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The Brief: June 1, 2015

The 84th Legislature closes the books on its 140-day regular session today. As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes, it isn't one for the history books.

View of the Texas House floor during the budget debate on House Bill 1 on May 29, 2015.

The Big Conversation

The 84th Legislature closes the books on its 140-day regular session today. As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes, it isn't one for the history books.

That's not necessarily a huge indictment of the lawmakers. In some ways, an ordinary session like this one reflects a lack of an outside crisis, manmade or otherwise, that would otherwise drive the agenda.

Ramsey writes:

They leave with some things to brag about, finishing on time and getting some modest tax cuts, new gun laws, a balanced budget, some money for roads. They had some flops on high-profile issues like ethics reform. Hundreds of bills passed that are of interest and genuine importance to people around the state. 

They came in with relatively small visions for the state and leave Austin this week with relatively small victories in hand.

They did what voters asked them to do. If voters want something different next time around, they can ask for it in 2016.

Trib Must-Reads

Despite Early Momentum, Immigration Bills Fall Flat, by Julián Aguilar — Though campaign promises to enact immigration-enforcement measures and repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students didn't see the light of day, Republicans who championed the measures said they'll be back next session to try again.

In Texas, a Collapse of Ethics Reform, by Jay Root — When the gavel comes down on the legislative session on Monday, lawmakers will have failed to pass into law about two dozen different proposals aimed at curbing conflicts of interest and shining light into the dark corners of the Capitol.

Lawmakers Approve Abbott's University Recruitment Fund, by Matthew Watkins — Two bills passed Sunday would eliminate the Emerging Technology Fund and create an initiative to attract Nobel Prize winners to Texas universities.

Chambers Settle Railroad Commission Squabble, by Jim Malewitz and John Reynolds — The Railroad Commission of Texas is set to go under intense legislative scrutiny next session after all, under an agreement by state House and Senate lawmakers.

Abbott Signals He'll Sign Cannabis Oil Bill, by Jay Root and Aman Batheja — Gov. Greg Abbott is signaling that he will sign into law a bill allowing epilepsy patients to use medicinal oils containing a therapeutic component found in marijuana.

Hays County Groundwater Bill Heads to Governor's Desk, by Neena Satija — A bill designed to protect western Hays County residents' water wells in light of a massive groundwater pumping project is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk — following an emotional week of political drama over the issue.

Texas Lawmakers Approve A-F Grades for Public Schools, by Morgan Smith — A controversial plan to start assigning public schools A-through-F grades cleared both chambers of the Texas Legislature on Sunday.

Effort to Tighten Spending Cap Dies, by Aman Batheja — The state’s constitutional spending cap will remain untouched this session, and House and Senate leaders are blaming each other for the lack of action on the arcane but politically important measure.

Grand Jury Reform Bill Heads to Abbott's Desk, by Patrick Svitek — Legislation that reforms the state's grand jury system now awaits Gov. Greg Abbott's signature after the House on Sunday approved a compromise between the two chambers.

Campus Carry Bill Heads to Gov. Abbott, by Morgan Smith — Legislation requiring the state’s public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings is now one step away from becoming law after a final vote to approve it in the Texas House Sunday.

Texas Teens Win One, Lose One, by Terri Langford and Matthew Watkins — Lawmakers have decided to stop treating truant students like criminals, sending them to adult court where they face possible jail time for skipping school. But 17-year-old criminal offenders will still enter the adult court system.

Huffman Stands by Push for "Spousal Loophole", by Jay Root — State Sen. Joan Huffman is facing criticism after authoring a measure allowing elected officials and bureaucrats to disclose less information about their spouses' property and financial activity. She says the change was needed to clarify an “unclear” Texas Ethics Commission rule.

Perry Looks to Hold His Own in 2016 Money Chase, by Patrick Svitek — When he sets out on his second presidential campaign Thursday, former Gov. Rick Perry will be officially entering a more crowded and competitive dash for campaign cash than he experienced three years ago.

Campus Carry Gets Final Approval in Texas Senate, by Morgan Smith — The Texas Senate took a final vote Saturday to approve legislation requiring the state’s public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings. The House is scheduled to vote on the issue on Sunday.

Bill to Rein In Hazlewood Costs Dies, by Matthew Watkins — Lawmakers said Saturday they were unable to reconcile House and Senate versions of a bill to tighten eligibility rules for a popular veterans' tuition program.

Texans to Vote on Plan to Boost Road Funding, by Aman Batheja — The Texas Legislature voted Saturday to ask the state's voters in November to approve a plan to boost annual transportation funding by billions of dollars.

New Prosecution System for Politicians Advances, by Jay Root — Texas politicians are on the verge of creating a new system for prosecuting a unique type of white-collar crime — the type that involves them.

Major Ethics Overhaul is Declared Dead, by Jay Root and Jim Malewitz — With no collective will to expose "dark money" contributions in Texas, a major ethics overhaul died in the waning hours of the 2015 legislative session. A few piecemeal changes are still possible before the final gavel comes down on the 84th Legislature Monday.

Bonds for Campus Construction Sent to the Governor, by Matthew Watkins — Texas universities hoping for state help in constructing new buildings are close to receiving their wish after the House and Senate gave final approval to legislation authorizing $3.1 billion worth of construction bonds.

Proposal Would Delay Railroad Commission Scrutiny, by Jim Malewitz and John Reynolds — The Railroad Commission of Texas would avoid intense legislative scrutiny until 2023 under a deal reached late Friday, a surprise six-year reprieve that rankled the oil and gas regulator’s critics.

Campus Carry Bill Would Give Universities More Say, by Jim Malewitz and Morgan Smith — House and Senate negotiators are sending a version of "campus carry" back to their chambers that gives universities more say over where and how concealed handguns are permitted on campus.

On Most Visible Budget Disputes, Senate Fared Better, by Aman Batheja — The $209.4 billion budget sent to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk includes hundreds of concessions made by the House and Senate. Yet on most of the high-profile disputes, the Senate won out.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m.; the Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m. The Legislature adjourns sine die; corrections only in House and Senate.

•    Gov. Greg Abbott holds a 2 p.m. signing ceremony at the state Capitol for SB 339 by Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, which would allow for the prescription of low-THC cannabis for patients with intractable epilepsy.


So how'd Abbott do in his first Texas legislative session? Depends on whom you ask, The Dallas Morning News

Confounding expectations, in the 84th session, the center-right held, Austin American-Statesman

A conservative wave swept the Texas Legislature, but it wasn't big enough for the tea party, Houston Chronicle

Overhaul of scandal-torn state contracting system wins final approvalFort Worth Star-Telegram

San Antonio pipeline proposals doom drought planning bill, San Antonio Express-News

State-supported living centers won’t close, Corpus Christi Caller-Times

A gold rush in Texas?, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Wimberley residents in shock from flood, but optimistic for recovery, San Antonio Express-News

Agency's first flood forecasts came late and low, Austin American-Statesman

Need for storm aid puts fresh spotlight on tensions between Texas, D.C., The Dallas Morning News

Hurricane experts worry predictions of 'quiet period' causing complacency, Houston Chronicle

Key Parts of Patriot Act Expire Temporarily as Senate Moves Toward Limits on Spying, The New York Times

Quote to Note

“My time is up. My season is about here. And Mr. Speaker, in 24 hours, my desk will be clear.”

— State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, bidding farewell Sunday afternoon to the Texas House on the completion of his 14th session. He is leaving the Legislature to run for Houston mayor.

Today in TribTalk

A game-changer for Texans with disabilities, by Erin Lawler — Thanks to the Legislature, we’re one step closer to a day when all Texans will be able to contribute to their own economic independence.

News From Home

For five months, you've watched lawmakers spar, shout and lob parliamentary bombs. But how well do you really know the members of the Texas Legislature? Take our Senate quiz and our House quiz to find out.

Trib Events for the Calendar

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

•    A Conversation About Health Care and the 84th Legislature on June 24 at UT Health Science Center San Antonio

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

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Greg Abbott Joan Huffman Rick Perry