AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Rep. Jeff Leach proposed it as a one-word change to internal Texas House rules. But what followed could foreshadow a larger school voucher fight coming soon.
Leach, a tea party Republican from Plano, tried to remove “public” from the name of the House Public Education Committee. The Senate’s version is already called simply the Education Committee, Leach argued, and many Texas students attend private schools or are educated at home.
Democrats objected, and Leach eventually withdrew his proposal, which he conceded was largely symbolic.
Still, the small exchange could eventually loom large. As they did last session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and top conservatives are expected to push through the Senate a voucher bill giving public money to families sending their children to private or religious schools.
The issue has for years remained a non-starter in the House, however, where Democrats have traditionally teamed with rural Republicans - who are afraid of harming schools that are the lifeblood of the small communities they represent - to keep public funding in public classrooms.
Approval in the Senate eventually thwarted by House resistance could well doom any new voucher plan again this session. And if Leach’s attempted tweak to House rules is any indication, emotions will run high, fast - but the end result may actually be no change.
Here are some other issues likely to make news in Texas politics this week, all of which may preview larger legal, policy or ideological clashes down the road.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD IN FEDERAL COURT
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks begins hearing arguments in Austin on Tuesday about whether Texas can boot Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program.
Planned Parenthood had received more than $3 million to provide family planning and other women’s medical services - but not abortions - to nearly 11,000 low-income women statewide. But Texas, like a host of other Republican-controlled states, moved to sever all funding to the organization following the 2015 release of secretly recorded and heavily edited videos by an anti-abortion group.
Federal judges already have stopped Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi from similarly excluding Planned Parenthood from Medicaid reimbursements in wake of the videos. Texas could cut off Planned Parenthood by Jan. 21, unless Sparks grants an injunction after hearing arguments in the case.
SENATE DRAFT BUDGET
Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson could unveil a draft of the upper chamber’s 2017-2018 state budget as early as this week. Patrick and other top Republicans promise to extend roughly $4 billion in tax cuts for homeowners and businesses approved last session. The prolonged oil price slump has sapped state revenue, though, leaving lawmakers with a potential shortfall of $5-plus billion just to fund basic services at current levels.
The lieutenant governor has said he’d like to make up the deficit by cutting the budget’s two biggest-ticket items, schools and public health - but funding reductions to both, even if it’s to cover a new round of popular tax cuts, could prove a tough sell.
Donald Trump is being inaugurated on Friday and organizations opposing the president-elect are organizing protests around the country.
In Austin, nearly 50 minority activist groups, environmental organizations and assorted community organizing nonprofits are sponsoring a “One Resistance” rally where demonstrators will march to the steps of the state Capitol late Friday. Of course, lawmakers won’t be in session by the time they get there - and some top Republicans, notably Patrick, will be in Washington attending Trump’s inauguration.
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