- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Billions of available dollars remain unspent under a House budget that sets up battles over tax cuts and extra money for roads and classrooms in the final two months of the Legislature.

More than $8 billion is left on the table in the two-year spending plan that advanced Tuesday to the House floor. Pressure to use that money on overcrowded Texas highways and prekindergarten expansion is likely ahead.

Texas is flush with cash after years of booming oil production but a slowdown has some urging caution.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants more than $4 billion in tax relief and more spending on border security. Tax cuts are not reflected in the spending bill headed to the House.

The Senate is expected to put final touches on its budget, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.



The first serious education proposal under new Gov. Greg Abbott- improving prekindergarten in Texas public schools - is headed to the House, but not without disappointment.

Plans to spend an extra $130 million on pre-K programs advanced Tuesday. That’s not enough money for districts to offer full-day programs, won’t shrink classroom sizes and doesn’t expand eligibility beyond low-income and disadvantaged students.

Republican state Rep. Dan Huberty said his bill is a start and gives Texas time to see how pre-K students will perform in higher quality programs.

Offering universal pre-K in Texas would cost the state an additional $4 billion, according to Huberty.



A bill that would limit cities and towns from passing local ordinances restricting oil and gas drilling and exploration is headed to the full Senate.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development voted 8-0 on Tuesday to advance a proposal by its chairman, Horseshoe Bay Republican Sen. Troy Fraser.

The bill is among the most-watched of nearly a dozen bills that seek to limit local regulations in the wake of a ban on hydraulic fracturing that votes in Denton overwhelmingly approved in November.

The measures have been cheered by energy companies who worry about local bans crimping key segments of Texas’ economy, but municipal groups fear the state may impede local authority too much.

A similar bill in the House was considered in committee Monday but left pending.



Law enforcement is being extra-vigilant with a Texas Republican legislator who has received threats over a bill that would limit independent bloggers filming police.

Dallas Rep. Jason Villalba’s spokeswoman Jordan Hunter said Villalba hasn’t been assigned a security detail at the Texas Capitol.

But she said that state troopers are “on watch” and Dallas police are “regularly checking on him and his family.”

Hunter said threats received via phone and Facebook contained “alarming language.”

Villalba’s bill would make it a misdemeanor for anyone but traditional news media to record police within 25 feet, or within 100 feet if the person carries a handgun. It’ll be heard in committee Thursday.

In January, Democratic Rep. Poncho Nevarez was assigned a security detail following a confrontation with gun activists in his Capitol office.



The Texas Senate has approved amending shooting tests for state residents seeking concealed handgun licenses, letting applicants use .22-caliber weapons rather than the .32-caliber ones currently required.

Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry said Tuesday he drafted the proposal for the benefit of people “who can’t handle larger guns because of hand injuries.” He added that many Texans also prefer smaller guns and should be tested using them.

His plan passed 31-0.

To obtain a concealed handgun license, Texans must be at least 21 and complete a training course. For now, that requires passing a test firing 50 rounds from a handgun of .32 caliber or larger.

The Senate has already passed a bill that would allow Texans to openly carry handguns - but doing so still requires obtaining a license.



The Texas Senate has approved making the synthetic drug 25I-NBOMe a controlled substance, potentially banning it from being sold online and in places like convenience stores.

Originally developed as a research tool for scientists, so-called “25I” has psychedelic effects that mimic LSD.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, the bill’s author, says 25I overdoses have killed or hospitalized teens in many parts of Texas.

Tuesday’s 31-0 vote sends the measure to the House, where it’s likely to draw strong support. Huffman said a similar bill passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the House because of what she called “vindictive” opposition from a representative who opposed Huffman on another issue.

Also Tuesday, the Senate approved and sent to the House two bills to limit synthetic marijuana production, distribution and use.



The Senate reconvenes at 11 a.m. and may tackle sweeping tax-cut proposals. The House is back in at noon and is expected to take up a much-watched bill imposing a statewide ban on texting while driving. Similar measures have passed in previous sessions, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry. New Gov. Greg Abbott has not said if he’d allow such a ban to stand, if it passes the Legislature this time.



“It is a good budget, but it is still not complete.” - Republican House budget Chairman John Otto before advancing a $209 billion spending plan to the full chamber.

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