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The Brief: May 12, 2015

The nonprofit group that has been secretly videotaping legislators this session has drawn the scrutiny of the Texas Rangers, the Houston Chronicle reports.

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The Big Conversation

The nonprofit group that has been secretly videotaping legislators this session has drawn the scrutiny of the Texas Rangers, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Lauren McGaughy and David Saleh Rauf wrote, "The probe spans both chambers. Several senators received similar calls from DPS in the last several days, and Texas Rangers gathered behind the House chamber Monday to ask representatives about any security concerns or other issues related to the videotaping."

They also report that a senior staffer for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was told by DPS about the secret tapings but senators were not told of it at the time "because no senators were believed to have been targeted by the group."

One senator, Houston Democrat Rodney Ellis, said Monday, "I would have preferred to have known if it was a possibility."

Meanwhile, the nonprofit group behind the taping project, the American Phoenix Foundation, continues its work. Photos of business cards left by the group at Capitol offices made the rounds of social media on Monday:

Trib Must-Reads

Half of TX Women Face Barriers to Reproductive Health, by Alexa Ura — More than half of Texas women faced at least one barrier to accessing reproductive health care in the years after lawmakers dramatically altered the state’s family planning services, according to a new report.

Amid Local Control Fight, A GOP Proposal Cities Like, by Jim Malewitz — City officials are crossing their fingers that one Republican proposal – what consumer advocates call the session’s most important bill for natural gas utility customers – will pick up steam before time runs out.

To Some, Miller's School Food Plan is Half-Baked, by Eva Hershaw — The reintroduction of deep fat fryers and soda machines into public schools may top the agenda of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. But some teachers and parents don't share his appetite for sugary drinks and french fries.

Video: Explaining Voting Practices in the House, by Alana Rocha and Justin Dehn — Your state lawmakers are keeping busy in these final weeks of the 84th Legislature — negotiating bills, debating on the floor and, in the House, probably helping the representatives seated near them cast votes. Here's a look at the rules that govern House votes.

House Shoots Down Increased Financial Disclosures, by Ryan McCrimmon — The Texas House on Monday night rejected a bill that would have increased the level of detail in personal financial statements filed by lawmakers and other state officials.

House Advances E-Cigarette Ban for Minors, by Ryan McCrimmon — Texas moved a step closer to banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors after the state House gave tentative approval Monday to a bill that lawmakers say would prevent young Texans from purchasing nicotine products.

Senate Approves Bill to Keep Execution Drug Providers Secret, by Terri Langford and Morgan Smith — A measure to keep the names of execution drug providers from the public won initial approval in the Texas Senate on Monday.

House Gives Tentative OK to Visitation Rights for Inmates, by Eva Hershaw — County jail inmates in Texas may no longer have to look at visiting loved ones on a video screen under legislation tentatively passed by the state House on Monday.

In Houston, Mike Huckabee Details Energy Plan, by Patrick Svitek — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the latest Republican to jump into the 2016 presidential race, took to Texas' oil capital Monday to flesh out his energy plan.

Senate Backs Allowing Pastors to Refuse to Marry Same-Sex Couples, by Morgan Smith — The so-called Pastor Protection Act — a bill that clarifies clergy members' right to refuse to marry same-sex couples — tentatively passed the Texas Senate on Monday.

House Gives Early OK to Expanding DNA Testing, by Ryan McCrimmon — The Texas House on Monday gave early approval to expanding DNA testing in criminal cases, an effort to prevent the incarceration of innocent Texans like Michael Morton, who spent nearly 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Abbott Signs Bill to Help Students Who Fail State Exams, by Eva Hershaw — Gov. Greg Abbott warmed up his bill-signing pen on Monday, approving a measure ensuring that some high school seniors who fail to pass state exams can seek an alternate route to graduation.

Analysis: Candid Cameras at a Critical Legislative Moment, by Ross Ramsey — Without showing their hand, conservatives outside of government have captured the attention of every nervous conservative in the Legislature at exactly the right time.

The Day Ahead

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

•    House Ways and Means meets at 8:30 a.m. to discuss tax cut proposals put forward by the Senate (E2.010).

•    Gov. Greg Abbott will speak at the Texas Department of Public Service memorial service for peace officers killed in the line of duty. The 10 a.m. event will take place at DPS headquarters in North Austin.


Texas legislators prepare obstacles for gay marriage, The Dallas Morning News

Statewide texting-while-driving ban heads to full Senate, The Dallas Morning News

Grand jury reform suffers setback in Austin, Houston Chronicle

Bill to allow public companies to sell hard alcohol dies, Austin American-Statesman

Bill to cut veterans’ education benefits sparks furor, San Antonio Express-News

Texas says goodbye to former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Texas lawmakers look into creation of statewide water grid, trading market, El Paso Times

Bill aiming to cut bridge wait times for commercial traffic passes House, The Monitor

Wolff backs Van de Putte for mayor, San Antonio Express-News

UH to pay $9,500 to fly McConaughey in on private jet for commencement, Houston Chronicle

Quote to Note

“That’s great. Saves water!”

— Russell Schreiber, Wichita Falls' director of public works, on his response to critics of the city's plans last year to boost the drinking supply by using recycled water. He says now that people stop him to say the water tastes better.

Today in TribTalk

The true cost of hunger in Texas, by Ray Perryman — Hunger takes an incalculable toll on the stability and dignity of affected families, but there's also a tremendous economic cost that trickles down to every Texan.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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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Dan Patrick Greg Abbott Michael Morton Rodney Ellis Sid Miller