Top 10 Lege Stories
1) Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss
Dan Patrick replaced David Dewhurst as lieutenant governor. First order of business: raise the thermostat in the chamber, which Dewhurst famously kept at icy levels. Item two: hurl the upper chamber further to the far right.
2) Schools Unfinanced Again
Just because Judge John Dietz told the Texas Legislature that the current school finance system was unconstitutional, that didn't mean they fixed it. Instead, lawmakers considered a partial reform adding $3 billion over inflation and population growth, and slightly altering how it's distributed; then they added only $1.5 billion, and deferred any structural changes until after a Texas Supreme Court ruling due in 2016.
3) Gun Nut's Dream
The session started with gun rights groups overplaying their hands, sending not-so-subtle threats to lawmakers and parading around the Capitol with empty holsters. It ended with them getting their way on both open carry and campus carry. Guess all those NRA lobbying dollars paid off.
4) Unhealthy Fixation
The GOP's constant efforts to capsize Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion access continued, but in more muted terms than in the 2013 session. Arguably, because they'd already done so much damage, there was little left to break.
5) Farewell to the Old Guard
A quadruple blow as four of the most respected and venerable lawmakers quit. For the Democrats: Austin's Rep. Elliott Naishtat (arguably the Legislature's most learned voice on health and human services issues); newly elected Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, the fiscal Cassandra as the ranking Democrat on House Appropriations; and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who made a failed run for mayor of San Antonio. Also bidding adieu was House Education Committee chair and school finance advocate Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen.
6) Bad Deals
Another session, another agency in scandal, another chief forced out. This time it was Health and Human Services Commissioner (and former state senator) Kyle Janek, plus his chief counsel (and former Travis County state rep) Jack Stick, resigning after brutal Senate Finance Committee hearings on massive contracting irregularities and allegations of nepotism. The House General Investigating and Ethics Committee then launched an investigation into no-bid contracts at 11 agencies.
7) Unethical Behavior
Republicans took advantage of the bad press surrounding Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's 2013 DUI arrest to eviscerate the Public Integrity Unit based in her office and move most of its work to the Texas Rangers. Meanwhile, lawmakers failed to pass the sweeping ethics reform that Gov. Greg Abbott claimed was one of his top priorities.
8) The Breakfast Heard Around the Dome
Friction between the GOP's right, far right, and lunatic fringe was put into sharp (and hilarious) context when Patrick met Abbott and Speaker Joe Straus for breakfast, and reportedly demanded that they stop "picking on me."
9) Stickland in the Mud
Has any sophomore legislator made more noise and fewer friends than Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford? His second term under the dome was marked by a near-fistfight with a fellow Republican, regularly getting corrected for factual and procedural errors on the floor, and a highlight of getting kicked out of a meeting of the House Transportation Committee for falsifying witness testimony.
10) Stingers Get Stung
Ugly attempts by right-wing troublemakers the American Phoenix Foundation to shoot incriminating undercover footage of lawmakers (mostly centrist Republicans) backfired when even right-wing noise machine Breitbart Texas refused to run the tapes, and big time APF donor Jeff Sandefer demanded his money back in protest of their antics.