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Photo courtesy the Texas Tribune for KUT News

Family planning was the target in in Article II of the budget. The Windham School District (an education system run in state prisons) appears to be the piggy bank for Article III. The first three amendments take about $1.1 million from Windham to pay for other educational programs. The fourth takes sweeps the entire Windham budget, $84 million, for other programs.

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News

The House is taking up the 371 pre-filed state budget amendments article by article.  There are 11 articles in the budget, although Article 11 is mostly a repository for projects that are not going to get funding. 

Photo by KUT News

The Texas House is off and running this morning on HB 1, the state budget bill. The $164 billion dollar budget is about $23 billion less than the budget passed in the 2009 legislative session. It also does not take into account population and enrollment growth in many state agencies and programs, like K-12 public education.

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News

Because Texas doesn’t have enough money to run the state for the rest of the fiscal year, legislators gave initial approval to HB 275 today, authorizing a $3.1 billion withdrawal from the so-called rainy day fund to help  pay for a more than $4 billion supplemental appropriation. That bill is also set for final passage on Friday.

Photo by KUT

The Texas House passed a bill today to that would reduce funding to state agencies and institutions of higher education by a total of $1.5 billion for the rest of this fiscal year. The cuts address a $4.5 billion shortfall the state is facing for FY 2011, which ends on August 31st.

Our political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune, is live streaming the House floor as lawmakers debate several key pieces of budget legislation.  The Trib's Thanh Tan is also live blogging the debate. 

Photo by KUT News

A bill up for consideration in the Texas Legislature this session would mandate some retail outlets across the state to establish recycling programs for the plastic bags they hand out to customers.

Senate Bill 908, authored by Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), would require larger retail stores to offer bag recycling. It would not apply to Mom and Pop operations, but is aimed at stores like Wal-Mart and H-E-B.

Image Courtesy of rankingranqueen http://www.flickr.com/photos/81343817@N00/399081880/sizes/l/in/photostream/

A budget deficit of $27 million has some people envisioning blackjack tables and penny slots in the parts of South and East Texas. Casino lobbyists are working overtime right now. But is the shortfall enough to put a tax on things like coal or making people pay a fee for driving cars that don't pass fuel efficiency standards?

The Texas League of Conservation Voters hopes so. The environmental policy lobby group calls this "green revenue."  They laid out some suggestions today at a press  conference held at the State Capitol.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune for KUT News

With lawmakers ready to cut around $23 billion from the state budget - any ideas that could raise revenue are going to get a listen. Casino and Racino (that's a horse track casino) interests are at the Texas Capitol this morning trying to convince lawmakers to take the money and jobs they can offer.

Photo by KUT News

Getting in to the Texas Capitol has been a bit of an issue during the 2011 Texas Legislative session.  Last year, metal detectors and x-ray machines were installed at each entrance to the building.  Anyone who isn't a lawmaker, staff member, or state concealed handgun license(CHL) holder, must now stop - and go through an airport-like checkpoint - before heading on to any office, committee hearing, or floor debate.  

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

A proposal at the State Capitol would require drug testing for anyone who files an unemployment benefits claim, disqualifying them from benefits if they test positive.  The bill is one in a series filed by Representative Ken Legler (R-Pasadena) to combat what he calls fraud among people collecting benefits.

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News.

The Senate Finance Committee added $5.7 billion to its budget proposal today.  The adjustment was approved with a 13-2 vote.

Just yesterday, the House Appropriations committee $8 billion in education cuts.

In anticipation of the cuts in state support for education, school districts have already begun laying off teachers but legislators are still tinkering with measures that could avoid massive layoffs statewide.

Here’s a rundown of what’s included in the Senate proposal:

Map courtesy Texas Legislative Council

The House Redistricting Committee has begun taking testimony on what the state's new House district map should look like. Based on 2010 Census data it looks like rural West Texas is going to lose representation. While the population growth in South and Central Texas counties means those areas will gain a few seats.

Photo by KUT News

After years of Republican attempts and procedural blocks by Democrats, a voter ID bill has passed the Texas House and Senate.  The bill passed the House on 3rd reading today on a 101-48 vote.  Today's debate and vote took just minutes, compared to the 11 hours the House spent debating amendments Wednesday.  The bill now goes back to the Senate.  That chamber can either agree with the House changes to the bill or ask for a conference committee to work out the differences.

Photo by KUT News

UPDATE, 11:07 p.m.:

After nearly 12 hours of debate, about a dozen "points of order" and more than 60 amendments the House has given initial approval of a voter ID bill.  The highly partisan bill has one more vote in the House before heading to a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill.  Democrats have tried to block the bill for several years, saying it could lead to voter suppression among minority voters.  As the debate finally wrapped up Republicans had four of the party's Hispanic members speak in favor of the bill.

The Texas Tribune

The House Budget Bill is on its way to the full House for a vote.  

Image Courtesy of Bexar Republican http://www.flickr.com/photos/bexarrepublican/

Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams told The Associated Press he’s planning to resign from his current position April 2 to enter the 2012 race for the U.S. Senate.

Williams started his career in the Commission in 1998 when he was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush. His biography also introduces him as “the first African American in Texas history to hold an executive statewide elected post.”

picture by KUT

UPDATE, 1:50 p.m.:  A point of order on Voter ID bill has been sustained. The bill is headed back to committee for a clean-up. The language in the bill said "Days"; the bill's analysis said "Business Days," so the bill was sent back to clarify the discrepancy.

Photo by Nathan Bernier

As state lawmakers continue to brainstorm ideas for generating revenue to close a budget gap as large as $27 billion, one proposal suggests putting banner advertisements on state government websites. House Bill 682 would allow state agencies, departments, boards and commissions - except higher education institutions - to lease advertising space on their websites.

Photo from Dan Neil's campaign website. http://www.texansfordan.com/

Dan Neil has withdrawn from the battle for Texas House District 48. 

In a statement released this afternoon, Neil said,

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