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State Capital Highlights

House OKs revised version of state budget

AUSTIN — On April 5, the Texas House of Representatives approved Committee Substitute Senate Bill 1, a proposed state budget of $194 billion for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The Senate earlier approved a $195.5 billion budget, so the next step is for differences in the two budgets to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. Both budgets spend less than what it would take to keep in stride with inflation and the state's increasing population. The House version adds, above base spending, $2.8 billion back into the elementary and secondary education budget, far less than the $5.4 billion the Legislature cut from education in 2011 to cope with a projected state revenue deficit.

In a split vote to approve CSSB1, the House went along with a joint recommendation not to expand Medicaid spending made by Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and other leading Republicans on April 1.

"Medicaid is a broken, unsustainable federal program that could eventually bankrupt Texas and all states, and it's nuts to expand it," Dewhurst said. "I've spoken with our Texas senators about examining all the best ideas being considered nationwide on Medicaid, but I'm not willing to consider going forward unless we can agree on a solution that is right for Texas."

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, chair of the House Committee on Public Health, on April 1 said, "This debate will shape our nation's debt and financial future for generations. That's why I'm honored to play a part as we seek Texas solutions. When we reform the Medicaid system, Texas can lead the way to a brighter future here at home and across the country."

Casting nays on final passage of CSSB1 were state Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Joe Farias, D-San Antonio; Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint; Ana Hernandez-Luna, D-Houston; Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; David Simpson, R-Longview; Chris Turner, D-Arlington; and Armando Walle, D-Houston.

Farias explained his vote saying, "We clearly had the means to restore the cuts from two years ago but budget writers chose not to restore the full $5.4 billion. The budget also fails to fund Medicaid expansion, an opportunity that chambers of commerce, faith leaders and Texas hospitals all agree is necessary for our future."

Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said, "There is no greater investment in our future than doing everything we can to help the nearly five million school children of Texas realize their full God-given potential by providing the very best public education for each and every one of them. This budget falls well short of that basic values test, which is why I voted no."

Senate OKs CPRIT bill

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 establishing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas.

On April 3 the Texas Senate unanimously approved SB 149, legislation to tighten oversight of the agency under fire for awarding tens of millions of dollars in grants to researchers with ties to agency officials.

Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee said the legislation "establishes an ironclad system of checks and balances that will make it impossible for the agency to run without 100 percent transparency and accountability."

An example of what the bill does is it prohibits individuals or entities that make donations to CPRIT or the CPRIT Foundation from receiving grants. The bill has moved to the Texas House for consideration.

Listed as coauthors of SB 149 are Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Charles Schwertner, R-Bryan; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Leases help school fund

Oil and gas exploration on state lands earned Texas schools more than $9.2 million on April 2 at the quarterly Permanent School Fund lease sale, the General Land Office reported last week.

Private oil companies competitively bid more than $11.5 million to explore for oil and gas on land owned by the state, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson reported.

Twelve leases were awarded for tracts of submerged state land in the Gulf of Mexico, showing renewed interest in an area that has seen diminishing activity since the Macondo well blowout three years ago, Patterson added.

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