- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Socialist and keeping kids in a ‘Godless environment’ is how advisers to Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick described a major bipartisan pre-K initiative in a letter sent to lawmakers Tuesday.

The letter was a rebuke from the far right over a preschool push being led by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office responded by defending its plan while not addressing the criticism.

“We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade,” the letter stated.

It was written by a “grassroots advisory” board of conservative activists that Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick assembled upon taking office in January. Patrick is a firebrand tea party leader who is popular with Texas ultraconservatives, whose support helped him unseat a more moderate three-term incumbent last fall.

Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said their office did not see the letter until after it had been distributed. He did not comment on the content.

“The letter in question was unsolicited and expresses the individual viewpoints of Texas citizens,” Garcia said.

Pre-K has emerged as what could be the latest Republican stalemate with time winding down in Abbott’s first session. Patrick controls the Senate, which has yet to move on the pre-K makeover that Abbott proclaimed one of his “emergency items” this session.

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SENIORS WHO FAIL HIGH-STAKES TEST COULD STILL GRADUATE

Texas lawmakers could let thousands of Texas high school students graduate this year even if they fail some of the standardized tests normally required for a diploma.

The House on Tuesday moved the proposal closer to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. The Senate has already approved a similar measure.

Under the plan by Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger, the state would offer an alternative graduation plan to about 28,000 class of 2015 seniors who failed to pass one of five required statewide exams. The House tweaked the bill to allow students to fail two exams.

It would also establish committees to determine whether a student could graduate based on other academic factors like attendance and grades.

Seliger fast-tracked the bill so that eligible students may graduate this spring.

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TERMINALLY ILL CLOSER TO GETTING ACCCESS TO NEW DRUGS

Texas lawmakers are closer to putting experimental drugs within the reach of terminally ill patients.

The Republican-controlled House on Tuesday preliminarily passed “Right to Try” legislation that would give patients access to drugs awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Senate has already approved a similar measure.

Patients would be required to give written consent and have a physician’s recommendation. The drugs must have also cleared the first phase of clinical trials.

The bill was written in memory of Austin attorney who died of cancer while awaiting a drug’s approval. Andrea Sloan’s parents watched from the House gallery as lawmakers passed the measure.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would still need to sign off on the bill.

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ON DECK

The House reconvenes at 10 a.m., the Senate returns to work an hour later.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I don’t know the playbook in the lieutenant governor’s office. It doesn’t go about how a statesman would address the No. 1 issue for Texas, which is border security.” - Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, criticizing Patrick over his Senate creating competing border security bills instead of adopting what the House passed weeks ago.

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