NEWS

State of Texas: Third special session set to focus on ‘education freedom’, border security



AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda for the third special session for the 88th Legislature lays out what he wants lawmakers to tackle. It includes items hinted at for months, as well as a few surprises.

The first item he labeled “Education Freedom.” The agenda specifically calls for lawmakers to provide legislation for education savings accounts. The governor has called on Texans to contact their state representative to advocate for “school choice.” While we don’t know what any bill would look like, opponents of the idea claim this is just the “school voucher” plan talked about for decades wrapped in new branding.

In September, the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) met for their annual convention in Dallas. They affirmed they will oppose any plan that means less money for public schools.

“We’re not interested in compromising, for vouchers to gain school funding,” TASA Vice President Chris Moran said. “This is a hill that we’re willing to die on. We believe so strongly in the public schools, that we are not willing to compromise to the governor’s agenda.”

An August poll from the Texas Politics Project asked Texans about the level of support for a program like school vouchers or other school choice programs. The survey also asked about redirecting state tax revenue to help parents pay for private school costs. The questions about a school choice program garnered 52% percent support. When directly asked about redirecting revenue, only 45% leaned into that choice.

Another topic on the agenda is “Border Security.” It specifically lists multiple pieces of legislation. Abbott wants to authorize Texas law enforcement to remove illegal immigrants, to increase criminal penalties for operating a “stash house,” and to dedicate more funding for border barrier infrastructure.

He also listed as a separate item quasi-related to this, highlighting Colony Ridge. That’s a growing subdivision 30 miles north-northeast of Houston. It has garnered the focus of some conservative media outlets and voices.

“With thousands of illegal aliens crossing into the United States daily, they have to be going somewhere. It appears Colony Ridge is offering them a home. Frankly, it felt a little predatory,” Texas Scorecard’s Michael Quinn Sullivan said on social media Wednesday.

One of the claims refers to underdeveloped land and the use of ITIN loans. Those provide loans to people without sufficient identification. Critics argue this is evidence the area attracts undocumented people.

“It does bother me that people accuse my customers of being drug dealers and cartel and organized crime. Come on man,” Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris said. “These are families that want a better place to raise their kids. They want better schools for their kids. They want better opportunities for their children”

Harris, who has donated more than $1 million to Abbott’s campaign, invited lawmakers to come check out the development for themselves. The development started 20 years ago in Liberty County. They estimate they now have 40,000 residents, in the still mostly rural area.

The special session agenda also calls for “Ending COVID Restrictions.” Specifically, a bill prohibiting private employers from requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

A number of conservative lawmakers believe measures in the regular session did not go far enough.

“The Texas House passed a budget that included a rider that made it illegal,” State Rep Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, told Nexstar this past week. “We don’t have medical freedom. Texas should be leading the nation in the defense of medical freedom. But the Texas COVID Vaccine Freedom Act, which would have finally put an end to these tyrannical COVID vaccine mandates, was passed by the Senate. Dade Phelan and his leadership team killed that on the floor.”

Lawmakers will start again at the State Capitol on Monday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m.

Fellow House members talk of challenge to Speaker Phelan

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, will need to fight off a play for his job from members of his own party.

“He’s been an absolute disgrace as speaker. We’re going to have to remove him, and they should,” Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi said.

It echoes the infighting among the party seen at the national level when congressional Republicans ousted Representative Kevin McCarthy from his speakership.

“The Republicans are having an internal argument between mainstream Republicans and what can only be characterized as populist Republicans,” Quorum Report Publisher Harvey Kronberg said. “The populist Republicans have yet to demonstrate that they can govern.”

We asked Representative Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, who he wanted for speaker over Phelan.

“Well, there are a number of people in the Texas House that are conservative,” Harrison said. “But here’s what matters the most to me. Texas voters elected Republican leadership and they deserve bold conservative Republican leadership who will adhere to the principles of limited government who will fight for individual freedom and who will not team up with the Democrats.”

While it is feasible the House could bring up such a motion to kick Phelan from his chair, the votes do not appear to be there.

As Phelan said in his inauguration speech, “Words of caution: Please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington DC.”

“He is their main fundraiser,” Kronberg said. “Taking him out of the chair would be as foolish as it was taking McCarthy out of the chair.”

‘Inadmissible’ evidence From Paxton impeachment trial released to public

Texas House impeachment managers just released hundreds of documents not shown to senators during the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton was ultimately acquitted. The evidence was deemed inadmissible. However, impeachment managers said it provides better context on the key relationships in question surrounding Paxton.

“They’re relevant. And this entire process is about transparency, ” House impeachment prosecutor Erin Epley said.

The House approved 20 Articles of Impeachment against Paxton. They stem from a lawsuit by whistleblowers in the attorney general’s office, arguing Paxton abused his power. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing.

The Texas Supreme Court recently gave the go-ahead for the whistleblowers to resume their lawsuit. Previously, a settlement was worked out, but the potential $3.3 million payout to the plaintiffs required lawmaker approval. Ultimately, House members opened an investigation into the matter and never signed off on the settlement amount.

As for the new documents released, Paxton’s impeachment trial attorney wants to know why House managers are bothering.

“The case is long over, they lost, I’m not sure why they continue to try to litigate the case in the press,” defense attorney Tony Buzbee said.

The extra documentation names Laura Olson, the woman Paxton is accused of having an affair with, as well as Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer who was central to the House’s case for impeachment.

Specifically, a timeline of incomplete documentation from a construction company, involved in renovations of the Paxton’s home. The work has been part of accusations as something Paul accomplished for Paxton as part of an alleged bribe, something denied by Paxton and Paul.

“The absence of evidence is evidence,” Epley said. “There was no intention or documentation that suggested Ken Paxton ever had the desire to pay the bill. And there was no bill.”

Paxton’s legal team noted that Paxton ultimately directed the head of his blind trust to pay for the renovations, a move they claimed as proof that no bribe occured.

“If that’s so evident, why didn’t you put that in evidence?” Buzbee said. ”I guess they could have put into evidence, had they had any relevance. So, I’m not sure what they’re doing.”

You can check out the documents on the House’s website, as well as all the documents from the Senate trial.

Nursing home staffing proposal could impact lives of Texans

Federal regulators recently released a long-awaited proposal to change how staffing works at nursing homes nationwide, a move that President Joe Biden called for in his 2022 State of the Union Address.

In addition to more oversight and accountability for facilities, it adds efforts to expand the skilled nursing workforce. The proposal also seeks to deal with the shortage of the nationwide staffing requirement.

If the proposal went into effect, facilities nationwide would be required to provide residents with at least 33 minutes of care from a registered nurse (RN) every day and at least 2 hours and 27 minutes of care from a nurse aide. The proposal also calls for an RN on-site at every facility, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

“When facilities are understaffed, residents suffer. They might be unable to use the bathroom, shower, maintain hygiene, change clothes, get out of bed, or have someone respond to their call for assistance,” said Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement when the proposal was announced.

KXAN investigative reporter Avery Travis documented the impact of the nursing home staffing issues in Texas. Her in-depth look shows what this proposal could mean for families.

Constitutional amendment election potentially provides property tax relief to child care facilities

The November general election will provide Texans a chance to vote on 14 different amendments to the state constitution. Texas Proposition 2 would allow property tax exemptions for operating childcare facilities.

The exemption must be at least 50% of the property’s appraised value. Many federal COVID-19 relief programs installed during the pandemic either have or will soon expire. Child care was one of those industries needing help during the shutdown. Such property tax relief could offset the funding lost when those pandemic programs expire.

“The only reason we were able to keep open was because of the support and the funding that came through the state to us,” Open Door Preschool executive director Cynthia McCollum said. “But even with all of that, like I said, we had to close a school.”

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 10.

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