Feb 11th - 10:54 pm
The Capitol saw its share of tense exchanges Monday, one of which played out on the House floor not long after the gaveling in. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer took to the back mic to ask Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, whether he thought the state of education funding counted as an “emergency” issue.
“You’ve never been on Appropriations,” Rep. Pitts replied, “but 27 members of Appropriations are going to discuss public education in the full committee.”
“So it is emergent?” Martinez Fischer asked.
Pitts’ one-word reply: “Yes.”
In Monday’s episode, we examined that exchange and spoke to Rep. Martinez Fischer about his plan to hold Republican lawmakers accountable for 2011 cuts to education.
The “creationism” versus “evolution” debate resurfaced at the State Capitol Monday. Barbara Cargill is looking to keep her governor-appointed seat as chair of the State Board of Education. But some aren’t convinced that the self-proclaimed conservative Christian will be able to separate her personal views from her job of overseeing education standards for the state’s children.
Sen. Kirk Watson, the only Democrat on the committee, had no shortage of questions for Cargill about her thoughts on evolutionary science. Meanwhile, advocates on both sides of the issue made sure to have their voices heard.
Education, transportation and a longstanding fine for Texas drivers are all issues Rep. Larry Gonzales is looking at this session. Click the image below to hear our full interview with Rep. Gonzales, plus a fact-check stemming from Gov. Perry’s trip to California.
Feb 11th - 4:48 pm
According to a poll released by pro-gambling group Let Texans Decide, voters in the state are overwhelmingly in support of a referendum on legalized gambling.
The poll was conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, a firm based out of Washington, DC. It shows 82 percent of respondents would like to see a decision on gambling left to voters in the form of a state constitutional amendment. Of that 82 percent, the poll shows 78 percent are Republican primary voters.
According to the group’s website, Let Texans Decide is “focused on urging the state legislature to provide our citizens with an opportunity to vote on a sensible casino-style gaming plan for Texas.”
The group argues that billions of dollars in potential revenue are lost each year to nearby states that do allow gambling.
Feb 8th - 9:15 pm
From Lt. Governor David Dewhurst’s campaign woes to possible funding shortfalls for TxDOT, our Reporter Roundtable breaks down this week in state politics.
In Friday’s show we were joined by Aman Batheja from the Texas Tribune, Christy Hoppe from The Dallas Morning News, and Scott Braddock from the Quorum Report.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples also stopped by to talk about his new book, “Broken Borders, Broken Promises.” We asked him for his take on the latest immigration proposals out of Washington.
And we’ve seen plenty of groups lobbying for more funding at the State Capitol. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is among them. With a better budget forecast and some major support from key lawmakers, state park officials are hopeful they’ll see more this session.
Click the image below to see Friday night’s full episode.
Feb 8th - 9:04 pm
The November elections will carry on into March for some Harris County residents.
After the death of Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr. in October, voters in Texas Senate District 6 voted overwhelmingly to re-elect him posthumously. From there, the governor set a special election in January, which netted eight candidates, including Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and current state Rep. Carol Alvarado. Those two carried the most votes, but since neither walked away with more than 50 percent of the total, yet another election had to be set.
Today, Gov. Rick Perry set the runoff election date for March 2.
Sen. Gallegos, Jr. served close to 22 years in the legislature and was remembered fondly from lawmakers from both parties. Gov. Perry personally sent his condolences after learning of the Senator’s death, and ordered the flags outside the Capitol to be lowered to half-staff.
Early voting for the special election will run from Feb. 20-26.
Feb 7th - 8:36 pm
Senate Bills 13 and 14, along with their House counterparts, would provide taxpayers with more information about publicly held debt and more details about the investments of state pension administrators.
Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Jim Pitts filed the bills dealing with government spending and debt. Among other things, they would require school districts to post information online detailing what facilities they currently have, along with the construction costs of any new buildings or updates. The bills also aim to limit the ability of local entities to issue certificates of obligation, or COs, to pay for projects in lieu of voter-approved bonds.
The other bills, filed by Sen. Robert Duncan and Rep. Bill Callegari, call for public pension details to be posted online.
“In particular, in some cases we’re having difficulty in both the general public and cities obtaining information from their pension board about their particular pensions,” Rep. Callegari said. “We’ve got to know what’s happening so that both the legislature and the people who have to pay for those pensions understand better what they’re confronted with.”
Susan Combs came on the show Thursday to talk more about the newly filed bills, along with other statewide issues.
Sen. Patrick’s rising profile
Fresh off a major victory in the Senate and two high-profile TV appearances, Sen. Dan Patrick visited the Capital Tonight studio to talk about school finance, testing standards and more. He also spoke about the recent controversy over CSCOPE, an online curriculum management tool for teachers.
Click the image below to see Sen. Patrick’s full interview, along with analysis from political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi.
Feb 7th - 7:15 pm
Sen. Dan Patrick stopped by the Capital Tonight studio Thursday to talk about several issues. Discussion on one in particular turned into its own six-minute segment. In the video below, hear Sen. Patrick talk about his reasons for holding a hearing on CSCOPE, an online curriculum management system used by teachers in more than 800 school districts.
Click the link below to watch the full segment.
Feb 7th - 4:52 pm
The Dallas Morning News reports Dewhurst campaign manager Kenneth “Buddy” Barfield is accused of taking at least $1 million from Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate campaign. Barfield is already accused of stealing at least $600,000 from Dewhurst’s state campaign committee.
The Dewhurst campaign first notified Travis County officials that something was wrong back in December, when an accountant noticed discrepancies in bank statements. A spokesman for Dewhurst told the Morning News that the investigation into the Senate account began not long after.
Signs of the alleged embezzlement showed up in campaign finance reports last month, when the Dewhurst campaign reported $3.3 million raised in the last reporting period. However, just $1.97 million in cash on hand was reported.
Feb 6th - 9:32 pm
Re-grading the test
Standardized testing took another hit in the Capitol Wednesday, when Senate lawmakers voted unanimously to do away with the so-called 15-percent requirement.
Already deferred by the Commissioner of Education twice, it requires school districts to count the results of the STAAR test as 15 percent of a student’s final grade. Wednesday’s bill would leave that decision up to individual school districts.
The same day, Republican Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock filed an expansive education bill in the House. It, too, includes ending the 15-percent requirement.
“We get in situations where [students] may pass their courses, but not their end-of-year exam and not graduate,” Rep. Aycock said. “So they have lots of opportunities to keep them from graduating, and we’re looking to reduce those obstacles somewhat.”
The House bill also lowers the number of required tests for high school students from 15 to five, a change Sen. Kel Seliger is pushing for on the Senate side as well.
We also spoke to a representative of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, who pointed out that similar changes were adopted during the group’s annual convention.
“It’s in line with our overall desire to reduce the emphasis on high-stakes testing in this state,” Holly Eaton with TCTA said.
How we got here
The bigger story hovering over all these changes is the recent ruling on school funding. Monday, a state District Judge ruled the system for funding education in Texas violates the state constitution. It’s one of several decisions dating back to a 1989 ruling known as Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby.
In that case, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed a suit against the commissioner of education claiming students in poorer districts weren’t getting equal funding compared to students in wealthier districts. Capital Tonight spoke to MALDEF legislative attorney Luis Figueroa about where things stand today.
The ‘Majority Party’ party
Texas Democrats got together Wednesday night to celebrate the start of session and to do some fundraising. Known this time around as “The Salute 2013,” the yearly event was once called the “Majority Party” party. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa joined us from the event to talk about how Texas Democrats plan to return to majority status again.
Click the image below to watch tonight’s full episode online.
Feb 5th - 9:23 pm
Cancer agency ready for reform
CPRIT officials went before members of the Senate Health and Human Services and Finance committees Tuesday afternoon to address issues uncovered last year. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has been under scrutiny since an audit discovered problems in the agency’s grant review process.
Sen. Wendy Davis also addressed the issue of CPRIT reform Tuesday. She filed a bill to make changes to the structure and guidelines of the organization. Davis’ bill calls for removing Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the Oversight Committee. The bill also moves up the agency’s review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to 2015. Davis spoke to Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling about some of her goals for CPRIT and regaining the trust of taxpayers.
Members of the Texas Water Development Board met Tuesday with lawmakers to discuss their plans for the future of water in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry called for dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure in his State of the State address last week, a move many lawmakers from both parties support.
Former Texas lawmakers Aaron Peña and Hector Uribe sat down with Paul Brown to discuss how the continuing drought might affect spending in the legislature this year. They also talked about education funding and potential changes to the Permanent Education Fund.
Jobs, training and education
Paul Brown sat down with Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken to discuss unemployment and education in Texas. Click the image below to see that interview, as well as the full episode.
Feb 5th - 3:29 pm
Sen. Davis has talked about plans for the bill since last December, when the head of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas resigned. At the same time, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation into the agency over its grant review process.
Sen. Davis’ bill calls for a number of changes, including a restriction on donations and political contributions to those sitting on the CPRIT Foundation board or the Oversight Committee . It would also prohibit donations to the agency from those applying for grants or recieving funding. At Sen. Davis’ request, the CPRIT Foundation released a list of donors last month that showed multiple potential conflicts of interest.
Many of the bill’s changes echo recommendations by the State Auditor. That includes a call for the removal of state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the CPRIT Oversight Committee, a group Sen. Davis strongly criticized.
“Throughout the period of time that these egregious actions occurred, the CPRIT Oversight Committee [...] apparently sat on its hands, with at least some of the oversight members actively participating in the agency’s missteps,” Davis said in a press release. ”The committee’s failure to catch activities that gave rise to the problems in the agency it was tasked with overseeing begs the question: was the oversight committee overseeing anything at all?”
At a hearing on CPRIT earlier in the day, Interim Executive Director Wayne Roberts said he would adopt those recommendations.