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The Brief: May 25, 2015

A hectic weekend at the Legislature culminated in a major reversal by the House late Sunday on whether to allow a controversial abortion bill to be debated on the floor.

The Texas Capitol, May 15, 2015.

The Big Conversation

A hectic weekend at the Legislature culminated in a major reversal by the House late Sunday on whether to allow a controversial abortion bill to be debated on the floor.

House Calendars, the panel of lawmakers that schedules bills for floor debate, initially voted not to put on the calendar Senate Bill 575, which stops health plans sold on the federal health insurance exchange from offering abortions. And then the committee changed its mind.

In between, Bedford Republican Jonathan Stickland, who thought he had a promise from the leadership to get SB 575 passed, nearly got into a fistfight with State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook on the House floor. The Tribune's Alexa Ura and Julián Aguilar have all the sordid details, and it's well worth the read.

In another high-profile reversal on Sunday, the House scuttled a Senate attempt to rein in costs at a program designed to help veterans and their dependents with college tuition. Senate Bill 1735 was written to curtail the number of veterans' dependents who would qualify for tuition benefits under the Hazlewood program.

Skyrocketing costs have caused alarm at state colleges and universities, but the House changed SB 1735 so that it simply creates a study of the costs of Hazlewood. The Tribune's Matthew Watkins has the details on the changed approach and what it means for the bill as session winds down.

And the House gave its approval on Sunday to an expanded residential homestead exemption. But as the Tribune's Aman Batheja writes, the House's chief tax writer was not an enthusiastic convert to the Senate's approach on tax relief:

"House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, coolly laid out SB 1 on Sunday, making clear to fellow House members that he did not think it was the best approach to cutting taxes because the state would be on the hook for paying school districts to cover their losses in local tax revenue."

Trib Must-Reads

Analysis: With a Week to Go, Important Fights are Over, by Ross Ramsey — With one week left in this legislative session, hundreds of bills are still pending. But if legislative action ended right now, there would be little reason for Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back for overtime.

Texas House Approves TWIA Overhaul, by Jim Malewitz — The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the often-tapped insurer of last resort for Gulf Coast property owners, looks poised to get a major overhaul.

House Signs Off on Body Camera Bill, by Jim Malewitz — The Texas House has tentatively approved legislation that could increase the use of cameras worn by police officers, an effort to smooth relations between law enforcement and the public by making their interactions more transparent.

Senate Won't Include "Abortion ID" Provision, by Alexa Ura — The sponsor of a bill meant to impose additional restrictions on minors seeking abortions without parental consent will not pursue a controversial provision that would have required women to show a form of identification.

Texas House Approves Partial Consolidation of Agencies, by Edgar Walters — The Texas House on Sunday evening tentatively approved a measure to partially consolidate the state’s massive health and human services system.

Texas Moves Closer to Overhauling Grand Jury System, by Patrick Svitek — The Texas House on Sunday gave final approval to an overhaul of the state's grand juries, moving one step closer to getting rid of a controversial way of seating the panels.

Abbott Signs Bill to Speed Permits, Limit Protests, by Jim Malewitz — Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation aiming to quicken regulators' pace of cranking out permits for major industrial projects by limiting public scrutiny.

Funding Program Shields Nursing Homes From Lawsuits, by Edgar Walters — Hundreds of Texas nursing homes have transferred their ownership to local government entities in order to secure more federal Medicaid funding. Critics of the arrangement say it shields negligent nursing homes from lawsuits.

House Delays Closing of Austin Assisted Living Center, by Ryan McCrimmon — An Austin assisted living facility for people with disabilities — originally targeted for closure in 2017 — won’t be shuttered until 2019 under a major agency overhaul initially approved by the Texas House on Saturday.

Health Commission Bill Could Set Up End-of-Life, Abortion Debate, by Alexa Ura — With the House set to consider legislation to re-evaluate the state’s health commission, a flurry of pre-filed amendments could set the stage for a fiery debate over end-of-life issues.

House Panel OKs Bill Banning Insurers From Covering Abortions, by Alexa Ura — A bill prohibiting health insurers from covering abortion in all cases save for medical emergencies cleared a House panel Saturday and could be headed to the House floor.

State Cemetery Could Soon Be Under New Management, by Ryan McCrimmon — Lawmakers are aiming to restructure the chain of command at the Texas State Cemetery. But longtime caretakers of the famous graveyard think a measure moving through the Capitol goes too far in shifting power.

Key House Leader: Union Dues Bill is Dying, by Ross Ramsey — State Rep. Byron Cook confirmed that he does not plan to schedule a vote on legislation that would end automatic payroll deductions for union and non-union dues of most public employees.

OSHA Chief: Fine for Deadly Leak "Petty Cash" for DuPont, by Neena Satija and Jim Malewitz — Seven months after a toxic gas leak killed four workers at DuPont’s chemical plant in La Porte, a top U.S. labor official blasted the company’s commitment to workplace safety, saying he wished he could hand out a stiffer punishment. 

The Day Ahead

•    Memorial Day observed

•    The House and Senate convene at 10 a.m.

•    Gov. Greg Abbott will travel to Wichita Falls and Wimberley to survey damage from recent storms and to discuss with local leaders state resources available to assist them.

Elsewhere

Senate backs redacting accident info for media, Austin American-Statesman

Texas Racing Commission regains state funding, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Image of violent Texas border is false, statistics show, Houston Chronicle

Big Spring sees no big deal in Jade Helm military exercise, Houston Chronicle

Abbott leads state charge against new foe: local ordinances, Austin American-Statesman

Military City, U.S.A., fighting for homeless vets, San Antonio Express-News

Sowing the seeds of a comeback: Rick Perry in Iowa, The Dallas Morning News

Republican primary 2016: The GOP's Southern discomfort, Politico

Former State Rep. Leo Berman Dies at 79, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Quote to Note

“Iowans want to touch you, feel you, look under your hood, test drive you. And that requires a lot of one-on-one time.”

Rick Perry to The Dallas Morning News on his newfound commitment to a retail politics approach in his second attempt at a strong showing in the Iowa GOP presidential caucus

Today in TribTalk

Don't kill Texas' immigrant spirit, by Sam Wyly — Texas celebrates ethnic diversity and empowers newcomers to become prosperous citizens. In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers should oppose any bills that seek to change that.

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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