News, policy discussions, and major events happening in or related to Texas, told from an Austin perspective

Liang Shi/KUT News

This was supposed to be a fairly quiet week at the Legislature.

For the seventh session in a row, Muslim groups from across the state came to Austin for their regular lobby day, just like the lobby day for doctors, or bikers, or any special interest group. Only this time they were met by about 25 protesters, who yelled and held signs with anti-Islamic slogans and briefly took hold of the mic during speeches.

Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, joined the fray by instructing her staff to ask any Muslims who came into her office if they would “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and announce allegiance to America and our laws.” The council on American-Islamic relations has already sent a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus to see if those instructions violate House ethics rules.

The legislature also broached another currently controversial topic: the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC).

Rep to Staff: Ask Muslim Visitors to Pledge Allegiance

Jan 29, 2015
Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

Freshman state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, was not in Austin today to celebrate Texas Muslim Capitol Day. But she left instructions for the staff in her Capitol office on how to handle visitors who were, including asking them to declare allegiance to the United States.

"I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws," she posted on Facebook. "We will see how long they stay in my office."

Texas' second execution of 2015 is set for today at 6 p.m. in Huntsville. Robert Ladd was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a Tyler, Tex., woman in 1996.

Ladd has spent 17 years on death row; he is 57 now.

The sexual assault and murder for which he's condemned occurred during a burglary at the home of the 38-year-old victim. Ladd was out on parole for another murder when he committed the 1996 murder.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas lawmakers have filed bills that would protect people who claim that city ordinances, state or federal laws interfere with their religious beliefs.

The measures come as the right to same sex marriage gains more traction at the federal level and Texas cities pass measures that protect people based on their sexual preference.

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.


Most young women and men prefer to equally share family and work responsibilities, according to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California Santa Barbara.

The researchers found that regardless of their social class, both men and women ages 18 to 32 prefer relationships in which the woman isn’t doing more of the housework and the man isn't spending more time at work.

Women who participated in the survey say they’d prefer to not be the primary caregivers and homemakers, if they could have support from their workplaces.


To mark yesterday's gubernatorial passing of the torch, this edition of Wayback Wednesday hearkens back to the days when James Richard "Rick" Perry was Texas' lieutenant governor, waiting in the wings to take George W. Bush's seat after his political ascension to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Below is a video, courtesy of the Texas Politics Project, showing George W. Bush's final speech under the Capitol dome as governor on December 21, 2000, in which he announces his resignation and passes the reins to the longest-serving governor in the state's history.

Gage Skidmore

Several events take place in Austin today as part of the inauguration of Texas’ new governor and lieutenant governor, from a swearing-in ceremony to a black-tie ball.

The day kicks off on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol at 11 a.m. Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick will take the oath of office, and so the 48th governor and 42nd lieutenant governor of Texas will be sworn in.

KUT News

A bill filed Friday in the Texas Senate would lead to revoking the license of any nursing home with three or more violations. 

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed this bill to raise the standards at nursing homes, which have gotten national criticism recently. Last year, national advocacy group Families for Better Care ranked Texas as the worst state for nursing home quality.

Schwertner's bill is informally called the three strikes bill because it would require the Department of Aging and Disability Services to revoke a nursing home’s license if the facility has three or more serious health and safety violations.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus released a two-year base budget last week, while the Senate is still working on its version.

Base budget estimates like this one [read a PDF version here] are just starting points for budget discussions over the course of the legislative session, but budget analysts are looking to see what's the starting point for spending on health care.

The House is beginning that discussion with almost $76 billion for Health and Human Services, while Medicaid would get about $60 billion – both small increases over the last budget. Mental health and substance abuse would get more than $3 billion, about the same as the last budget.

Tom Michael

From Marfa Public Radio:

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) said icy roads likely caused last week’s deadly prison bus wreck that killed eight prisoners and two prison guards in West Texas.

But it could be more than a year before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) makes the official call on why the bus with 12 prisoners and three prison guards on board slipped off an I-20 overpass west of Odessa and hit a Union Pacific train passing on the tracks below.

Pete Kotowski – the NTSB’s Investigator-in-Charge – said last Thursday his team expects to be on site for about a week. They’ll be looking at factors that could’ve contributed to the accident, ranging from the condition of the highway and the vehicle itself to any possible human factors that could have caused the crash.

Joy Diaz/KUT News

Mexican Consulates all over the U.S. are now providing Mexican nationals with birth certificates. The change comes after President Obama's executive action that would prevent some undocumented adults from deportation. That program is believed to be similar to the deferred action for children.

In the past, birth certificates for Mexican nationals came from relatives back home, and the process normally took weeks, if not months.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured Texans have signed up for health insurance since the federal government began requiring it last year.

Still, Texas continues to have the highest rate of uninsured people in the country. The state doesn’t spend any money to promote the federal health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

Last year, nonprofits spent much of the enrollment period educating people on the ACA. Their efforts were slowed by the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website. In the second year of the insurance marketplace, some Texas nonprofits are changing their strategy, and insurers, hospitals, and city governments are also doing more to help people enroll.


People who qualify for health insurance through the federal marketplace should keep in mind some looming deadlines – like today, for people wanting coverage to start Feb. 1.

Open enrollment will end soon for those who qualify for a health insurance plan on the federal marketplace. That deadline is Feb. 15 for coverage that begins on March 1.

People who want their coverage to start Feb. 1 must enroll and pay for their health insurance plan by the end of today, Jan. 15.

Gerald Nino/wikimedia commons

From Marfa Public Radio:

The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General is out with harsh words for the agency’s eight-year-old border drone program, saying unmanned air patrols of the border are “dubious achievers.”

In a report released last week, Inspector General John Roth said the department’s own sub-agency – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – hasn’t proven the drone program is worth paying for, and that CBP should scrap any plans to expand it.

Bryan Winter/KUT News

Texas senators have long honored a tradition known as the two-thirds rule, which means two-thirds of the chamber’s 31 members – or 21 of them – have to agree to bring a bill up for a vote.

The full Texas senate will have a vote to decide whether to keep this rule or scrap it in the 2015 session, but Texas senators will have to wait until after the Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, R-Houston, is sworn in before they vote whether to keep the two-thirds rule.  

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Gun rights activists demonstrated at the Capitol today in support of a bill that would allow people to carry handguns openly without a permit.

The author of the bill is State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Tea Party Republican from Tarrant County. He stood alongside thousands of signed petitions in favor of House Bill 195. Rep. Stickland said paying for a permit is unfair to low-income Texans. 

"There are a lot of people out here who do not have the disposable income to pay these fines for the right to carry," Stickland said.

Lawmakers will find out this morning how much money they’ll have to work with as they craft the state’s next two-year budget. They’re expected to have plenty of wiggle room, but rapidly dropping oil prices have raised some concerns. Oil and gas prices could affect those numbers.

At the end of 2013, former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said the state could have about $2.6 billion dollars in unspent revenue from the current budget. Some believe that surplus will be even larger when current Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivers his revenue estimate this morning. And that money could be a big help, considering the state's economic future might not be as rosy thanks to falling oil prices.

Alexa Ura/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

Signaling significant doubt about the constitutionality of Texas' ban on same-sex marriages, two federal appeals judges on Friday questioned a state attorney's argument that marriage is a “subsidy” that the state has the right to grant and withhold.

In sharp exchanges with two judges of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Jonathan Mitchell of the Texas attorney general’s office argued during the roughly hourlong hearing that defining marriage should be left to the states, not the courts or the federal government. He added that the state should not be forced to recognize marriages that are not between a man and a woman because such marriages do less to “further the state’s interest” in the procreation of its residents.

Alexa Ura/Texas Tribune

NEW ORLEANS — In a long line of tough questioning Wednesday over a new Texas abortion law, federal appeals judges here questioned whether part of a provision requiring abortion facilities to meet hospital-like standards should be struck down.