- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The first state budget under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott slogged toward a major vote Tuesday that inched him closer to sending hundreds more armed troopers to the Texas-Mexico border but muddled his proposed prekindergarten makeover that has underwhelmed.

Debate over a $210 billion spending plan was on track to extend well into Tuesday night before passing the GOP-controlled Texas House.

With two months left in the first legislative session under Abbott, the biggest tax cuts in Texas in a decade are in the pipeline and some measure of relief for congested highways has wide support. Gone is a trough of taxpayer dollars for risky corporate startups and money to test high school athletes for steroids - both quickly dismantled fixtures of former Gov. Rick Perry’s 14 years in office.

Calls to abolish film incentives that subsidized a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader reality show and efforts by Democrats to mandate reports on equal pay fizzled early as the House slowly churned through 350 amendments tethered to the budget. Partisan battles over anti-abortion programs and school voucher plans still potentially loomed.

In the hallway outside, lobbyists hovered near the House doors and waited for lawmakers to exit, while Republicans inside defended leaving $8 billion in available funds on the sideline.

“This allows us plenty of room to negotiate with the Senate, and for tax cuts,” said Republican state Rep. John Otto, the House’s lead budget writer.

The budget is Abbott’s biggest canvass to start leaving his own mark, but there’s a long way to go.



Should Ebola or another infectious disease plague Texas again, the governor may declare a state of emergency and cede control of the situation to a state commissioner, under a bill the Texas Senate passed Tuesday.

The measure cleared the upper chamber 25-5 and now heads to the House.

Georgetown Republican Charles Schwertner, a physician, said his bill addresses vulnerabilities exposed last year when a Liberian man contracted Ebola and died in Dallas. Two nurses also contracted the disease but survived.

Schwertner said Texas avoided a wider outbreak, but “we are foolish to think that something like this will not happen in the future.”

The bill would also permit law enforcement to detain someone who may be infected for 24 hours. It specifies if the person is infected with, has been exposed to, or is the carrier of a communicable disease.

Schwertner said the legislation is the first of its kind nationwide.

Texas’ health commissioner already can issue “control orders” restricting the travel and movement of people infected with, or at risk of spreading, infectious diseases. But there are no legal consequences until someone violates those orders.

Former Gov. Rick Perry said that provision was so problematic that it prompted him in October to urge President Barack Obama to impose an air travel ban from countries hardest-hit by Ebola.

The new bill allows for immediate quarantine enforcement and says police can detain individuals under a “control order” for up to a full day.



Texas senators have unanimously approved a measure aimed at increasing transparency in state contracts, one day after the release of a scathing report detailing a no-bid state contract.

Sen. Jane Nelson said Tuesday that her bill is intended to ensure contracts are fairly awarded and monitored. The Flower Mound Republican said “there is no room for favoritism when taxpayer dollars are at stake.”

The bill - which now heads to the Texas House - requires more reporting on contracts, including forcing agencies to disclose and justify any no-bid contracts.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office released a report about Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek, whose agency awarded a $110 million no-bid contract last year.

The report found that Janek helped create an environment that enabled the deal.



A Texas Senate panel has approved a bill to decriminalize truancy, advancing it after hearing an endorsement from the state’s Supreme Court chief justice.

Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said he supports the idea since Texas has “a real problem with keeping kids in school.”

The committee later voted unanimously to recommend it to the full Senate.

Houston Democratic Sen. John Whitmire is sponsoring a plan making truancy a misdemeanor punishable by graduated fines for parents starting at $100. Also, schools would be required to designate someone to implement truancy prevention measures.

Under current law, students with three unexcused absences in four weeks - or 10 unexcused absences in six months - could face fines up to $500.

Nearly 100,000 Texas schoolchildren were ticketed for missing school in fiscal year 2014.



After hours and hours of debate Tuesday on its $210 billion budget, the House reconvenes Wednesday for what’s sure to be a far shorter - and tamer - session. The Senate heads back to work too, but its members are coming off a much less lengthy previous session.



“I think that reflects who we’ve hired here.” - Dallas Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Davis, upon being told on the House floor that the word “education” in her education amendment was misspelled. Davis put the fault on legislative staff.

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