Texas Legislature

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the late Congressman George Thomas “Mickey” Leland.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a story that originally ran in January 2013.

The Texas Legislature is back in session, though the casual observer might not know it.

This week, the highlights included the swearing in of Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. The Senate made changes to its rules yesterday. But you might notice that things are quiet when it comes to actual law-making. The clock is ticking: There’s 131 days left in the 140-day session.

And while it might seem like a slow start to the every-other-year meeting, actually, it’s all part of the plan.

In musical terms, each session has its own rhythm and tempo.

Paul Woodruff

Kenneth “Ray” Farabee died at his home in Austin on Thursday, November 20, 2014.  He was 81.

Farabee was born in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1932. He graduated from Wichita Falls High School before attending the University of Texas at Austin. Ray was elected Student Body President at UT and served with the National Student Association where he traveled the nation working with other university student government organizations.

Liang Shi for KUT

It's that time of the biennium.

The 84th Texas Legislature is just a few short months away, and state lawmakers are already filing their bills for the first Rick Perry-less session this side of the millennium. So far, the bills include legislative pet projects like texting and driving bans, open carry initiatives and tax cuts. Other proposals target tougher statewide issues like transportation funding and state budgeting.

You can find a roundup of issues that state lawmakers are considering below.

KUT News

A federal commission is researching how the U.S. can reduce the number of deaths from child abuse and neglect.

Today, a member of that group told Texas lawmakers that no one state agency is to blame for these child fatalities.

The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities is working on a report for Congress and the President on how the U.S. can fight child deaths. The commission’s Susan Dreyfus says more people like doctors, police officers and caretakers need to call Child Protective Services when they see a child at risk.

Flickr user: Covernor Rick Perry, https://flic.kr/p/9Mx7Xy

With the November elections just over two months away, Texans around the state are registering or renewing their voter status. That is, if they first have a government-issued identification card.

Texas' voter ID law is currently being challenged in court by the U.S. Department of Justice, but until a decision is reached, Texans will be required to show an ID to register as voters. But what does this mean for voters in rural areas? Or for Texans who mail in their ballots? 

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry is in charge of informing Texans of the voter ID law and how to register. Berry sits down with Texas Standard host David Brown to discuss the requirements for voter registration, and how to attain a government-issued ID before the November elections. 

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Even after a weekend full of panels and discussion of Texas politics and policy at The Texas Tribune Festival, many political wonks are looking to the main event: January's new legilative session. 

State Senator José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, sat down with Texas Standard host David Brown during the festival to discuss the upcoming legislative agenda, the state's budget surplus, the upcoming election for governor and more.

Image courtesy flickr.com/hapal

Texas is the worst state in the nation when it comes to nursing home quality, according to a new report from a national advocacy group – Families for Better Care.

The group has ranked Texas last for the second year in a row, so Texas lawmakers have been discussing what to do to change this when they return to Austin in January.

Julian Aguilar/Texas Tribune

Sending additional state police and National Guard troops to the border will cost Texas between $17 million and $18 million dollars a month. That's according to a presentation Tuesday by top officials with the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), who told state lawmakers they will have to find a way to keep paying for it. 

About one-third of that cost is for salaries, travel and other expenses of Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers sent to the border as part of "Operation Strong Safety II."  Close to two-thirds of the $18 million will cover salary, meals, lodging and other costs of deploying up to 1,000 National Guard troops. 

State Senator Wendy Davis on the floor of the Texas Senate on June 25, 2013.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT

Last legislative session, House Bill 2 proved to be a landmark moment for the abortion debate in Texas. It further politicized the issue both sides of the aisle, garnered national media attention, boosted political profiles and launched campaigns.

When the debate was over and it finally passed, HB 2 established a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required clinics to be certified as ambulatory surgical centers, and forced abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Gov. Rick Perry signing the bill into law.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Members of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission are hearing from the public today about reports recommending large-scale changes to several state agencies – including shutting down six state-supported living centers. 

Most people at the Capitol are testifying in support of the Sunset staff’s report on the Department of Family and Protective Services and severe inadequacies that lead to child deaths and caseworker turnover. But others are there to testify against a Sunset staff report [click here for PDF] suggesting the Department of Aging and Disability Services should shutter the Austin State Supported Living Center, off of W. 35th Street near Camp Mabry, by 2017.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

June 25 marks the one-year anniversary of Sen. Wendy Davis' historic filibuster on the Texas Senate floor.

It was one year ago that Democratic Sen. Davis began an 11-hour filibuster intended to derail Senate Bill 5, a bill containing several new restrictions on abortion. While Davis' filibuster ended before the legislature adjourned, a supportive crowd in the Senate gallery erupted in cheers and screams minutes before the midnight deadline to pass SB 5 – squashing Republican efforts to pass it that night.

KUT News

The second day of the Sunset Advisory Commission’s public meetings at the Capitol is underway.

Today, the public can comment on recommendations made in recent commission staff reports on how to fix major flaws at state agencies, including the Department of Family Protective Services. A June report [click here for PDF] of the Sunset Advisory Commission had about 100 pages of recommendations for reforming the department.

Sunset staff member and project manager Amy Tripp, who worked on the report, told lawmakers Tuesday that caseworkers complain about the punitive work environment.

Texas Politics To Be Lone Star Of New HBO Series

Jun 16, 2014

Between Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Wendy Davis, Texas politicians in recent years have lived up to their state's reputation for producing larger-than-life characters.

That makes the Texas political scene a natural for the Hollywood treatment.

HBO has given God Save Texas, a drama about the state's often raucous political culture, the green light for development. It's set to unfold at the Texas statehouse, a perennial flashpoint for national debates about issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to the size and role of government.


Can more than 1.5 million Texas veterans change the minds of state lawmakers opposed to legalizing medical marijuana?

William Martin, director of the Drug Policy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, poses that question in the June issue of Texas Monthly. In his article “War Without End,” Martin talks with veterans using pot to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The story that’s most illustrative is a woman who uses the name Myst," Martin says. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

A Texas agriculture industry group is calling for more stringent reporting by people who possess the fertilizer ammonium nitrate. The Texas Ag Industries Association (TAIA) wants people with fewer than 10,000 pounds of the chemical to disclose to state officials how much they're storing and where.

Liang Shi, KUT News

Texas lawmakers are looking into whether more should be done to provide mental health services for inmates at state prisons.

Prison officials say inmates already have access to medication and individual or group counseling for mental illness. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston says the legislature has provided enough mental health funding in recent years for prisoners and parolees. And, he says, it shows.

Sam Ortega, KUT

Women's healthcare has been a political seesaw in the Texas legislature the last few years -- from budget cuts in 2011 to budget increases in 2013.

Yesterday a Texas Senate committee heard how women's health programs were doing, with the answer falling along party lines.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, says Texas has never spent as much on women’s health as it does right now, and she says she wanted to "set the record straight" during a hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee -- the committee she chairs.

Kate McGee, KUT News

Update: Travis County District Judge John Dietz heard opening arguments today in the second round of Texas' school finance trial. The two sides are arguing over whether actions taken by the legislature last year change the judge’s preliminary ruling that the state’s public education finance system is unconstitutional.

When the legislature reconvened last year, it added back $3.4 billion for public education after it cut $5.4 billion during the 2011 session. Lawmakers reduced the number of required standardized tests for graduation from 15 to five.

At issue: were those changes enough to create a fair and equitable system to finance public education and allow schools and students to meet the state standards?

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

State Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, recently announced his candidacy for speaker of the House, an election for which will not be held until 2015.

His timing is more provocative than the candidacy itself, because it could force candidates in the Republican primary for the House to declare their preference for a sitting speaker perceived as a moderate or for an alternative — Turner or someone else — thought to be more conservative. It’s not about the speaker’s race. It’s about those primaries.