Supplemental Spending Hits a Speed Bump.
The Senate and House are convening a conference committee to sort out their different drafts of House Bill 10 – the supplemental appropriations bill required to balance the current biennium's spending before the chambers can move on with the budget for the next two years. However, that may not be the only supplemental spending: Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, has indicated that there may be another bill to restore at least a fragment of the $5.4 billion cut inflicted on public schools in 2011. The question now is how much, and from what source, will the cash come, and to that end, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed two school finance bills. Senate Bill 1047 would increase per-student funding from $4,765 to $5,500 (as Davis noted in her press release, still short of the $6,500 target set by Judge John Dietz when he ruled the current school finance system unconstitutional). And SB 1048 would cancel the Regular Program Adjustment Factor, a measurement introduced in 2011 that Davis says unilaterally reduced the state's commitment to fund schools by $2.5 billion over the last two years.
If education has dominated the first half of the session, now it could be Medicaid's turn. With Florida's Gov. Rick Scott finally accepting the reforms in the Affordable Care Act, Texas is one of the last few states holding out against expansion. On March 4 the Republican caucus shifted its negotiating position, deciding that it would not back expansion under the legislation as it stands, but that they would not rule out some form of expansion if the federal government grants more leeway on how to allocate the cash. However, the GOP may well be out of step with popular opinion: A Jan. 23 poll by the American Cancer Society showed 58% of Texans back expanding federal funds to provide coverage for the uninsured. Even the traditionally business-driven Texas Medical Association and Texas Hospital Association have cautiously backed expansion.
Sorry, You Can Come In Now.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has apologized to ranking members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus after they were turned away from the governor's mansion. Caucus Chair Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and other representatives including Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, had attempted to use their state-issued legislative IDs to attend a reception at the mansion and were told they needed a full background check. McCraw has now called the policy "stupid" and reversed it.
Hello, Senator Garcia.
Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia joins the Democratic caucus as the new senator for Houston's Senate District 6. On March 2 she beat Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, 53% to 47% after a bitter and expensive run-off to replace the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. In the closing days of the campaign, Alvarado took heavy criticism for accepting campaign contributions from conservative groups including Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the anti-union Stand for Children PAC.