Steve Ogden

Senator Jane Nelson listens to Senator Leticia Van de Putte clarify some details of the Medicaid Efficiency Bill moments after it was passed at the special session Monday afternoon. The bill is assumed to save at least $467 million in the state budget and is the 2nd most important piece of legislation to pass during these special sessions.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

General Appropriations Bill

One of the key general appropriation bills passed the House and Senate and awaits Gov. Rick Perry’s final approval. Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said this bill was necessary to pass to avoid a second special session.

The bill was passed without the amendment by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, which would have used $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, confronted Ogden about why the amendment was left off the final budget, and Ogden said many of the House members who were initially for the bill decided they were against it.

Ogden told Davis he wanted the amendment in the bill with some compromise, but the House wanted it gone all together.

He said the bill will properly balance the next biennium’s budget if SB1 also passes.

Medicaid Efficiency Bill

The House and Senate passed the conference committee report for the Medicaid Efficiency Bill with votes along party lines. The bill has been one of the biggest legislative initiatives passed during the special session, but legislators are scrambling to avoid a second 30-day special session with only two days left.

The legislation aims to save more than $468 million from the next biennium’s budget by making Medicaid more cost-effective and expanding Medicaid managed care. It is an omnibus health care bill and includes controversial abortion amendments that cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Grapevine, authored the bill and said the legislation reflects years of hard work and deliberation.

The bill also includes interstate health care compact amendments, which allows the state to treat Medicaid and Medicare as a federal block grant.

“Our Medicaid costs are unsustainable and this legislation is critically needed to make our health and human services operate more efficiently on behalf of those who depend on state services and those whose tax dollars support the services,” Nelson said in a press release.

Homeland Security Legislation

Legislation authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, passed the Senate allowing the Texas Department of Public Safety to operate vehicle checkpoints near the Mexican border to prevent criminal offenses and illegal immigration.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously during the regular session, but died when it went back to the House for consideration because of time.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said it was good legislation, and Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said it will help address the state’s difficult homeland security issues.

TSA Anti-Groping Bill

The Senate passed the committee substitute to the controversial Transportation Security Administration Anti-Groping bill, and the House gave preliminary approval with a vocal vote. The bill will criminalize intentional, inappropriate touching by an airport security screener. Protestors filled the Capitol’s rotunda and the Senate’s gallery shouting “treason” and “Down with tyranny, up with liberty,” to demonstrate their disapproval.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, said the new version of the bill allows TSA workers to continue with pat-downs while avoiding prosecution unless they intentionally touch someone inappropriately.

“After consulting with the Texas Attorney General...and making substantial revisions to the bill, I am satisfied with the House’s efforts to pass legislation that lets Texans travel safely, protecting the privacy of citizens, and enables law enforcement do its job,” said Speaker Joe Straus in a press release.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said that despite the bill being weakened from its original form, the bill still tells TSA workers to keep their wandering hands off Texans.

“We want our airports safe, but we want our liberties protected too,” Patrick said.

The chambers have full itineraries for the next couple of days, with TSA anti-groping legislation up for a final vote in the House, as well as sanctuary cities legislation and the remaining general appropriations bills on the agenda.

University regents approved Barnes' $200,000 raise Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

AUSTIN, Texas — Several Texas senators on Thursday criticized the recent $200,000 raise for Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes, calling it “nuts” and “tone deaf” during a state budget crisis that threatens deep cuts to higher education.

The state is facing a budget shortfall that some estimates put as high as $27 billion. Current spending proposals would cut money for universities and tuition programs for poor students.

Barnes’ raise was approved by university regents Wednesday.

“I think it’s nuts,” said state Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate’s budget writing committee.

“It’s not appropriate, not at a time when we’re scraping for money for education,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a member of the Senate higher education committee.

Ogden and Wentworth are Republicans with connections to Texas’ chief rival, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M is in Ogden’s district and Wentworth is an A&M graduate.

But Democrats with connections to Texas also chimed in.

“It is bad timing,” said higher education committee chairwoman Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Texas graduate. “They didn’t ask for my advice.”

Sen. Kirk Watson, whose district includes the Texas campus, said the raise suggests regents are “tone deaf” to the budget crisis boiling at the Capitol less than a mile away.

“I’m a big fan of UT basketball and coach Barnes,” Watson said. “But at a time when everyone up here is fighting to come up with money to pay for education, it was disappointing.”

The Texas athletic budget is separate from the academic budget and Barnes’ raise does not include tax money. Texas officials note that the university’s new $300 million contract with ESPN will send millions of dollars toward academics.

Barnes was owed a $75,000 bump under his current contract. Another $125,000 was added to boost his annual salary to $2.4 million, keeping him among the highest-paid coaches in the country, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said.

“Before Rick Barnes arrived at Texas, we weren’t a top national basketball program. We are now,” Dodds said.

In 13 seasons, Barnes has won at least a share of the Big 12 title three times and taken his teams to the NCAA tournament every year. Texas has failed to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament four of the last five seasons.

Barnes has averaged 25 wins per season and “runs his program with class and integrity,” Dodds said.

The motion approved by the regents notes Barnes “commitment, motivation and performance” and the desire to keep him coaching the Longhorns.

Barnes isn’t the only state university coach to get a big raise in the current budget crunch. A week after the legislative session convened in January, Texas Tech gave football coach Tommy Tuberville a $500,000 raise, prompting complaints by university faculty in Lubbock.

— This report was written by Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press

Republicans pushed the next two-year budget through the Texas Senate on Wednesday by using a loophole to bypass Democrats, clearing the path for negotiations to begin with the House on the $176.5 billion spending plan.

After a week of delay, Senate leaders used a procedural maneuver to get around a long-held Senate tradition that requires a two-thirds agreement for the chamber to consider any legislation. Senators voted 19-12, along party lines, to approve the plan.

The plan makes about $11 billion in cuts compared with the current budget, though the cuts are much less severe than those in the bare-bones House version. Public schools and Medicaid providers, including nursing homes, would take the brunt of the cuts.

“This budget treats people as numbers,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Senate’s
Democratic leader. 

Sen. Steve Ogden, the chief Senate budget writer, defended the budget, arguing his team was able to maintain current services despite a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall.

“What do you do when the economy is not so healthy? The first thing is, you do no harm to that economy. You do everything you can to get that economy back on its feet,” Ogden, R-Bryan, said shortly before the vote. 

Normally, a two-thirds majority is necessary in the Senate to take up any bill, a supermajority that leaders didn’t have for the budget plan. But Republicans bypassed Democratic opposition by using a special rule that allows House bills to be considered on certain days without a two-thirds approval.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said a day earlier that he hoped he didn’t have to use the loophole in the rules to pass the budget.

Van de Putte said she and other Democrats were concerned about the parliamentary precedent set by the maneuver.

The GOP has a 19-12 majority in the chamber, but criticism over the budget mounted from both sides of the aisle over the use of about $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.

Republicans argued that $9.4 billion in the reserve fund should be left untouched, so it would be available during future state emergencies. Democrats said proposed cuts to schools and other programs are inhumane when the reserve fund is sitting idly by.

“We thought we had a bipartisan budget, a good budget, so quite frankly I was surprised last week when I got some push back from Republican senators on using the Rainy Day Fund and some of our [Democratic] senators started asking for more money,” Dewhurst said, shortly after the vote.

Ogden’s GOP-condoned compromise replaces about $3 billion in rainy-day money by underfunding Medicaid, pushing those payments to the end of the
budget period.

“The promise is that the money is going to be there, and frankly, I dated guys like that,” Van de Putte said, casting doubt on assurances that state coffers would see an uptick in revenue as the economy improves.

Ogden’s plan underfunds public schools by more than $4 billion.

The plan next goes back before the House, which is expected to reject the Senate version and appoint a conference committee to negotiate a compromise.

The state is facing a revenue shortfall of at least $15 billion.