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The Brief: May 6, 2015

News broke Tuesday afternoon of plans by an activist group to release videos this summer of state lawmakers that purportedly capture "a whole variety of bad behavior" but that lawmakers said was harassment.

Empty Texas House seat with paperwork, May 1, 2015.

The Big Conversation

News broke Tuesday afternoon of plans by an activist group to release videos this summer of state lawmakers who were secretly recorded in and near the Capitol. The group promises the videos capture "a whole variety of bad behavior."

The story was reported first by the Houston Chronicle but several media outlets interviewed the spokesman for the American Phoenix Foundation. The Tribune's Edgar Walters and Jay Root write:

"An activist group with ties to conservative causes is promising to unveil secretly captured video footage that one group leader claims will show Texas lawmakers behaving badly, confessing to a variety of indiscretions, engaging in inappropriate relationships with special interest lobbyists and possibly admitting to criminal behavior."

The group isn't releasing any of the videos yet, so it's impossible to judge at this point what these videos contain. The group's spokesman, John Beria, told the Tribune that "some relationships between powerful legislators and lobbyists will raise troubling questions."

The activities of the cameramen had already caused a stir among lawmakers stopped to answer a series of uncomfortable questions. One lawmaker, Houston Democrat Armando Walle, told the Tribune“Once he started being a little more aggressive, then I caught on. His mannerism and his aggressiveness — I was like, OK, this is not a normal line of questioning.”

Beria told the Tribune that "some of the most interesting findings center on conservative Republicans who act one way at home and quite another in the state capital ... 'What we’re going for is just hypocrisy. It’s liberal hypocrisy. It’s conservative hypocrisy.'”

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said one of the men shooting footage was acting like a stalker. “There are some sleazebags in politics," Geren said, "and these guys are going to fall right in that bracket.” 

The group was in the news before for using hidden cameras to target the liberal group ACORN as well as Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. In the latter case, Walters and Root writeAmerican Phoenix Foundation co-founder Joe "Basel pleaded guilty in 2010 for entering federal property under false pretenses after dressing up as a telephone repairman as part of a scheme to secretly gather video."

Trib Must-Reads

Analysis: For Legislators, an Extra Incentive to Finish Budget, by Ross Ramsey — If state budget writers can't get a deal on the budget during the regular session, they'll have to come back to finish. And with the state economy slowing down, going into overtime could mean less money for tax breaks and state programs.

EPA Closely Watching Bill to Speed State Permits, by Jim Malewitz — Texas appears poised to enact environmental legislation that could trigger an unintended consequence: more federal oversight.

A Smorgasbord of Disclosure, Online for the First Time, by Aman Batheja and Ryan Murphy — A state lawmaker is pushing to make all financial disclosure statements filed with the Texas Ethics Commission available online so the public can easily find them. In that spirit, the Tribune presents the disclosures filed by scores of state agency heads, regents and others that you can't get online now.

Perry Reverses Position on Export-Import Bank, by Patrick Svitek — Former Gov. Rick Perry announced late Tuesday he no longer supports the Export-Import Bank, reversing his position on an issue that has become a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates.

Senate OKs Tougher Rules for Hazlewood Tuition Program, by Matthew Watkins — In an effort to contain growing costs, the Texas Senate voted Tuesday to make it harder for veterans to pass free in-state tuition benefits onto their children. Universities have been pleading for help with those spiraling costs.

Texas to Sue Federal Government Over "Clean Power Plan", by Jim Malewitz — Attorney General Ken Paxton says he plans to sue the Obama administration over the proposed “Clean Power Plan,” its sweeping plan to combat climate change by slashing carbon emissions from power plants.

Senate OKs Sealing More Criminal Records, by Eva Hershaw — The criminal records of one-time offenders who stay out of trouble would be sealed and hidden from the public under a bill that cleared the Senate Tuesday. Supporters call it a second chance, but critics fear unknowing employers will pay the price.

Double-Dipping Ban Passes House, by Jay Root — The Texas House approved legislation Tuesday that would close the loophole former Gov. Rick Perry once used to begin collecting a lucrative pension without ever having to leave office.

Perry on Jade Helm: Military is "Quite Trustworthy", by Patrick Svitek — Former Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday citizens should trust the military amid concerns about a training exercise scheduled to begin this summer in Texas that has riled conspiracy theorists.

Senate OKs Bill Banning Insurers From Covering Abortion, by Alexa Ura — The Texas Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would prohibit health insurers from covering abortion.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m.; the Senate convenes at 11 a.m.


Islamic State claims Garland attack; White House says possible link being investigated, The Dallas Morning News

Gunmen who attacked Tex. event likely inspired by Islamic State, officials say, The Washington Post

Senate, House make tax-cut moves, San Antonio Express-News

Dozens convicted of 'talking dirty' to kids online eligible to have records cleared, Houston Chronicle

Program meant to give veterans free tolls is confusing to many, KXAN-TV

In traffic-clogged Montgomery County, a $350M road bond package is no sure thing, Houston Chronicle

Abstinence-Only Texas High School Hit By Chlamydia Outbreak; 1 In 15 Students Affected, Huffington Post

Jade Helm 15: No, Pentagon says: We’re not plotting the military takeover of Texas, Politico

Quote to Note

"You know, I think our military is quite trustworthy. Civilian leadership – you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”

— Former Gov. Rick Perry to reporters in Dallas on Tuesday, taking on conspiracy theories that a planned military exercise in Texas is a prelude to imposition of martial law

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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

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Armando Walle Charlie Geren Ken Paxton Rick Perry