

City rejects Villarreal’s ethics complaint against Van de Putte, San Antonio Express-News

Lower crude prices speak loudly in Big Oil earnings, Houston Chronicle

Quote to Note

“There’s a senator on the other side of this building that thinks he needs to rewrite this bill ... You’ve heard of McCarthyism, a campaign to spread fear. Modern day McCarthyism is very similar.”

— State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, criticizing state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, for opposing legislation aimed at stopping a groundwater pumping project in Isaac's district

Today in TribTalk

Trust the data: Pre-K is good for kids, by Cynthia Osborne — As the Legislature continues to debate the future of pre-kindergarten in Texas, new data confirm that investing in early childhood education is good for both students and the state.

Texas kids need more after-school options, by Andy Roddick and Molly Clayton — Local governments and philanthropists are working to ensure access to these crucial programs, but it’s time for the state to step up.

News From Home

We reached our goal of 100 new members! Our nonprofit newsroom depends on member support. It’s not too late to join today.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A One-Day Symposium on Health Care on May 4 at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin

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

•    A Conversation With Rep. Dennis Bonnen on May 13 at The Austin Club

•    How'd the House Do? A Conversation About the 84th Legislative Session on May 21 at The Austin Club

•    How'd the Senate Do? A Conversation About the 84th Legislative Session on May 28 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation About Texas Monthly's Best and Worst Legislators 2015 on June 18 at The Austin Club