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The Brief: May 21, 2015

Budget conferees on Wednesday settled on funding levels for public education and border security, but big decisions on property tax cuts and roads funding remain for Thursday.

State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, and Chairman Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, embrace prior to Wednesday's Joint Commit...

The Big Conversation

With one negotiator declaring the "finish line is in sight," members of the budget conference committee announced final decisions Wednesday on funding levels for public education, border security and the Medicaid program. Decisions on the size and shape of property tax relief and on roads funding remain pending, although negotiators said they would like to have everything settled by Thursday evening.

According to the Tribune's Aman Batheja, negotiators went with the lower Senate figure on public education, choosing to add $1.5 billion beyond what's needed to cover population growth over the next two years. That sum is significantly lower than the $2.2 billion favored by the House.

The conferees also settled on an $800 million funding level for border security, a bit less than the $811 million the Senate wanted but well ahead of the $565 million pushed by the House. Conferees also chose not to take up a House recommendation to boost reimbursement rates for primary care doctors treating Medicaid clients.

In other developments, conferees found money for the Racing Commission, which had been zeroed out by the Senate, and for the state's film incentive program, albeit at a level below what the House and Gov. Greg Abbott were suggesting as appropriate for the economic incentive fund.

And, finally, conferees chose not to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs for abstinence education. The House had approved the transfer during floor debate on the budget, a discussion that drew widespread attention for heated rhetoric that focused on lawmakers' personal lives at times.

Trib Must-Reads

Cruz Picks Up Four Texas Congressional Endorsements, by Abby Livingston — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is set to pick up four endorsements from the Texas congressional delegation on Thursday.

See How Each Texas City Grew From 2010 to 2014, by Alexa Ura and Jolie McCullough — Texas suburbs continue to dominate as the fastest-growing areas of the state, according to new population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Crunch Time Near for Major Education Bills, by Morgan Smith — The 84th Legislature started with ambitious plans for reforming public education. Now it's make-or-break time for many of the major initiatives still alive. Here's a roundup of where things stand.

Cascos Wants to Move Past Voter ID, Partisan Politics, by Julián Aguilar — Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos hopes his tenure represents a shifting tide in the office — away from partisan gridlock over voting, and toward bolstering Texas' relations with Mexico and improving life along the state's southern border.

Budget Ousts Planned Parenthood From Cancer Program, by Alexa Ura — A budget deal announced Wednesday will oust Planned Parenthood from the state’s program to provide breast and cervical cancer screening for low-income women.

More Pay for Medicaid Doctors Lost in Budget Deal, by Edgar Walters — The House-Senate budget conference committee adopted its compromise on health and human services funding Wednesday, pleasing fiscal conservatives and giving little cheer to advocates for the poor and disabled.

Harris County in Crosshairs of Pollution Lawsuit Limits, by Jim Malewitz — In a session that's been kind to business interests, local control might be about to take another hit as the Senate tentatively approves legislation that could make it harder for counties to sue polluters.

Citing Garland Shooting, Perry Touts Surveillance, by Patrick Svitek — Wrapping up a swing through Iowa, former Gov. Rick Perry cited the Garland shooting to defend federal surveillance programs, and told a national security forum that enhanced interrogation is okay, though rectal feeding may be over the line.

Texas a Hair's Breadth Away From Cutting Braiding Laws, by Ryan McCrimmon — After a Dallas hair braider's decades-long battle with the state to practice and teach African hair braiding in Texas, lawmakers passed a measure Wednesday to drop industry restrictions and sent the bill to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott.

House, Senate at Odds Over Provision That Would Block Bullet Train, by Aman Batheja — House and Senate leaders are in the midst of intense negotiations over a budget rider that could kill a proposed $12 billion bullet train project connecting Dallas and Houston.

The Day Ahead

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

•    House State Affairs meets at 8 a.m. to hold a public hearing on SB 1968 by Joan Huffman, which would end automatic payroll deductions for union dues for most classes of public employees (JHR 140)

•    House Economic and Small Business Development meets at 9 a.m. to consider SB 632 by Troy Fraser, which would abolish the Texas emerging technology fund and create the governor's university research initiative (E2.010)

•    Senate Education meets at 9 a.m. and will consider HB 1842 by Jimmie Don Aycock, which would further refine the process of intervention at low-performing schools (E1.028)

•    Senate State Affairs meets at 9 a.m. and will consider HB 408 by Chris Turner, which would prevent public officials from receiving retirement benefits while still drawing a state salary (E1.016)

•    Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith will moderate an end-of-session discussion with state Reps. Sarah Davis, Jeff Leach and Poncho Nevárez. The 8 a.m. breakfast conversation at the Austin Club will be live streamed for those unable to attend in person.

Elsewhere

Texting-while-driving ban is stymied in the Texas Senate, Austin American-Statesman

Texas waits while Congress stalls on highway funding, Houston Chronicle

Social hot-button kills another Texas state agency overhaul, El Paso Times

Counties: September tax-relief election could cost more than $13 million, San Antonio Express-News

Hunting, fishing a Texan's right?, Houston Chronicle

Dallas County DA Susan Hawk draws Heath Harris as 2018 challenger, The Dallas Morning News

Fox News to limit the field for first GOP presidential debate, The Washington Post

Quote to Note

"How about our constitutional right to watch Sunday night football or our constitutional right to love the San Antonio Spurs?"

— State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, questioning the need for an amendment to the constitution protecting Texans' right to hunt and fish

Today in TribTalk

Who really wants tax relief — and why, by Jim Henson and Joshua Blank — Headlines and rhetoric out of the Texas Legislature this year suggest that the public is clamoring for tax relief, but the polling says otherwise. Why the discrepancy?

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Oct. 16-18 at the University of Texas at Austin

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