- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A proposal barring transgender people in Texas from using the bathroom of their choice is unequivocally bad for business, a powerful state Republican legislator said Wednesday, in defiance of conservative leaders who have applauded the measure amid North Carolina’s economic upheaval due to a similar law.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus‘ comments underscore an escalating ideological battle between the GOP’s traditional business-minded base and further-right grassroots activists in a deeply red state. It’s not just a squabble over civil rights that’ll be laid bare during the 2017 legislative session, where Republicans hold majorities in both chambers, but also on how to deal with as much as $6 billion less to spend on the budget due to slumping oil prices in the nation’s top oil-producing state.

“Many people where I come from get concerned about anything that can slow down the overall job-creating machine,” Straus, a San Antonio Republican, told a gathering of the Texas Association of Business. “I think we should be very careful about doing something that can make Texas less competitive for investment, jobs and the highly skilled workforce needed to compete.”

The speaker’s remarks drew a standing ovation from members of the association, which has suggested the so-called bathroom bill could cost Texas billions in lost revenue and thousands of jobs.

“One way to maintain our economic edge is to send the right signals about who we are,” Straus said.

North Carolina’s law, which went into effect last year, caused corporations, entertainers and NCAA sporting events to leave the state rather than being seen as endorsing discrimination. University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings even said Wednesday that professors being recruited by her university system don’t want to move there because of the law.

Still, lawmakers in Texas and at least three other states - Kentucky, Virginia and Washington - have introduced similar bills.

Texas’ proposal is championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who founded the Legislature’s tea party caucus and oversees the state Senate. Patrick has scoffed at possible economic fallout, noting that Houston is hosting this year’s Super Bowl.

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DUKES INDICTED

Democratic state representative Dawnna Dukes of Austin has been indicted on numerous corruption charges.

A grand jury indicted Dukes on Tuesday on 13 felony counts of tampering with a government record and two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity. If convicted, she faces up to 28 years in jail.

Dukes is accused of misspending campaign funds and doctoring records, as well as directing her legislative staff to work on non-official business.

Dukes previously had announced plans to resign, citing years-long medical concerns. But she reneged last week and was sworn in for her 12th term.

She can remain in the House while the case proceeds.

On Facebook on Wednesday, Dukes said she was disappointed but expected the indictment and planned to plead not guilty. She wrote that the allegations were “raised by disgruntled former employees.”

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BUSH FAMILY-INAUGURATION

Former President George W. Bush still plans to attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration this week even though his father and mother are hospitalized in Houston.

Freddy Ford, spokesman for the younger Bush in Dallas, said Wednesday that the 43rd president - and former Texas governor - expects to be in Washington on Friday and doesn’t plan to travel to Houston.

Bush’s 92-year-old father, former President George H.W. Bush, was hospitalized for respiratory issues over the weekend. Barbara Bush was hospitalized as a precaution Wednesday for fatigue and coughing.

Last week, George H.W. Bush cited health concerns when announcing he couldn’t attend the inauguration. In a letter to Trump, Bush said his doctor told him that if he sat outside in January, “it likely will put me six-feet under. … Same for Barbara. So I guess we’re stuck in Texas.”

But he offered Trump help, if needed, and wished him “the very best as you begin this incredible journey of leading our great country.”

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ON DECK

The Texas Legislature is barred from passing most laws in the early going, so no one was expecting a flurry of early work. Gov. Greg Abbott won’t lay out his priorities for the session until his State of the State address on Jan. 31.

But even amid modest expectations, things are crawling along at the Texas Capitol.

The Senate has adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m. and the House doesn’t reconvene until 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The long break will allow some Texas Republicans - led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday in Washington.

The House also plans to adjourn after meeting only Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. That would be the House’s third two-day work week in a row.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Our most important priority is public education,” House Speaker Joe Straus at a Texas Association of Business gathering at an Austin hotel on Wednesday.

The San Antonio Republican went on to note that the House’s initial budget released Tuesday proposed $2.2 billion extra to educate the average of 165,000 new students joining its public classrooms annually. But that budget also called for an additional $1.5 billion in funding on top of that - as long as the Legislature overhauls its troubled school finance system.

The draft Senate budget covered increased enrollment costs, but didn’t propose any additional public education funding beyond that - meaning Straus‘ top priority may clash with what’s driving the Senate agenda.


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