Vol 30, Issue 6 Print Issue

House members huddle at dais on February 14th, 2013
House members huddle at dais on February 14th, 2013

First Impressions

The Texas House is about to hold its first debate, and on a spending bill, to boot. It will pass, because it must. But watch how they work.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, at Triblive on Dec. 6, 2012.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, at Triblive on Dec. 6, 2012.

Seliger Starts Small With Higher Education Bills

New Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, unveiled his first round of bills dealing with colleges and universities. On the whole, they are more attractive to wonks than to headline writers, unlike those of his counterpart on the House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Like a family with past due notices piling up at the door, the Texas Legislature has some current bills it needs to pay before it can plan the state's next two-year budget. Lawmakers are planning at least three bills to address the state’s supplemental needs: The first measure needs to be signed in March so the state can pay billions in upcoming health care bills on time; a second supplemental bill will address the state's costs from fighting wildfires and providing prisoner health care; and a third, also not a rush item, will reverse $1.75 billion in delayed funds to school districts. 

A small bipartisan group of House lawmakers is working on a plan to restore some of the money cut from public education in the 2011 legislative session to the state’s current two-year budget. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said that lawmakers have just under $1 billion available to spend without hitting the constitutional spending limit on the current two-year budget. He and a group of lawmakers, which includes House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, are in talks to add some of that money to a supplemental spending bill expected to reach the full House next month.

Dallas County officials adopted a resolution urging Texas legislators to extend Medicaid benefits to impoverished adults under the Affordable Care Act. And advocates for Medicaid expansion hope the major urban county's decision will spur other counties to adopt similar measures and pressure lawmakers into taking action.

Defiant, angry and frustrated, former prosecutor Ken Anderson took the stand to defend himself, ending a week of dramatic testimony in an unusual court of inquiry that is examining whether the former district attorney committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton.

Texas is the most generous state when it comes to compensating exonerated prisoners, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The state paid $65 million to 89 wrongly convicted people since 1992.

Former House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler has taken on publishing and testing giant Pearson as a client, according to recent Ethics Commission filings. The Republican from The Woodlands, who lost his seat in the 2012 Republican primary, is now an Austin lobbyist whose clients include the Harris County Department of Education and the Barbers Hill Independent School District.

Texas cities continue to lag in an annual study of literacy rates. Only Austin at No. 23 cracked the top 25 in the 2012 study of literacy resources by John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Fort Worth inched up two spots to No. 52 while Plano and Dallas climbed to Nos. 45 and 47.

Political People and their Moves

Rolando Pablos abruptly resigned from the Public Utility Commission this week, less than two years after his September 2011 appointment. His term would have been up in September of this year.

Vistasp Karbhari, currently the provost at the University of Alabama and a former professor of engineering at the University of California-San Diego, is the sole finalist for the presidency of the University of Texas at Arlington.

Joe Krier of San Antonio is the new chairman of the board for the SH 130 Concession Co., which operates the southern section of that toll road.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Katherine Cabaniss of Houston as judge of the 248th district court. She is executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston and a former assistant district attorney in Harris County.

David Alders of Nacogdoches, John “Bob” Garrett of Tyler, and Barry Nelson of Dallas to the board of regents at Stephen F. Austin State University. Alders is president of Carrizo Creek Corp. and manager of Caddo Farms LLC and Dagwood Timber LP. Garrett, a reappointee, is president and CEO of Fair Oil Co. and Fair Management Co. Nelson is president of Interra Partners LLC. Garrett and Nelson have degrees from SFASU.

John Esparza of Austin, Rick Francis of El Paso, and Tim Lancaster of Abilene as regents at the Texas Tech University System. Esparza, a former aide to Perry, is CEO of the Texas Motor Transportation Commission. Francis, a reappointee, heads Weststar Bank and Francis Properties. Lancaster is president and CEO of Hendrick Health System. All three have degrees from Tech.

Deaths: Kevin Kennedy, at various times a journalist, a political and campaign worker, a broadcaster, a government worker, an association employee and, for reasons of his own, a Chicago Cubs fan. He was 59.