State lawmakers address several issues as session nears end

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The pending state budget plan bursts with big wins for Texas Republicans: more border security dollars, room for tax cuts and new snubs at abortion providers.

But a $210 billion spending bill that the House approved Wednesday after a grueling all-nighter still has a far-from-easy path to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, because the next stop in the Senate could grind the plan to a halt over whether that blueprint is conservative enough.

GOP House leaders, despite their weariness after 18 consecutive hours of debate that began at noon Tuesday, sounded nonetheless hopeful after sending the most important bill in the Texas Legislature across the hall to the Senate.

"There's nothing that's non-negotiable," said Republican state Rep. John Otto, the lead House budget writer. "I have a lot of money at this time until I see what the tax cuts are."

Otto said a package of tax cuts could total as much as $4.8 billion - the biggest cuts Texas lawmakers have put on the table in a decade. Both Abbott and the Senate have set similar targets, but the House and Senate could clash over how to hit that number, particularly over whether homeowners should get a break.

With two months left in the first legislative session under Abbott, the focus is quickly shifting from what bills the GOP-controlled Legislature might pass to whether the Senate and House will work together toward the finish line. Tensions have already flickered with new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a staunch tea party favorite, setting a far more ultraconservative tone in the Senate.

Not that the House budget is without victories for the far right.

Social conservatives cut $3 million out of programs to prevent HIV and sexual transmitted diseases and piled that money into expanding abstinence education in schools. Abortion opponents - having already won restrictions that have plunged the number of Texas abortion facilities into single digits - tucked into the budget new bans that prohibit abortion providers from putting sex education materials in classrooms.

Democrats, outnumbered 2-to-1 in the House, angrily opposed both measures but left little mark on the GOP budget, failing to divert spending elsewhere, particularly to schools. Their attempts to require tracking of bullying in Texas schools, including against gay and transgendered students, and funding a report on equal pay in state agencies also failed.

SENATE OKS WOULD-BE 'RIGHT TO HUNT' CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM

The state Senate has approved a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing Texans' right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.

The upper chamber, on a 27-3 vote Wednesday, sent the measure to the House. The plan could go before voters in November.

The sponsor, Conroe Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, says the amendment seeks to "preserve the heritage and future of hunting and finishing" by solidifying it in the Texas Constitution.

Creighton says 18 other states have approved similar measures - necessary since some states have shortened hunting seasons or limited what animals can be hunted.

The amendment wouldn't affect any current laws, nor would it scrap local ordinances banning discharging guns within city limits.

Creighton says he wants to ensure that hunting and fishing remain part of the identity of Texans.

HOUSE PANEL HEARS BILLS RAISING JUVENILE CRIMINAL AGE TO 18 - BUT THOSE BILLS FACE LONG ODDS

A Texas House panel is hearing the case for - and against - changing the state's definition of who is considered an adult in the criminal justice system.

Proposals by three Democrats being presented Wednesday would raise the age of those considered adults from 17 to 18.

The bills will be left pending before the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues.

Since 1918, Texas law classifies 17-year-olds charged with a crime as adults. A bipartisan committee recommended raising the age, noting that state law clashes with federal standards governing inmate housing.

Even if the committee and the full House pass the proposals, though, they will be challenged by Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, who oversees criminal justice issues in the Senate.

Whitmire has said he'll oppose raising the age.

ON DECK

The House is off until Monday to mark Easter weekend. The Senate, meanwhile, is squeezing in an extra day off and won't reconvene until Tuesday.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Have a wonderful weekend with your family and be ready to get back at it next week," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, bidding the Senate farewell until Tuesday because of Easter weekend.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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