AUSTIN, Texas - Overnight, the Texas House got into the Special Session School Choice debate with the filing of HB 1. The legislation would create a 3-year school choice pilot program. It would also provide more money for teachers and revamp the way public schools are funded.
That bill is only one of the big issues This Week in Texas Politics. FOX 7 Austin’s Chief Political Reporter Rudy Koski looks at those issues with our panel.
RUDY KOSKI: This Week in Texas Politics started out with a little house fighting, some house cleaning, and a road rage settlement. We'll get to all that in just a moment. But first, let's get to our headlines from our panel. And we'll start first with political analyst Mark Wiggins. Mark, what's your headline for the week?
MARK WIGGINS: Quiet quitting this special session.
RUDY KOSKI: Connie Swinney with the Highlander. Connie, what's your headline for the week?
CONNIE SWINNEY: Taxpayers balk at a series of strikeouts and pay-outs.
RUDY KOSKI: And Annie Spillman, who tracks business issues under the Capitol Dome. Annie, what's your headline for the week?
ANNIE SPILMAN: Why the hell are we here? (a reference to a question by Rep Jay Dean during the House State Affairs Colony Ridge Hearing)
House committees meet
RUDY KOSKI: This week started with some House Bills finally being pushed out of House committees, things like a COVID vaccination mandate ban and some immigration enforcement ideas. Mark, do you think that these have the best chance to give Gov. Greg Abbott a win?
MARK WIGGINS: You know, so Rudy, the governor promised a special session on vouchers, but it was pretty clear that a voucher wasn't going to pass. So what do you do then? So you expand the call. Right now what we have is sort of a mix of some long shots and some low-hanging fruit.
RUDY KOSKI: Annie, preventing private business from having a vaccine policy for its employees seems to be against fair market values. What are you hearing from the business community?
ANNIE SPILMAN: Obviously, this is a narrow call relating to the COVID vaccination. But, you know, when we passed legislation, we're essentially giving future legislatures permission to step inside this arena. And so while it has to do with vaccinations at this point, you know, telling an employer they cannot do something in regard to running their business. Now, we've sort of opened Pandora's box.
CONNIE SWINNEY: Rudy, here in the Hill Country, it looks like the health care workers took the brunt of the COVID vaccine mandates during the pandemic. So there may be a little bit more support for allowing this to be recommended instead of mandatory.
Colony Ridge hearing
RUDY KOSKI: A hearing was held earlier this week on a controversial development known as Colony Ridge. Critics claim that it's nothing more than a very large, unregulated sanctuary city. Annie, this is a hot button border issue, but for the developers, you know, they follow county rules. They have county rules. Is this a dangerous precedent doing something with this?
ANNIE SPILMAN: This type of legislation could potentially back groups like the Texas Homebuilders Association into a corner, as well as pro-business legislators. Typically, when we see legislation that's looking to have a heavy hand on these types of industries, developers and homebuilders, that's typically coming from the labor union side.
San Marcos Trump train settlement
RUDY KOSKI: An ugly game of highway chicken between Republicans and Democrats has cost the city of San Marcos several thousand dollars. A settlement was reached with organizers of a Biden campaign bus trip that got harassed by Trump supporters on I-35 a few years ago. Do you think that this could prompt some type of new law enforcement action, across Texas, where they kind of crack down on a lot of these events?
CONNIE SWINNEY: $87,000, Rudy. That's basically what the city of San Marcos is going to pay. And that means the taxpayers are left on the hook for that. And at the same time, the city of San Marcos has said that they're going to do this payout settlement, they also said that they really were not to blame for what went on. So it makes me think that perhaps there's not going to be any changing in policing.
The Texas Kraken cuts a deal
RUDY KOSKI: Former President Trump may get bit by a Texas lawyer who calls herself the Kraken. Sidney Powell, who was part of the Trump election campaign team, cut a deal this week and pled guilty to several misdemeanor charges in that Georgia election interference case. Mark, it's just misdemeanor charges. It's not going to be the felony charges. So do you really think that she's going to provide something that's going to hurt Trump?
MARK WIGGINS: Zero impact on the primary.
Defend Texas Liberty PAC house cleaning
RUDY KOSKI: Officials with Defend Texas Liberty PAC did some housecleaning this week. They replaced their leader, Jonathan Stickland, who met with a Nazi sympathizer a few weeks ago, caused a huge political storm here in Austin. Annie I don't know if this is enough to really save face for the PAC.
ANNIE SPILMAN: I think this is going to be a hard line. You've got the folks that are in the Republican Party that are considered more moderate, and then you're going to have the far right red who, you know, that aren't going to return the money that might still align themselves with the, you know, the PAC. And is it going to hurt them in their districts? No.
Harris County election audit
RUDY KOSKI: The Texas Secretary of State released the preliminary findings of an audit of the November election in Harris County. It confirms multiple failures took place there and seems to justify the changes that lawmakers made during the regular session. Mark, election confidence, it's been saved, right?
MARK WIGGINS: You know, I wouldn't go that far, Rudy.
CONNIE SWINNEY: The upside is this. Putting a microscope on Harris County may result to some improvement.
ANNIE SPILMAN: I absolutely think that you'll see the same, you know, audits in more of our urban and blue counties.
HB 1: House school voucher plan filed
RUDY KOSKI: Texas State House has finally got into the voucher game somewhat. HB 1 was filed late Thursday night. It is somewhat of a kitchen sink approach to education reform with a pilot program approach to vouchers. Mark, is this the compromise?
MARK WIGGINS: No, there is no compromise. There will be no compromise. This bill is 180 pages of unrelated nonsense. It's going to take weeks to unravel and decipher. Doesn't have the support of the governor or even his own caucus. So, I doubt this really does anything at all.
RUDY KOSKI: HB 1 has more money for teachers, but also makes it a pilot program for the vouchers, Annie that's got to be a compromise?
ANNIE SPILMAN: You would think. I think that this bill is just really surrounded by total politics at this point. There's no sense of urgency on the House side to move this bill. And I think they're going to take their time. You've seen the move on some of these other pieces of legislation that we spoke about today. And I think they're going to just sort of try to distract, distract, distract while negotiations happen behind the scenes.
RUDY KOSKI: Connie, they were saying that passage in the House hinges on rural counties. What could this be, What brings rural guys in?
CONNIE SWINNEY: Rudy, I believe that our local school superintendents are not supportive of any kind of voucher system, and they've been outspoken about it. During the public-school board meetings. The superintendent of Marble Falls ISD made it clear that he wants some sort of solution other than the possibility of taking public funding from the public schools and then being diverted into other areas, private entities, and charter schools. So, I think it does little to boost any kind of confidence that this will be beneficial to rural school districts.
Word of the Week
RUDY KOSKI: Let's wrap up this week with one word, and we'll start it off with Connie. What's your word for the week, Connie?
CONNIE SWINNEY: Settlement.
RUDY KOSKI: Annie, what is your word for the week?
ANNIE SPILMAN: Uncertainty.
RUDY KOSKI: And Mark Wiggins closes out with the word.
MARK WIGGINS: Tired.
RUDY KOSKI: And with that, we'll say, it's another Week in Texas Politics.