- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Top Senate conservatives clamoring for Texas to adopt a school choice voucher plan proposed a series of other education changes instead Tuesday that are less controversial but could still spark heated debates.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor presented a package of bills including plans to issue A through F grades for individual public schools - rather than just giving letter grades to school districts, which lawmakers approved last session - and expand online learning.

There are also proposals linking teacher pay raises to annual evaluations, and allowing parents to petition to close failing schools after just two years, instead of the current five.

“Education is not a partisan issue,” said Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood.

Indeed, less outspoken Republicans and even Democrats and teachers groups have cheered some of those ideas in the past. But much of what was listed, especially teacher evaluations that would clash with traditional, seniority-based pay scales, and issuing individual schools around Texas ‘Fs’ should prove contentious.

“None of the proposals offered by Senator Taylor and the Lieutenant Governor would give teachers and students the time and resources they need to improve teaching and learning,” Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria said in a statement. Instead the group would like to see lawmakers fully restore $5.4 billion in cuts to classroom approved in 2011.

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TEA PARTY LAWMAKER WANTS MARIJUANA LEGALIZED

A tea party-backed Texas state lawmaker has filed a bill to fully legalize marijuana, seeking to strike any prohibition of it from state law.

Republican state Rep. David Simpson of Longview filed his proposal late Monday. In a statement, he said he wants to “reframe the current marijuana discussion.”

Simpson has long championed top libertarian causes but supports legalizing marijuana because of his devout Christian beliefs. In his words, “God did not make a mistake when he made marijuana that the government needs to fix.”

Unlike some states, Texas hasn’t moved to ease restrictions on marijuana even for medical reasons. That makes it hard to imagine Simpson’s plan gaining traction.

Still, he argues it should be utilized for medical reasons, to produce fiber “or simply for beauty and enjoyment.”

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SENATE BORDER SECURITY PLAN

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calls a sweeping border security plan in the House and Senate “a more permanent solution” following years of surges by state troopers and the National Guard.

The proposal filed Tuesday in the Senate would fast-track trooper hiring and put some retired officers back on duty. An identical version was filed in the House this week.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants Texas to hire an additional 500 troopers before removing the National Guard from the Texas-Mexico border. The Senate is so far setting aside $815 million in border security funding - more than double what Texas currently spends.

Democrats have expressed unease with language in the bill that makes it a felony to “induce” or encourage someone to stay in the United States

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ON DECK

The House reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the Senate returns to work an hour later and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is holding his third press conference in as many days. After discussing Medicaid and school proposals, the Republican Patrick and senators from both parties will meet with the media Wednesday to discuss tax-cut and debt-reduction bills.

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QUOT OF THE DAY

“When Molly White was up here, she said this was the greatest country. I agree with that. She said this was the greatest state. I agree with that. But sometimes we make mistakes,” Houston Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton, taking to the House floor to introduce former Texas death row inmates who were subsequently exonerated and released. He was referring to an early floor speech by Rep. Molly White, R-Belton.

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