Jake Bernstein

The Poodle Bites, The Poodle Chews It

Perhaps Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine), as quoted in The Dallas Morning News, said it best:

"In a contest of wills, the House has an iron will, and the Senate ranges anywhere from frozen butter to melted butter. But it's still butter."

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The First Step Off the Cliff

House Bill 3, the "finance" part of school finance, passed on third reading this afternoon 70 to 69. If the bill had failed, it would have probably ended the special session. Oh well.

The bill barely passed on second reading last night. Most of the brave Republicans who voted against this stinker of a bill the first time around held fast. HB 3 currently does next to nothing to increase funding for education while raising taxes on 80 percent of Texans. There were two Republicans who flipped: Rep. Brian McCall (R-Plano) and Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker). If they had voted against the bill, it would have been all over but the shouting.


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One of Those Nights

House Bill 3 passed on second reading in a squeaker tonight. At first, opponents of the "finance" part of the school finance package had the upper hand on a vote of 74-73, but someone called for a verification of names. The subsequent roll call revealed that Rep. Trey Martinez-Fisher (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) were absent. The bill then passed 73-72.


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Ugly Ball

There is not a lot of trust between the Senate and the House as the final hours of the regular session wind down. Both sides feel bruised by the negotiations over school finance (if you can call them that). For a number of senators and their staff members, matters were made worse by what just happened over House Bill 2329. The bill authorized tuition revenue bonds for the universities in the state that are growing the fastest. After a tough discussion in conference, conferees from the two chambers worked out an acceptable deal.

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Tom DeLay, a National Joke?

The Dallas Morning News this morning has a story about how U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land) is mentioned in an episode of the television series Law and Order: Criminal Intent. In the show, police search for a killer of a judge and his family. "Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt," one of the cops says.


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The Gipper Gets Snipped

Right before the House broke for the night yesterday, Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) made a motion to accept the Senate version of HB 55. The bill names a portion of Highway 20 after Ronald Reagan. The Senate version confines the designation to the solidly Republican Arlington and Grand Prairie portion of the highway. As filed, HB 55 was much more ambitious. It included all of Dallas and Tarrant counties but it hit a roadblock named Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). While Hughes made his motion, Sen. Chris Harris (R-Arlington) stood behind the Speaker on the dais complaining about his colleagues in his own chamber.

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These Two Don't Look the Same...

"I haven't done that all session," said Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, with a rueful smile.

Dewhurst had tried to recognize Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen) for a motion during the budget debate currently underway.

But instead of saying "Sen. Hinojosa for a motion," looking at Chuy he said, "Senator [Gonzalo] Barrientos [D-Austin] for a motion."


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Band-Aids When Intensive Care Is Needed

Before the 79th Legislature began, Gov. Rick Perry declared Child and Adult Protective Services an emergency issue. Today, with a little more than three days left in the session, the House and Senate have come to an agreement on SB 6, the bill that lays out how to fix a system that has spawned countless horror stories of abused children and elderly adults.

First the good:

More than 2,500 additional child protective service workers will be hired.

CPS caseloads will decrease 40 percent.

APS workers will see caseloads drop to an average of 28 per month.


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The Well Is About to Run Dry

At midnight tonight, Senate bills that have not been heard on second reading in the House will die. Among them will be SB 3, the Senate's omnibus water bill. It's so far down on the calendar that some 60 plus bills are listed before it. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Robert Puente (D-San Antonio) estimated a little while ago that each bill would need to take about 4 minutes in order for the House to get to SB 3. Not likely. The bill's placement on the calendar is an indication of the low-regard the House leadership has for this legislation, which Lite Gov David Dewhurst called one of his major priorities of the session.


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Denny's Damage

After 2 1/2 hours of a slightly surreal debate, an election bill carried by Rep. Mary Denny (R-Aubrey), SB 89, just passed on a partyline vote. Democrats would have continued tossing amendments at the bill had Houston Republican Rep. Joe Nixon not called the previous question, a legislative maneuver to end debate.


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The Voucher Mutiny

Wow. Going into tonight's debate on the voucher bill, one anti-voucher legislator told the Observer that he had never received so much pressure on a bill. Not on redistricting. Not on this session's school finance bill. Pressure from lobbyists. Pressure from the leadership. And pressure from some of his fellow members.

The night's two key amendments came from Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth). Geren's amendments came after passionate debate against vouchers by Rep. Carter Casteel (R-New Braunfels), Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), and Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).

Read more on "The Voucher Mutiny"...


Still Fluid?

The first vote that would have affected vouchers on SB 422 came on an amendment by Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston). It would have removed the voucher provision in the bill along with a number of others. The bill's author Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington) put up a motion to table the amendment. The vote was a squeaker, the amendment squashed only because Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland), who doesn't normally vote, voted to table it. What the tight vote indicated is that this is much closer than was initially thought earlier today.


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Leininger cont...

In a previous post, I pointed out that Dr. Jim is not a registered lobbyist. An argument could be made that he doesn't have to register, that he is acting as a private citizen. But Dr. Jim also supports and is actively involved in charter schools and other organizations that push vouchers and could possibly benefit from them. If he was representing any of those groups, he would need to register.


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The Last Payoff, Part I

Debate on today's main event in the House, the voucher bill, has begun. A voucher pilot program has been added to SB 422, the TEA reauthorization bill. There are 98 amendments to the bill and it promises to be a brutal fight, although it's expected to pass in the end. The first point of order of several was just called and the speaker is looking it over.


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Influence Peddlers Get a Break

It's 11:25 p.m. and the House members are starting to get a little loopy. They are currently debating SB 1863 which is a supplemental tax bill. It's one of several that the leadership of the Senate has created to stash revenue in case the school finance legislation crashes and burns. Word on the floor is that there are more than 40 amendments ready to go as everybody tries to get their pet project on. It's going to be a long night.


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When the Elephants Dance in the Henyard...

...The Chickens Get Out of the Way.

The premier business fight of the session might have just ended. After debating the measure more than five hours and weathering four points of order, telecommunications deregulation passed on a voice vote tonight in the House. Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) carried SB 408. King had fumbled his telecomm ambitions originally and even had trouble getting a bill out of the committee of which he is chair, but tonight he delivered for SBC. The San Antonio-based phone company wants to sell cable television in Texas but first it needed to break the monopoly of the cable companies. While SBC will likely gain financially from what happened tonight, it remains to be seen whether consumers will benefit at all.


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More Big Brother for Your Safety

Increasing the state's power to monitor its citizens is a bipartisan sport in the 79th Legislature.

Tonight, during an often testy debate on HB 2702, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Sen. Florence Shapiro stopped an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Jackson (R-La Porte) that would prevent cities from placing cameras on traffic signals to catch motorists running red lights.

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TX State Employees Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

The Senate Jurisprudence Committee heard HB 2795 this afternoon. The bill will change the way the Board of Trustees of the state's Employee Retirement System are chosen. Yawn? Well, not when you realize what's at stake. The six-member board oversees a $19.9 billion, yes billion, retirement fund. With that kind of cash, you can be sure the wolves are circling.

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Biometric Boondoggle

This morning House Bill 2337 was heard in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. The bill has already passed out of the House. If 2337 passes this session, Texas will have taken a giant leap toward a Big Brother society where all Texans who want drivers licenses will have to give their thumbprint and other facial recognition information to DPS. The information will go into a giant database. DPS will then have the right to dip into that database for information on Texans regardless of whether they have committed a crime or not.

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Democrats Who Want to Gut Top Ten Percent

The vote on House Bill 2330 which would cap Top Ten Percent admissions at 50 percent of an entering class was a close one, 73-69. Since this is a Texas GOP priority, Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) voted from the podium. Before Craddick became speaker that was a rarity seen as an unseemly raw exercise of power.. These days it's no surprise. What was a surprise were the votes or absence of a few Democrats.

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The Gov's Security Detail Stops Morenos

We've heard rumors that when the Moreno family arrived at the front gate of the state cemetery on Tuesday for the burial of their son, Rep. Joe Moreno (D-Houston), Governor Rick Perry's security detail turned them away. The Moreno's were told they would have to enter the cemetery at another gate, only the hearse and the governor himself could pass.

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TRMPAC Document of the Day

The Asbestos bill, SB15, passed to second reading in the House last night with barely a notice, on a voice vote. It all seemed rather anticlimatic after the months, even years of posturing and negotiations that led up to this moment. The bill is a triumph for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. The Texas Trial Lawyers Association all but admitted that the negotiated settlement that produced the bill was the best they could do.

Read more and see the TRMPAC Document of the Day...


TRMPAC Document of the Day

Rumor has it that the long-awaited decision by Senior Retired State District Judge Joe Hart on the TRMPAC civil suit could come sometime this week. So it seemed fitting to make the first document of the week one that concerned Rep. Joe Crabb (R-Atascocita).

Read more and see the TRMPAC Document of the Day...


TRMPAC Document of the Day

In explosive testimony in the TRMPAC civil trial this past March, Chuck McDonald, who was doing direct mail for the Texas Association of Business in 2002, talked about how he and uber-lobbyist Mike Toomey, TAB President Bill Hammond, and TRMPAC Executive Director John Colyandro would meet regularly to coordinate help for the candidates that the corporate-backed campaign had decided to support. “If they [TRMPAC] were doing something in a race, then the TAB effort could be expended elsewhere,” testified McDonald.

Read more and see the TRMPAC Document of the Day...


Krusee Unmoved By Corridor Protest

Tuesday morning at least 300, mainly rural Texans, gathered outside the Capitol to protest the Trans-Texas Corridor. One of their demands has been for the House Transportation Committee to give a hearing to House Bill 3363 which would institute a two-year moratorium on the development of the TTC and stop TxDOT from imposing a new toll on any portion of a state highway or road for the next two-years.

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TRMPAC Document of the Day

For anyone who doubts how important corporate money -- which is illegal to spend on electioneering in Texas-- was to TRMPAC and the GOP 2002 campaign, they need look no further than this somewhat pathetic e-mail from John Colyandro, TRMPAC's executive director written to the group's corporate fundraiser, Warren RoBold. Colyandro, who is currently under indictment for what he did in 2002, recently made news when it came out that in his capacity as research director for the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute he advised the group to kill campaign finance legislation that would further strengthen the laws he is alleged to have broken.

Read more and see the RMPAC Document of the Day...

Campaign Finance Reform R.I.P.

House Bill 1348 which would have fixed the worst excesses of the 2002 campaign officially died in committee today, despite having at its high-water mark 93 co-sponsors drawn from both Republicans and Democrats. This process was a sorry reflection on the state of politics in Texas today. It also demonstrates how difficult it will be to free state government from the grip of special interests.

Read more on "Campaign Finance Reform"...

A Dramatic Death

House Bill 1348, the campaign finance bill that would clean up some of the worst abuses arising out of the 2002 campaign went down to an ignoble defeat today on the House floor. Supporters of the bill tried to dislodge it from the Elections Committee chaired by Rep. Mary Denny (R- Flower Mound), who herself benefited from the TRMPAC campaign.

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SB3 Overboard

On April 3, Lite Guv David Dewhurst along with Senate Natural Resources Chairman Ken Armbrister announced a comprehensive water management bill. The bill was the product of long negotiations with everybody from water marketers to environmentalists. Dewhurst made a point of saying that this legislation was of great importance to him and that his designation of it with the low number of Senate Bill 3, showed that it was a priority.

Read more on "SB3 Oberboard"...

Ethics Exodus

The pressure is ratcheting up over ethics legislation to clean up the worst excesses of the 2002 campaign. House Bill 1348 is lodged in the House Elections Committee. Despite having, at one point, 93 sponsors, including 30 Republicans (that would be 17 more than it needs to pass), it isn't moving fast enough to have a chance of becoming a law this session.

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Fourth Amendment Victory in Senate!

This morning Senate Bills 1195 and 1125 both by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) passed out of the Local and Uncontested Calendar in the Senate. Local and Uncontested is for the bills that don't require much debate because they don't have opposition. That’s not at all how one would have characterized these bills before this session. Today's passage is an extraordinary achievement the credit for which belongs to Sen. Hinojosa and the Texas ACLU. For comprehensive coverage on the fight to pass this legislation and why it is so desperately needed see the blog by the ACLU's Scott Henson Grits for Breakfast.

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TRMPAC Document of the Day

Our final document on the TRMPAC effort to use U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to raise money from energy companies for Tom DeLay's effort to capture the Texas Legislature speaks to the TRMPAC role of the man who would be Speaker of the Texas House, Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland). (The meeting with Abraham appears never to have happened). When this scandal first started to gain momentum, Craddick's spokesman at the time Bob Richter denied that his boss had very much do with TRMPAC. Subsequent documents have told a different story. This is one of them.

Read more and see the "TRMPAC Document of the Day"...

TRMPAC Document of the Day

Nine days after the first e-mail attempt to arrange a meeting with potential TRMPAC energy company campaign donors and the U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, TRMPAC Executive Director John Colyandro sent the following e-mail to TRMPAC corporate fundraiser Warren RoBold. (The meeting appears never to have occurred.)

Read more and see the "TRMPAC Document of the Day"...

TRMPAC Document of the Day

Today's document features another e-mail from John Colyandro, former executive director of TRMPAC and current executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute to TRMPAC corporate fundraiser Warren RoBold. The e-mail also went to Kevin Brannon, a local political consultant and Jim Ellis, director of Tom DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) and DeLay's point man in Texas.

Read more and see the "TRMPAC Document of the Day"...


More Asbestos

State Affairs adjourned until 30 minutes after the regular Senate session ends. They will hear more testimony and could pass the bill out after that. Could this be on a fast track and what does it mean? Stay tuned.


Read "More Asbestos...


TRMPAC Document of the Day

We know Republicans hate gambling something fierce.

So this Texans for a Republican Majority e-mail from John Colyandro, former TRMPAC executive director and current executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, to TRMPAC corporate fundraiser Warren Robold on July 12, 2002 raises a few questions.

Read more and see the "TRMPAC Document of the Day"...


Asbestos On!

Right now in Senate State Affairs Sen. Kyle Janek (R-Houston) is laying out a substitute to SB 15, the Asbestos tort reform bill. This bill failed last session because there were not enough votes in the Senate to bring it up. The sticking point for the tort reform crowd was Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas). Janek says that they have made a number of compromises to make the bill more palatable to its critics. But the fact that the bill is now moving again might indicate that Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which has been working this bill hard all session long could have found their vote. Chairman Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) said the committee will not vote on the bill today.


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Blowing Smoke

During the ongoing debate on SB 6 reforming Child Protective Services, Rep. David Farabee (D-Wichita Falls) and Rep. Mark Homer (D-Paris) had the following exchange over an amendment that would require CPS workers to report evidence of drug use in the homes they visit.

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Too Few Rich, Too Little Sway

According to Texans for Public Justice, 57% of all campaign contributions in 2002 were $25,000 or greater. 76% were $5,000 or greater.

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Ratcheting Up the Pressure

The House Democratic Caucus announced this morning that all of its members have signed on to House Bill 1348 which would clean up some of the worst excesses from the GOP corporate money campaign of 2002. The watchdog group Campaigns for People is promoting the legislation and has put out a good analysis of the bill. Among the highlights: It will give a sharper definition to what constitutes an administrative expense for which corporate money can be used. (Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority called polling, phone banks, and candidate support "administrative.") It also eliminates sham issues ads that pretend to be about educating voters but are really "sleazy last minute attack ads," as Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) called them. Gallego played for the press an example of a radio ad put out by Americans for Job Security, a group connected to Gov. Rick Perry that slimed Rep. Tommy Merritt (R-Longview).

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