By Associated Press - Tuesday, April 4, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas’ lieutenant governor is renewing his defense of a so-called “bathroom bill” now that the NCAA is putting North Carolina back into consideration for championship events.

Republican Dan Patrick said Tuesday he believes it is now “abundantly clear” that efforts to require people in Texas to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate are not in conflict with NCAA goals.

The NCAA offered a lukewarm endorsement of a compromise “bathroom bill” in North Carolina after the state last week repealed elements of the original 2016 law that led to seven championship events moving elsewhere.

Patrick says the Texas proposal mirrors North Carolina’s compromise law. But the Texas bill still faces strong opposition in the House and hasn’t been publicly endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

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CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSUALT

The Texas Senate has voted to approve tough new requirements for university employees and student leaders to report instances of sexual assault or dating violence.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, said it’ designed to prevent a repeat of the events at Baylor University, where the school was found to have mishandled reports of assault for years.

The fallout at Baylor led to the firing of football coach Art Briles and the demotion and eventual departure of school President Ken Starr.

Baylor is now facing federal lawsuits from several women, as well as criminal and civil rights investigations.

Under the bill, school employees and student leaders who don’t report assaults could face jail time or expulsion if they are found to have intentionally concealed information.

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SPECIAL EDUCATION

State lawmakers have begun working on a raft of bills overhauling special education in Texas.

The House Public Education Committee on Tuesday was discussing proposals prohibiting the state from capping the number of students eligible for special education instruction.

Other measures would increase funding for educating autistic and dyslexic children and tweak high school graduate requirements for special education students.

The bills come after a series of stories in the Houston Chronicle revealed that, in 2004, Texas quietly instituted an arbitrary, 8.5-percent enrollment cap on the number of students eligible to get special education instruction.

The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating.

Many key reforms should clear committee and both chambers with bipartisan support. Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “Texas will fix flaws in special education beginning this week.”

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SAME-SEX MARRIAGE LICENSES

A bill allowing county judges and other officials to refuse to issue licenses for same-sex marriages because of religious objections is headed to the full Texas Senate.

Sen. Brian Birdwell’s proposal only applies in cases where other officials without any objection can step in and issue marriage documents.

If the substituting official is located outside the county where the marriage license is being sought, the bill allows for documents to be sent electronically.

The measure has cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee, but when it will be heard on the chamber floor is unclear.

Progressive groups say it sanctions discrimination. Birdwell, a Granbury Republican, counters that he’s seeking to protect the religious liberties of county clerks, justices of the peace and other officials - many of whom are locally elected.

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JUDICIAL SECURITY

The Texas Senate has voted to boost security protections for state and local judges after an attempted assassination of a district judge outside her Austin home in 2015.

The bill would raise civil case filing fees by $5 to pay for courthouse personnel security training while removing judges’ personal information from public documents.

Judges would also get personal security from the state if a threat is deemed credible.

State District Judge Julie Kocurek was ambushed and injured two years ago, when a suspect fired shots into her car. Travis County officials later acknowledged they knew about a pending threat but didn’t inform Kocurek before the attack.

The county later paid her a $500,000 settlement. The judge has returned to the bench.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

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TUITION RATES

The Senate also endorsed freezing tuition rates at public universities for two years and making schools meet performance benchmarks before raising them again.

Lawmakers have been targeting ways to reduce tuition costs that have skyrocketed since Texas deregulated rates in 2003. Tuition has risen nearly 150 percent while classroom spending has increased just 65 percent.

The Senate bill would also cap tuition increases at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent. It now goes to the Texas House.

The Senate also gave preliminary approval to eliminating a requirement that universities set aside 15 percent of tuition to be used for financial aid. The change wouldn’t reduce tuition but would give schools control over how they spend that money.

Senate Democrats objected, saying it would take money from poor students.

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NORRIS HONORED

Chuck Norris has been named an honorary Texan - especially fitting for the former star of “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

The actor and his wife, Gena, appeared Tuesday before the Texas Senate, which voted to bestow the honor on him. Norris has acted in many action and martial arts films over the decades, in addition to playing the title character in the “Walker” TV series from 1993 until 2001.

Norris, 77, was born in Oklahoma but has lived in Texas. A conservative Christian, he’s campaigned for some of the state’s top Republicans, including with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz during his White House run last year, and with now-Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014.

For more than a decade, Norris has been the center of popular online jokes attributing superhuman strength and impossible feats to him.

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ON DECK

The House reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and the Senate heads back into session an hour later.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The NCAA statement details the principles embodied in the Texas Privacy Act which are mirrored in North Carolina’s new law” - Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, reacting to North Carolina dramatically resetting its “bathroom bill.”

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