2011 Legislative Session

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Proponents of gay marriage in Texas scored a symbolic victory this week when Austin City Council became the first in the state to adopt a resolution supporting same-sex marriage. But what does that actually mean for gay rights in a place that – as Gov. Rick Perry claims – is “the most conservative state in America.”

Gay rights activists believe their best hope for legalizing same-sex weddings in Texas will come in the form of a Congressional action or a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to declare prohibitions of gay marriage unconstitutional. Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2005 that defines marriage as the “union of one man and one woman.” (Travis County was the only county statewide to vote against it.)

But same-sex advocates see political opportunities in seeking smaller legislative successes. Equality Texas – the gay rights lobby group – has identified two priorities: making it illegal to fire someone because they’re gay, and allowing gay parents to adopt children as a couple.

Right now, state law doesn’t prohibit employers from firing people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay couples who adopt children must do so as a single person, and only one of them can be listed on the birth certificate as the parent.


With a flurry of legal actions surrounding Texas redistricting efforts, it's easy to get a little confused.

The confusion, in part, can be blamed on the different courts in play, each playing a part in the battle over the districts redrawn by the Texas Legislature in 2011.

Late last week, the Supreme Court threw out re-redrawn district maps drafted by a San Antonio district court. The San Antonio court claimed the Legislature’s new districts deprived minority voters of the right to equitable representation; the Supreme Court held that while there might be such problems with the Legislature’s maps, the San Antonio court should use the Legislature’s map as a blueprint for further revision, instead of drafting their own. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has since called for the San Antonio court to conclude their work quickly.

This morning on KUT, we reported on the challenges people with autism face when trying to find gainful employment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports increases in the prevalence of autism. Meanwhile, the state legislature slashed spending that would help people afflicted by the disorder.

One of the people we talked to was Daniel Shackelford. He has Asperger’s Syndrome but was able find gainful employment at Seton Medical Center through a privately run program called Project SEARCH. You can hear more from Shackelford in the video above, shot and edited by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News.

Picture by KUT News

THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION IS OVER!!! (Sorry just had to get that out of my system)

On to the news of the day (so far):

Watching and Waiting for Gov. Perry

Photo by KUT News

Another hot day ahead in Central Texas. Not that you needed me to tell you that. The forecast will remain pretty much the same until....hmmm....maybe October?

So why not sit back, stay cool and read this round up of the day's news.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News.

Lawmakers at Odds Over Windstorm Insurance

Texas lawmakers are running out of time to overhaul the cash-strapped Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.  That’s the insurer of last resort for people who live along the Texas coast. The Texas Senate approved its version of a TWIA overhaul bill yesterday. It’s very different from the House version which is stricter and limits how much residents could sue TWIA for, if they feel their policy isn’t being honored.

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Governor Rick Perry announced late this afternoon that he is vetoing a long list of bills. Sunday was the last day he could veto a bill without it automatically becoming law.

Photo by Texas Department of Transportation

Money that non-profits receive from a Texas specialty license plate program will be cut in half unless the legislature takes action, according to a coalition of charities. The diverse group of non-profits includes the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life and the pro-cycling organization BikeTexas.

Photo by KUT News

The Texas House has given final approval to a big education bill.  Supporters say Senate Bill 8 would give school districts more flexibility, as the state makes cuts to public education spending. 

“When you look at the things they put on there, the ability to cut teacher pay, using furlough days, attack on contract rights for teachers, attack on due process rights for teachers, can’t be seen by us as anything but an attack,” Texas American Federation of Teachers President Linda Bridges told KUT News.        

Photo by Liang Shi/KUT News

Republican lawmakers in Texas, unfazed by state governments across the country opting out of a controversial immigration enforcement program, are instead seeking to expand it here.

Photo by alancleaver_2000 http://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/

Texans may soon have to pay sales tax on many of the products they buy online, despite an attempt by Governor Perry to stop that from happening. Last week, Governor Perry vetoed a bill that would have required internet retailers with a physical presence in Texas to charge sales tax.

But now that same provision has found its way into House Bill 1, a sweeping fiscal matters bill being considered during the special legislative session. Perry would not have line-item veto power on House Bill 1, so he would have to veto the entire spending bill to block the internet tax provision he already vetoed when it was House Bill 2403.

Photo by KUT

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last week upholding an Arizona law that punishes employers who hire illegal immigrants may give Texas lawmakers some newfound momentum to file immigration-related legislation with the hope that the governor adds the topic to the special session now underway.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Texas environmental activists are pleased with changes in fracking disclosure laws and renewable energy initiatives that cleared the state legislature this session, but they are unhappy with cuts to state parks, delays in air quality requirements for oil and gas miners, and environmental legislation that died before making it to the Governor’s desk.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Hey, Texplainer: How does a Legislative special session work?

Consider a special session the legislative overtime in Texas. If both the House and Senate reach a stalemate on key issues or if the governor decides the legislative show must go on, he or she can call for a special session. 

The 2012-13 budget has been approved by both the House and the Senate, and now, with less than two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers have to pay for it by passing one more piece of legislation that raises $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" and revises school finance law to allow the state to reduce aid to public schools by $4 billion.

Photo by Liang Shi for KUT News.


Legislators passed a new, very tight state budget Saturday night – one that conservatives hail as a fiscally responsible victory that shows the state can make tough choices in hard times and which democrats decried as a long list of poor choices that will hurt students from Pre-K through college, families and those with disabilities.

photo by KUT News

Many thought this was the year. But Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, acknowledged on Saturday that a measure establishing a statewide smoking ban in Texas is dead. 

Crownover blamed its failure on a "handful" of Senate conferees who refused to keep a smoking ban amendment on Senate Bill 1811, a sweeping fiscal matters bill. She said the amendment would have saved taxpayers $30 million in Medicaid spending over the next biennium. 

Photo by KUT News

The House and Senate will take up SB 1811 tomorrow. The bill creates about $2.5 billion for the state budget, while also cutting public education by around 4 billion.

How that money will be cut from individual schools wasn't known until this afternoon when the House put out what's called the district runs. The spreadsheet shows how funding in each district will change in 2012 and 2013.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

he House and Senate must agree on how to distribute the $4 billion reduction in state public education funding by 5 p.m. today, say Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks.

"The thing that I'm most concerned about is, if we don't come up with something, what are the schools going to do?" Shapiro asked. "We really are in a very precarious period of time."

After rejecting an initial proposal from the House late last night, the Senate sent a counteroffer back across the dome, which members there are currently considering.

Photo of Women's Health Program website by KUT

The Women's Health Program — long believed to require legislative renewal — lives on, at least for now, in the form of a budget rider.

Jose Camacho, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, said the rider directs the Health and Human Services Commission to renew the program. But he said recent opinions by the Attorney General's Office would apply — which means that Planned Parenthood and other clinics "affiliated" with organizations that provide abortions would likely be forced out.