Wednesday, March 29, 2017

For 2306 today

- Abbott looks to conference committee to sort out pre-K dispute.

Gov. Greg Abbott is looking to the budget conference committee to sort out a dispute over his prekindergarten initiative as it becomes clear he cannot rely on the House and Senate to fully fund the program in their spending plans.

"The House has a plan. The Senate has a plan. The governor has a plan," Abbott said Tuesday in a speech to the Dallas Regional Chamber. "Anybody who knows anything about how the Legislature works realizes that the real plan that’s going to come out is the one that’s going to come out in conference committee, and that will be sometime in late May."

- After immigration and bathroom fights, House votes to keep Railroad Commission functioning.

The Texas House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would keep the agency that oversees the state’s oil and gas industry functioning until 2029 — but only after members dragged controversial topics like immigration and bathroom restrictions for transgender people into what should have been a routine debate.
House Bill 1818 by state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, would keep the Texas Railroad Commission's name — instead of the re-naming it the Oil and Gas Commission — while giving the agency more oversight of pipeline construction in Texas.

- House panel hears bills for open carry without permit.

Two measures that would make it easier for Texans to access guns were up for consideration by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 375 by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow Texans to openly carry a handgun with or without a license, making it optional for people in the state to obtain a permit or take a class. Stickland filed the same bill in 2015, but it was never heard in committee.
“I don’t think the government has the right to say, 'You have a Second Amendment right, but only if you take this class and pay this fee,'” Stickland said as he laid out his bill. “If someone can legally possess a firearm, they should be able to carry that firearm.”

- Texas Senate approves its budget, shifting school costs to local taxpayers.

The Senate proposal actually strips about $1.8 billion in state funds for education but uses local property taxes and other revenue to make up the difference. In total, Nelson said, her proposal would boost public school funding by $4.6 billion compared to the prior budget, including a $2.6 billion provision to cover student enrollment growth.
"Under our formula, the local share of education funding fills up the bucket first, as local property tax collections go up, the state share goes down," Nelson said. "But in the aggregate, funding for education is going up every year."
At the same time, the Senate is advancing controversial tax cut proposals that critics say would make it more difficult for the state and local governments to pay for schools. Last week, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2, which seeks to curb the growth in property taxes, and Senate Bill 17, which would cut the franchise tax paid by businesses in future years.

- Bills to plug public information "loopholes" breeze through Senate.

The Texas Senate cleared a pair of bills Tuesday aimed at plugging "loopholes" in public records law that have left taxpayers in the dark about key details of some government contracts.
Senate Bills 407 and 408 both breezed through the chamber and will head to the House. Filed by Sen. Kirk Watson, they push back against two 2015 Texas Supreme Court rulings that immediately made it easier for private companies involved with government contracts to keep parts of those contracts secret.
“What we’re trying to do is to make sure the public has information as to how its tax dollars are being spent,” Watson said.
Some businesses have lined up against the bills. The Texas Association of Business is among those who have voiced concerns over the bills.

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