LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Director of Bands for New Deal ISD has announced plans to run on the Republican ticket for House District 83, challenging Republican incumbent Representative Dustin Burrows.  David Speer has more than 15 years experience teaching students in west Texas, starting as band director at Frenship High School in 2004.  Born in Austin, Speer graduated from the University of Texas and married his wife Tamara, a Texas Tech graduate, raising three children in Lubbock. view article arw

The chair of the powerful House budget-writing Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Zerwas, will be the new executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.  Zerwas, a doctor by training, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the Legislature effective Sept. 30, after representing Richmond as a Republican for more than a decade. He was first named the lower chamber's chief budget writer in 2017, and he previously chaired the House Higher Education Committee and served on the Public Health Committee. view article arw

A memo obtained by The Texas Tribune instructs DPS officers to cite and release suspects in misdemeanor marijuana cases "as appropriate." Officials said the goal is to continue enforcement even though some prosecutors aren't taking new pot cases.  Texas’ largest law enforcement agency is moving away from arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses. It’s the latest development in the chaos that has surrounded pot prosecution after state lawmakers legalized hemp this year. view article arw

Months before Texas district attorneys started dropping or delaying low-level marijuana cases, state lawmakers were told that a well-liked bill to legalize hempwas going to complicate pot prosecutions. The warnings fell flat. In early April, members of the Texas House Agriculture and Livestock Committee sat through two hours of testimony supporting a bill to legalize and regulate hemp and its derivatives, like CBD oil. Most of the discussion focused on farming and regulatory procedures. Near the end of the hearing, though, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime lab director, Brady Mills, was brought up to the microphone to address any law enforcement concerns the legislators may have overlooked. view article arw

The ending will be the only way to judge what’s going on in the Texas House right now, after a political operative with a well-supported political action committee made an unsubstantiated claim that the Republican speaker offered House floor access in return for attacking 10 named Republicans in the 2020 primaries.  At the end of this escapade, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will either have the confidence of the members of the House or not, and the judgment of people outside the Capitol will probably flow from that. view article arw

As college costs and student debt have risen, more attention — at least among Democrats — has been focused on increasing federal support for higher education. A few years ago, the conversation centered on lowering interest rates for borrowers, and then on making community college free. But now several candidates aim to make four-year public colleges free for some or all students. Some go further, promising to erase existing debt. The plans are expensive, but draw support particularly from young people struggling to afford college. view article arw

Legislation that will give Texas teachers a pay bump and provide some relief from rising taxes for property owners will result in the Katy Independent School District offering full-day pre-kindergarten programs for eligible students beginning with the 2019-20 school year. Following the passage of House Bill 3 and its signing into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, Katy ISD officials said they are transitioning from the previous half-day pre-K program they had offered. The number of district campuses offering pre-K is expanding in order to accommodate a full-day of instruction, officials said. view article arw

Brazosport ISD officials proposed lowering the district’s tax rate by about seven cents, meaning there should be some savings for taxpayers and slightly less revenue for the district. However, the district’s recapture payments to the state were substantially reduced by the new Legislature. The rollback tax rate is proposed at $1.1853 per $100 of appraised property value, down from $1.2553 last year, District Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Kelley said at Monday’s board of trustees budget workshop. This means a homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 will save about $70 a year. view article arw

State lawmakers were told that a well-liked bill to legalize hemp was going to complicate pot prosecutions. In an April hearing on the bill, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime lab director testified that DPS crime labs did not have a way to differentiate between what would become legal hemp under the bill and still illegal marijuana, writes the Tribune’s Jolie McCullough. view article arw

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has publicly denied allegations from a hardline conservative activist that he planned to target 10 GOP members during the 2020 primary elections — four days after the accusations surfaced.  Bonnen's statement, which was released Monday, followed an email he sent to House Republicans on Friday evening disputing a version of a June 12 meeting that Michael Quinn Sullivan, the CEO of Empower Texans, made public Thursday. view article arw

The Bonnen-MQS kerfuffle

July 3008:40 AM

As they say, pass the popcorn. Less than three weeks after state lawmakers wrapped up their 2019 legislative session, an unusual meeting convened with unlikely conferees from opposite ends of the Texas Capitol power structure. On one side: Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and top ally Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, both fresh off a first session that had left lawmakers trumpeting the no-nonsense, landmark school finance and property tax legislation set to soon become law. view article arw

Less than three weeks after state lawmakers wrapped up their 2019 legislative session, an unusual meeting convened with unlikely conferees from opposite ends of the Texas Capitol power structure. On one side: Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and top ally Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, both fresh off a first session that had left lawmakers trumpeting the no-nonsense, landmark school finance and property tax legislation set to soon become law. view article arw

[T}exas took a big step in improving public education when Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 3, which included $6.5 billion in new public education spending. The governor called it a “monumental moment” given such generous support to public education without a court order. Texas families should be appreciative that Republican and Democratic lawmakers were able to advance a funding bill that provides additional support to public schools, which includes opportunities for increased teacher pay based on performance and incentives for teachers to work in high-needs and rural schools that are often difficult to staff with high-quality teachers. view article arw

Local state officials discussed everything from school finance to property taxes to Hurricane Harvey at a legislative wrap-up event July 23. Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston; and Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, gathered in front of an audience of dozens at South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center for a forum hosted by the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. view article arw


July 2408:37 AM

Texas just made it easier to punish students who harass teachers. The new law narrowly passed through the state legislature in May, and will go into effect in September, reports the Tribune’s Aliyya Swaby. view article arw

Legislators across Texas entered the session with a well-intentioned list of priorities focused on public schools. Specifically, the leaders in Austin planned to address school finance, property tax relief, school safety, pre-kindergarten and to keep the Teacher Retirement System afloat. Prior to the session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pushed for a $5,000 pay raise for teachers. This announcement, along with recent school shootings, set the tone surrounding school district supports. Although the outcomes fell short of the Lt. Governor’s early ideas, still the most sweeping legislation in over 20 years occurred in the arena of school funding. view article arw

The state House Public Education Committee on Tuesday considered more than 30 bills aimed at making Texas public schools safer, including measures that would put more armed personnel on campuses and give districts money for sweeping security changes. The Legislature has made improving school safety a priority this session after 10 people, mostly students, were shot and killed at Santa Fe High School 10 months ago. The shooting spurred roundtable discussions and studies among policymakers, lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott in the immediate aftermath. “Out of that loss, we have an opportunity to devote ourselves and commit ourselves to seeing that their loss was not in vain and that future students, future teachers, future families in this state will, if at all possible, not have to experience what these individuals experienced,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, during Tuesday’s hearing. view article arw

Property tax reform has been a top priority for Texas lawmakers from the start of the 86th legislative session. The early filing of identical, wide-reaching bills in the House and Senate in January—Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2—sparked debate on the topic and earned pushback from many local entities that could be affected by the proposals. The twin bills propose to lower the cap for local entities’ annual tax revenue growth from 8 percent to 2.5 percent and to improve efficiency and transparency in the tax system. The proposals were fast-tracked for debate in both chambers after Gov. Greg Abbott declared property tax an emergency item in February, and dozens of related bills have been filed in their wake. view article arw

Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller are back on the lesson plan after a vote by the Texas State Board of Education. The committee voted 12-2, with one abstention, on Tuesday to continue teaching students about Clinton in high school history classes, according to State Board of Education Director Debbie Ratcliffe. The board also voted to keep Keller on the curriculum. The vote reverses a September preliminary decision to cut the women, along with 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and several other historical figures, from the required curriculum. The board said then that the change was intended to streamline the curriculum for its 5.4 million students at the recommendation of volunteer work groups. view article arw

The GOP enjoyed the strong support of young Texans in the 2000s, but that appears to be changing.  exas Republicans appear poised to once again sweep the Democrats in statewide elections, but they have lost the future, because they have lost the youth of Texas. The Republican loss might not play out in 2020 or even 2022. When it comes, though, when young Texans replace elderly Texans at the ballot box, state Republicans likely will find themselves wandering in the same political wilderness that has consumed the Democrats for the past two decades. I know this to be true, because I saw it happen to the Democrats. view article arw

School finance was the big-ticket item this legislative session, said Emett Alvarez, Victoria Democrats Club president. "Education should be important to everyone," Alvarez said. "We are all taxpayers and are affected by it one way or the other." The Victoria County Democratic Party will host its club meeting Tuesday at VeraCruz Restaurant, 3110 N. Navarro St. Guest speakers will be Dwight Harris, former president of the Victoria chapter of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, and Ray Thomas, who is running for chief justice of the 13th Court of Appeals. view article arw

Will there ever come a day when our state leaders and lawmakers want to make Texas as good a place for children as it is for business? The 85th legislative session didn't seem often inclined in that direction, particularly in matters related to educating the state's schoolchildren. A massive funding failure for prekindergarten students. The state Senate's defeatist response to a solid House attempt at school finance reform. Out-of-proportion talk about vouchers for those attending private schools. But let's not overlook a couple of bright spots. Thanks to skillful work by three North Texas lawmakers, the state's youngest learners should eventually get the gift of better-prepared teachers. view article arw

Back in March, James Dickey, then the chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, showed up at the state Capitol to testify in support of House Bill 1911 — a proposal known as constitutional carry, or the ability to carry firearms without a license. It was a top legislative priority for the state GOP, and Dickey brought a message tailored for the Republicans on the House panel considering it: Don't forget the platform. "The plank which said we should have constitutional carry scored a 95 percent approval rate, outscoring over 80 percent of the other planks in the option," Dickey said, referring to the party platform — a 26-page document outlining the party's positions that is approved by delegates to its biennial conventions. Constitutional carry, Dickey added, "is something very clearly wanted by the most active members of the Republican Party in Texas." view article arw

Contention over where transgender people use the restroom has clouded much of the 2017 legislative session and has expanded to cover other issues such as property tax policy and school finance as lawmakers push to complete their work by Monday. After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick served notice that the scaled-back version of the so-called bathroom bill recently approved by the Texas House was a non-starter in the Senate, the upper chamber in the predawn hours Wednesday made an end-run effort to save the stronger measure that fell victim to legislative deadlines. But by the time the sun rose over the Capitol, it was clear that the House would kill the measure again. view article arw

An effort to overhaul the state’s beleaguered school finance system has been declared dead after the Texas Senate Education Committee’s chairman said Wednesday that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House. “That deal is dead,” Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said. Taylor’s remarks come after his counterpart in the House, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, gave a passionate speech in which he said he would not accept the Senate’s changes to House Bill 21 and would seek a conference committee with the Senate. view article arw

The Texas House has voted to allow concealed carry permit holders to have guns in their locked cars parked outside schools. Tentative approval came late Tuesday night as an amendment to an otherwise unrelated bill on school boards. Final House approval should come Wednesday. The state Senate already approved a full, bipartisan bill seeking to do virtually the same thing. A similar, full bill had died in the House without reaching a floor vote but now lives on as an amendment. view article arw

A standoff between the Texas House and Senate over vouchers killed a major school finance fix Wednesday. The House tried to pump $1.6 billion dollars more into public schools. The Senate didn't want that much and countered by tacking on their own priority. The author of the House Bill 21 rejected the changes made to it in the Senate, saying they don't go far enough. Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the system was barely constitutional. So the House approved pumping $1.6 billion additional dollars into it but that plan came out of the Senate reduced to $530 million. view article arw

Texas lawmakers have given final approval to a measure cracking down on inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. The bill requires principals and superintendents to report inappropriate teacher-student relationships or face jail time and fines up to $10,000. The teacher's family could also lose access to the teacher's pension. view article arw

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared a key school funding bill dead Wednesday, saying he was "appalled" the House would refuse to go along with the Senate's plan to create a school voucher program for students with disabilities.  "Although Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session, I was hopeful when we put this package together last week that we had found an opening that would break the logjam," Patrick said in a statement. "I simply did not believe they would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools." view article arw

 A state lawmaker is looking for donations to pay off debt Texas students rack up in school cafeterias. Partnered with Feeding Texas, Representative Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, launched a statewide crowdfunding campaign Tuesday, in an effort to prevent what she calls “lunch shaming.” At some Texas schools, students with lunch debt or empty accounts are denied a hot lunch and given a cheese sandwich instead. “The cruelty and lack of compassion for children who suffer the humiliation, the labeling and not to mention the hunger pains of so-called lunch shaming, it is inconceivable,” Giddings said. view article arw

Texas lawmakers wrap up a very busy week at the Capitol today, and last night had a little bit of everything that you’ll find at the end of a legislative session. Bills as amendments With just over two weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers are scrambling to get their bills to the governor’s desk. That scramble often has lawmakers looking for ways to add their bills to other legislation. That’s exactly what Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) did Thursday morning when he added a provision to create a school voucher system onto a school finance bill.  “It establishes the educational savings account program administered by the comptroller, which provides parents with funds to pay for education needs of their child,” Taylor said as he added the amendment to the House bill in the Senate Education committee. But even this addition isn’t everything the Senate Education chair wanted. The addition only provides money for private school tuition or tutoring for children with disabilities. view article arw

Leading on education reform

May 1607:45 AM

Over the last two years, I’ve been working with students, teachers, parents and taxpayers to improve the way that we’re providing education to Texas students. During the current legislative session, some of those efforts are beginning to show results. The Texas House of Representatives where I serve, has passed three bills to improve the “Robin Hood” program, A-F rating system, and standardized testing. In overhauling the entire funding of our public education system, House Bill 21 will address a problem that has long plagued our West Texas districts. The “Robin Hood” scheme has been a detriment to school districts in our region, and under this bill we will be reducing the burden on our local school districts bear by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money.  view article arw

The state Senate Education Committee tweaked the House's school finance bill -- HB 21 -- to add funding for educational savings accounts for students with disabilities. Lubbock Sen. Charles Perry said he will approve it because small, rural schools in his district need other funding the House measure offers. "You could say it's brilliant strategy -- and it is," Perry said. "It's politics at its best or its worst, depending on what side of the equation [you're on]." Perry said the ESAs would open up school choice opportunity for a limited number of families, but that's not the main appeal for the House measure to him; Perry says the $1.6 billion the measure would provide to schools would protect districts affected by the end of the 2006 Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction program in September. view article arw

The Texas House thought it had killed school vouchers. The Senate is resurrecting them.A Senate committee last week attached a plan offering vouchers to special education children while approving a $1.6 billion House proposal to begin overhauling Texas' troubled school finance system. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican, has championed the school finance fix. Now, his counterpart in the Senate, Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, may make Huberty choose between accepting vouchers or sacrificing his legislative baby.Taylor spent months carefully shepherding a separate, sweeping voucher bill through the Senate that the House refused to even consider, instead overwhelmingly passing an amendment saying public funds should stay in public schools. He, and school vouchers' biggest supporter in Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, could now have their revenge. view article arw

Texas makes mess of taxes

May 1607:45 AM

Count on the Texas Legislature to come up with a painfully complicated and inefficient way to repeal a painfully complicated and inefficient tax. Lawmakers deserve praise for targeting the Texas Franchise Tax, but their methods are unsound. The franchise tax, also called the margins or business tax, ranks consistently as one of the worst taxes anywhere in the country. It was the convoluted response to the Texas Supreme Court declaring the public school finance system unconstitutional. Lawmakers had to lower property taxes to comply with the court order, so to find replacement funds they rewrote the franchise tax, what businesses pay for the privilege to operate in our great state. view article arw