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stem cells

Texas vs Planned Parenthood, part one million

This was going to happen sooner or later.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Texas health officials say they are kicking Planned Parenthood out of the state Medicaid program entirely over what they called “acts of misconduct” revealed in undercover videos filmed earlier this year.

Republican state leaders, who vehemently oppose abortion, have worked for years to curb taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood — despite the fact that its clinics may not receive such funding if they perform the procedure.

Monday’s decision means even Planned Parenthood clinics that only provide well-woman care, like cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and birth control, will also be cut out of receiving dollars from Medicaid, the joint state-federal insurer of the poor.

The vast majority of Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas comes from the federal government. Texas spent just $310,000 from its own coffers on the women’s health organization in 2015, but it also dispersed $2.8 million in federal dollars to those clinics. A spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[…]

On Monday, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s inspector general, Stuart Bowen, wrote to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast that the women’s health provider had violated state Medicaid rules and put Texans at risk of infection. Citing the sting videos, Bowen said Planned Parenthood officials disregarded federal law by agreeing to change the timing or method of abortions in order to procure fetal tissue for medical research.

As a result, the state will no longer allow any Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas to receive Medicaid funding. Last year, Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas received $3.05 million in federal funds through Medicaid for family planning services like birth control and pregnancy tests.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla described the state’s efforts to block Medicaid patients from receiving care from any of the organization’s clinics as “politically motivated.” Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast does not currently participate in fetal tissue donation, the organization says, but did in 2010, in conjunction with a University of Texas Medical Branch study on miscarriage.

“Tens of thousands of women are already going without care after years of policies aimed at blocking access to care at Planned Parenthood,” Tafolla said. “Now Texas politicians are using a thoroughly discredited, bogus attack against Planned Parenthood as a shameful excuse to attack Texas women’s health yet again.”

This has been the end goal for Texas Republicans for several years now, so like I said, no surprise, and one excuse is as good as another. I would point out that multiple states have investigated these videos and found nothing – Texas, as well as Harris County, is doing its own investigation, and one presumes they have nothing worthwhile to show for it as yet. As such, this may be their consolation prize, since coming away empty-handed was not an option. What comes next is almost certainly a lawsuit, since Texas doesn’t exactly have the authority to do this. If they could have, they would have done this much earlier than this. In the meantime, still more women will lose their access to healthcare. That’s the reality we unfortunately live in, and much as I hate to say it, nothing will change until our state leadership does. BOR, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Ogden stem cell rider removed from budget

Good.

Sen. Steve Ogden just announced that his rider banning use of state funds for embryonic stem cell research will not appear in the new state budget.

“We really couldn’t come to a consensus” so the bill will be silent on the stem cell issue, Ogden announced in this morning’s conference committee meeting on the budget bill. “I continue to be concerned about us continuing to be silent” on what he called “a profound issue.”

While the federal government has guidelines and regulations concerning use of federal money in such research, “in Texas there are none. I hope even though we adopt this rider (the House version, which was silent on stem cell research), it is not the last word on this subject,” Ogden said.

That’s fine by me. I strongly disagree with Sen. Ogden’s position on this issue, but I’d be happy to have the fight in the House and in the Senate, through the committee process and on the floor, out in the open for all to see. What we got instead was a sneak attack, which gave no one the chance to argue against it. Given that the House did not concur, it was only right to not force the issue via the conference committee, so kudos to Sen. Ogden for not going to the mat over this. Bring it up in 2011 and we can try to settle it then.

Now, if the Davis/Walle amendment on unemployment insurance and the Texas Enterprise Fund survives, then I’ll be even happier. The House is supposed to take up SB1569 tomorrow, which likely doesn’t leave enough time to pass it and override a veto, so the best bet to make sure Texas gets the unemployment funds it needs is to make it painful for Rick Perry to reject them. Let’s hope it happens. The CPPP has more.

Whatever Ricky wants

It’s too early to say how much of Rick Perry’s self-proclaimed agenda will get enacted this session, as much of it hinges on the budget reconciliation process as well as on legislation that hasn’t been taken up by one chamber or the other.

Some of his top goals were resupplying the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund, which he uses to create jobs in Texas reward his cronies while making grandiose and unverifiable claims about job creation; changing the state business tax to exempt small companies with less than $1 million in revenue; and approving a voter identification law.

Lawmakers writing the two-year spending plan seemed willing to put money into Perry’s job creation funds, but whether he gets the approximately $500 million combined he wanted for the accounts is far from certain. Lawmakers want more oversight of how the funds’ money is spent. The House, in its version of the state budget, put restrictions on the enterprise fund money to try to force Perry to accept $555 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits.

A House-Senate conference committee is working out a compromise budget plan, so several money items on Perry’s wish list won’t be known until that deal is finally struck.

An increase in the business tax exemption for companies from the current $300,000 to $1 million in revenue won approval in the House but has not made it through the Senate.

The Republican-backed voter identification bill, a highly charged political proposal that would require Texans to show additional ID at the ballot box beyond a voter registration card, won passage in the GOP-dominated Senate after grueling testimony and debate. Odds for the bill are slimmer in the House, where the partisan makeup is almost even.

I made a slight edit to that first paragraph to more accurately reflect the truth of the situation. I have no idea how any of this is going to play out. Recent history has shown that while the House in particular has been willing to take a slap at Perry here and there, in the end the Governor has won a lot more of these staredowns than he’s lost. On the other hand, he doesn’t have Tom Craddick twisting arms for him this time around, and with the miniscule Republican margin, he may just suffer a few setbacks. Bear in mind that as long as Speaker Straus continues the tradition of not voting on legislation, if Rep. Ed Kuempel remains on the sidelines any straight partisan vote will be a tie, on which legislation fails to pass. Voter ID in particular may not be passable now, if Dems stick together. Just whipping Republicans won’t be enough.

There’s another wild card in this, which the article doesn’t discuss, and that’s the possibility of a special session, which some people I’ve spoken to think is inevitable. Rep. Kuempel’s health could be a factor in that as well – if he’s at full strength, that bodes better for the chances of any legislation Perry would push in a special session. The advantage to calling a special session for Perry is that it gives him another 30 days to pander to his base, as well as the chance to pick up any agenda items that fall victim to the calendar. On the other hand, he can’t raise money during a special session, and there’s always the chance he’ll still fail to get stuff passed, thus providing ammunition to KBH. Again, it’s hard to say how this might play out, but the possibility is definitely there, and I’m a bit surprised the story didn’t bring it up.

House budget conferees announced

Elise Hu names names.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, House Appropriations Chairman
State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Webb, House Appropriations Vice-Chair
State Rep. Ruth Jones-McClendon, D-San Antonio
State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Houston

Give credit to Burka – he called all five. These five will join Senate conferees Steve Ogden, Royce West, Florence Shapiro, Chuy Hinojosa, and Tommy Williams to hammer out the final budget. I don’t know yet when they’ll start their process, but I assume it’ll be soon. Will the Davis-Walle amendment, which drained the Texas Enterprise Fund in the event of a veto of SB1569, survive? Will the Ogden stem cell rider get the heave-ho? The answers to these and other important questions will be known to us soon.

UPDATE: As has been pointed out to me, Zerwas is from Katy, in Fort Bend County. None of the ten conferees are from Harris County; Williams’ district includes a piece of northeast Harris County, though he himself hails from The Woodlands. I hadn’t realized that when I first wrote this, but it strikes me now as being a little strange that the largest county in the state has basically no representation on the budget conference committee. Hope they don’t forget about us…

House passes budget, slaps Perry

State Rep. Chris Turner, on Twitter:

At 3:56 am, the House unanimously passed the budget.

Believe it or not, that was earlier than was originally anticipated. The pregame chatter was that the House would have to reconvene today to finish the job, given the vast number of amendments that needed to be slogged through. It helped that the debate was largely civil, with many contentious amendments, the kind that get inserted to force record votes for future campaign fodder, got withdrawn.

“The real story tonight is that we all worked together, arm in arm, to pass a budget that we can all be proud of. We have shown that working together, we can do what is right for Texas and for Texans,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

The mostly sedate debate – there was a random “bring it on!” when one lawmaker questioned another’s amendment – ran the gamut of sometimes hot-button subjects while intentionally steering clear of a couple of sensitive issues.

House members voted to ban public funding for private school vouchers, bar the Texas Department of Transportation from hiring lobbyists, pay for rail relocation to pave the way for a high-speed passenger train from San Antonio to Dallas under an amendment by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and change teacher incentive funding to give local school districts more control under an amendment by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

The Republican governor would see losses on two fronts under the proposal approved at 4 a.m.

The measure would drain most of the operating funds for Perry’s office, instead using it to pay for community mental health crisis services and veterans’ services under amendments by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and John Davis, R-Houston.

In addition, if Gov. Rick Perry carries through on his vow to block some $555 million in stimulus funds for unemployment benefits, he would lose the $136 million in the Enterprise Fund.

That budget amendment by Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, would transfer the money to the unemployment trust fund that pays benefits to workers.

“He (Perry) is having a bad day,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco. “He might have to secede.”

But an effort to slash funding for Planned Parenthood was dropped, and lawmakers also decided to forgo consideration of a ban on embryonic stem cell research.

I’ll expand on some of these points in a minute, but first let me say that this, finally, was the kind of thing I had envisioned when Joe Straus was gaining momentum to knock off Tom Craddick as Speaker. The budget debate was substantive, it focused on real issues and not ideological talking points, and in the end it was passed unanimously. Does anyone think that would have happened if Craddick were still running the show? I sure don’t. Straus hasn’t been the end of the rainbow by any means, but he gets a ton of credit for this.

Now then. As fun as it is to contemplate a penniless Governor’s office – perhaps its functions can be privatized; I hear Accenture is looking for a new gig – that was just a bit of a shell game that will ultimately be rectified. Of much greater importance, and much more likely to have a real effect, was the amendment to zero out the Enterprise Fund.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer proposed an amendment that would keep Texas companies from receiving money from the Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund if they’d already been bailed out by the feds. (Withdrawn.) Rep. Marisa Marquez tried to keep Perry’s funds from bailing out corporations that laid people off while paying bonuses to executives. (Also withdrawn) And Rep. Joe Moody wanted to prohibit cash flow from Perry’s funds to companies that contributed to his, Dewhurst’s or Straus’ campaigns. Debbie Riddle killed that bit of fun with a point of order. (She’s good at that.)

Then, Rep. Armando Walle wanted to nix the $136 million appropriation for the Enterprise Fund in the 2010-11 biennium if none of the unemployment insurance bills pass. The idea here is that if the unemployment insurance bills don’t pass, then Texas won’t get the $555 million for the unemployment trust fund, which Perry rejected last month. And the Enterprise Fund siphons money from the trust fund. So what Walle wanted to do with his amendment is say to Perry, “Veto the unemployment insurance bills, and we’ll zero out your slush fund.” But that amendment didn’t fly, either. Died on a point of order.

So far, Mark Strama has been the only one of the bunch to have any success. His amendment, which passed, says that the Emerging Tech Fund should prioritize funding for energy-related R & D projects.

But stay tuned. Yvonne Davis’ amendment, which would completely eliminate funding for Perry’s Enterprise Fund, was temporarily withdrawn, but seems like it might have some success.

And in the end, Rep. Davis’ amendment was accepted. I’m not exactly sure how it differed from Rep. Walle’s amendment, but the bottom line is that as things stand now, if Perry vetoes SB1569, whose prospects for passing the House look better to me now, then he nixes his own slush fund. You gotta love that.

Other matters of interest: School vouchers go down again. Teacher incentive pay gets an overhaul. Various petty amendments bite the dust amid general good will and the liberal use of points of order.

The floor fights have been few and far between. We hear that House members on the left and right have struck a truce and agreed to pull down their most controversial budget amendments.

That includes Panhandle Republican Warren Chisum’s proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Chisum’s amendment had family family planning providers worried. But the amendment never came up.

Leo Berman, the Tyler Republican, did bring forth two amendments aimed at illegal immigrants. One would have instructed state health officials not to issue birth certificates to children of illegal immigrants (who, under current law, are U.S. citizens). Berman also tried to tax money transfers sent from Texas back to Mexico, and Central and South America. Both of Berman’s amendments were shot down on points of order because they changed state law, which isn’t allowed during the budget debated.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. There were some more goodies and the requisite amount of silliness, as one would expect for an 18-hour marathon. I recommend you read Vince’s exhaustive liveblogging to get a feel for that. In the meantime, the budget now goes to the conference committee so that the differences between the House and Senate versions can be ironed out. Burka things the Senate has the advantage in that, so who knows how much of what the House did will ultimately survive. All I know is that having seen the budget process under Tom Craddick three times, this was a vast improvement.

UPDATE: From Texas Impact:

Among the most important improvements the House made on the floor were:

They call the House budget “a significant improvement over the Senate budget”. Let’s hope we can say the same after the conference committee. Link via EoW.

Stem cells and the budget battle

Other than voter ID, we really haven’t had a big fight in the Lege this session. Burka thinks Sen. Steve Ogden’s scurrilous stem cell rider could be the next big brawl.

The Ogden rider is not in the House bill, but it is likely that the conservatives will offer the identical language as a floor amendment to the House committee substitute. [House Appropriations Chair Jim] Pitts will oppose it. If the amendment passes, it will be in both bills and will become part of the conference committee report. I believe that if it comes to a vote, it will fail.

It’s all about 2010 GOP primary politics, of course. Never mind what would be good for Texas. There will be a rally in support of removing this rider from the budget this morning at the Capitol by Texans for Advancement of Medical Research. Click on to read their press release.

That won’t be the only thing to fight about, of course – Burka has three other posts highlighting various amendments to the budget, many of which seek to divert or restrict money in the Texas Enterprise Fund, a/k/a the Governor’s slush fund. That has the potential for more entertainment value, mostly for the gratuitous Perry-bashing that it will allow. No shortage of things to keep an eye on, that’s for sure.

Oh, and the House yesterday approved $3.3 billion in supplemental spending, which included $700 million for hurricane relief. It passed by a margin of 141 to five on second reading. As far as I know, no teabags were harmed in the passage of that bill.

UPDATE: Here for your perusal is the Legislative Study Group analysis of the budget, also known as CSSB1. It gives a detailed overview of all appropriations in each article of the budget, including a breakdown of federal stimulus funds, plus a description and rating of each amendment, of which there are well over 100. Only a handful of amendments are rated as “Unfavorable”, with most of them being aimed at the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office (it’s long been a GOP desire to move prosecution of political crimes out of Travis County) or at undocumented immigrants; the former amendments come from Rep. Wayne Christian, the latter from (who else?) Rep. Leo Berman. Check it out.

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Senate passes budget

The good news is that the budget presented by the Senate isn’t a big step backwards, which was a real concern given the bleak financial picture and the huge obligation of the property tax cuts, which we continue to be unable to fully pay for. As we know, we have the federal stimulus funding to thank for all of this. The bad news is that the Senate budget is not a step forward either, and it’s not clear that much of those federal dollars will be used in a way that’s actually stimulative.

As it stands, the budget proposal would increase funding for college aid, but not nearly enough to cover all students eligible for Texas grants. It would increase money for human services, but it wouldn’t expand eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Among spending highlights, it would pour more money into community services for people with disabilities.

Public schools would get a boost, with some funding tied to separate finance system reforms. Universities and health-related institutions would get an increase.

Correctional officers would get pay raises, and a teacher incentive pay program would get an infusion.

The proposal also would increase funding for regulatory agencies to ensure they can properly do their jobs, a move budget-writers advocated because they said insufficient oversight contributed to national economic problems.

Budget supporters also addressed the controversial question of funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Before the Senate’s 26-5 vote approval, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden clarified that his proposal only would prohibit money appropriated by the state budget from being used directly for research that involves the destruction of a human embryo. It would not ban such research.

Overall, the budget sought to balance spending on crucial services and saving for expected harder times to come. Backers said the budget makes progress and critics said it doesn’t go far enough to address critical needs.

There also were questions over whether the budget properly uses nearly $11 billion in stimulus funding for the fiscal period that starts Sept. 1.

About half of the stimulus money would substitute for state funds that otherwise would be needed. That raised questions because the proposal leaves untouched a state savings account known as the rainy day fund. That account is expected to grow to $9.1 billion in a couple of years.

I have some sympathy for Ogden’s position about not spending the money in the rainy day fund, given that sales tax revenues being collected now will be the basis of the next budget. Given how awful I thought this budget was going to be when the session first began, I almost feel a sense of relief at the way it has turned out so far. On the other hand, given how reluctant a lot of Republicans were to dip into the rainy day fund for just about everything, even hurricane relief, before we knew there would be enough federal money to cover whatever we needed, I can’t say I have much faith that we won’t be in an equivalent position in two years’ time, only without any assistance from DC. And I know that the top priority of the Republicans will be maintaining those irresponsible property tax cuts. I’m glad to avoid the problem for now, and I’m glad that the usual budget victims escaped mostly unscathed, but I totally understand why those five Senators (all Democrats – Ellis, Gallego, Watson, Shapleigh, and Davis) voted no.

Of course, this isn’t the final word, not by a longshot. The House still has to do its thing, and then there will be a committee to reconcile the two. As noted at the end of this story, among other things that could mean the Ogden stem cell rider, which was kinda sorta clarified, could be taken out. Here’s Patricia Kilday Hart on what that rider now says:

“I have recently passed around what I think might be better language” which he will substitute in conference committee, Ogden said. The revised rider would prohibit the use of state money “to directly fund embryonic stem cell research” until the state Legislature passes “legislation regulating embryonic stem cell research.”

He said adding the word “directly” would mean that researchers at state universities could continue their work if it is funded by other entities. Opponents of the original rider had been concerned that embryonic stem cell researchers would no longer be able to work in state-supported institutions.

The process by which that rider made it into the budget in the first place was still lousy. I do hope it winds up on the cutting room floor.

One last issue with the budget has to do with money for the Frew settlement. Here’s Kilday Hart again:

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte believes the Senate Finance Committee failed to include enough money in SB 1 to cover the state’s obligations under the settlement of the Frew v. Hawkins lawsuit, in which the state agreed two years ago to significantly improve access to Medicaid services. And she lays the blame for the failure at the feet of Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office.

Van de Putte notes that Frew plaintiff’s attorney Susan Zinn has sent two letters — one dated Jan. 27 and one dated March 16 — to the AG’s office advising it of non-compliance with a 2007 agreement, particularly with a promise to spend $150 million on “strategic initiatives” to increase participation by children in Medicaid services — primarily by increasing participation by health care providers. Zinn’s letters to the AG noted that the Legislative Budget Board’s funding recommendations for the next biennium do not comply with the court order. Van de Putte says Zinn has received no response from the state to her letters.

Further, she said, Senate budget writers were not advised of the plaintiff’s concerns. ”To my knowledge, (no one) in Finance or leadership was given those documents showing what was needed to be compliant,” she said. “There was a disconnect.”

If lawmakers fail to fully fund the settlement, “we will be in violation” of a federal court order, Van de Putte noted. “Our attorneys failed to communicate to budget writers.”

Let’s hope there are no nasty surprises lurking in there. Here’s a statement from Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, one of the No votes, and a statement from Sen. Van de Putte, who voted Yes with reservations, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Floor Pass has a nice recap of yesterday’s Senate budget action.

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Senate panel approves budget

As you know, the Lege has one task they absolutely must do every biennium, and that’s pass a budget. The Senate Finance Committee has taken its first step towards doing that.

A two-year state budget that accepts federal stimulus money and increases spending by 7.3 percent, but hoards cash reserves, was approved by Senate budget writers today.

Counting federal funds, the Senate Finance Committee’s budget would spend $182.2 billion, up $12.5 billion over the current two year cycle.

“It’s a fairly significant increase in the overall budget,” said Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. “The committee worked hard to try and address many, many legitimate needs in state government, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the federal stimulus money.”

The panel approved the budget, 14-0. The full Senate is expected to act on it later this week.

A key goal of Senate budget writers was to protect the state’s “rainy day fund,” so that 2 1/2 -year old school property tax cuts won’t vanish after 2011. The committee left untouched some $9.1 billion expected in the rainy day fund by September 2011.

The reserve is expected to be used next session, when lawmakers will confront a yawning gap between the 2006 property tax cuts and offsetting new revenues from a revamped business tax and higher taxes on cigarettes and private transfers of used cars.

A 24-percent increase in federal funds helped the Senate panel balance the budget for 2010-2011.

So, thanks to stimulus funding, we can keep those irresponsible property tax cuts and not only not dip into the Rainy Day Fund, but also put aside enough money to pay for a further continuation of those cuts in the next session, when the piper was fixing to hand us a sizable bill for his services. My head is spinning.

In a brief discussion by the Finance Committee, Sens. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said they were voting for the budget with reservations.

Zaffirini said the panel should have heard testimony from experts before adopting a last-minute provision that would bar using any funds in the budget for embryonic stem cell research.

There’s a longer story on that here. Most of the arguments are familiar to people, since it’s basically the abortion issue one step removed, so I’ll just note this bit and move on:

Proponents of using embryos, who say they are obtained from fertility clinics and would be discarded anyway, said Texas stands to lose billions from a burgeoning biotech industry if it continues to create a hostile legal and regulatory climate.

A recent study by University of North Texas economists Bernard Weinstein and Terry Clower said the state could lose out on as many as 100,000 new jobs in the next five years if the state restricts embryonic research.

Yeah, no one’s ever really explained to me what’s supposed to happen to all those unused embryos at fertility clinics. Stay in the freezer forever, I guess. The Chron has a story on this as well, noting that researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, three University of Texas Health System academic health institutions and Rice University, including Norbel laureates Robert Curl and Ferid Murad, signed a letter to the Senate asking them to remove the Ogden rider. Anyway, moving on as noted to the House, where the Appropriations Committee was dealing with a different kind of kerfuffle.

House budget writers, spurred by a chairman angered by how Gov. Rick Perry helped steer a $50 million grant to the Texas A&M University System, voted Friday to strip Perry of one of the powers he used to make the grant happen.

The House Appropriations Committee put language in its proposed budget saying any transfers between the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund must be approved by the 10-member Legislative Budget Board. The panel also said the budget board, made up of the lieutenant governor, House speaker and members of the House and Senate, must approve any grants from the two funds.

Perry uses the Enterprise Fund to attract businesses to the state and the Emerging Technology Fund to launch tech projects at universities working with the private sector. Current law says grants from those accounts must be approved by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

Friday’s move was a response to Perry’s announcement this week that he had transferred $50 million from the Enterprise Fund to the Emerging Technology Fund to pay for a grant to the Texas A&M University System for a new pharmaceutical manufacturing center.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie , says that’s not how the state usually pays for buildings at universities.

Several members of the Appropriations Committee, including Pitts, praised the Texas A&M center, saying they were more concerned with the process than the result.

“We have a legitimate concern that funds (that) were dedicated for one purpose were moved to a fund with a completely different purpose with little or no input from the Legislature,” Pitts said.

There’s a reason a lot of us have called this a slush fund for the Governor. I suppose I should thank him for making that a little more obvious to some folks. This may well be a fine use of that money, but it sure would be nice to have something other than just Rick Perry’s say so.

One more thing:

The Appropriations panel also proposed putting $136 million into the Enterprise Fund and $77 million into the Emerging Technology Fund over the next two years — combined, more than $200 million less than Perry requested.

“Now is not the time to cut back on job creation programs,” Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

Because Rick Perry’s priorities are sacrosanct. Other priorities can go hang, but what Rick Perry wants is untouchable. Got it.

Strengths and weaknesses fails

That’s the good news.

San Antonio’s Ken Mercer, part of the board’s seven-member social conservative bloc, tried to put the much-debated “strengths and weaknesses” language back into the state’s science standards that guide the content of textbooks and curriculum. Mercer’s amendment to a final draft of the science standards would have required science teachers to discuss the so-called weaknesses of evolutionary theory in their science classes.

A few minutes ago, Mercer’s amendment failed by one vote (the tally was 7-7).

Corpus Christi’s Mary Helen Berlanga missed this morning’s vote, though she isn’t one of the board’s social conservatives and would be expected to vote against the strengths weaknesses language.

The board will take a final vote on the science standards tomorrow.

Unless one of the other members has a last-minute change of heart, it appears the strengths and weaknesses language won’t be included in the new science standards. That would be a huge victory for the pro-evolution side.

That’s very good news, as it avoids Texas becoming a national laughingstock for the time being. This sort of thing never truly goes away, of course, so we can never let up. Unelecting some of the troglodtyes on the Board would make the job a lot easier. One such possible target is Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who is at best wishy-washy on a lot of science issues, and who might be easier to take out in a primary than any of the Republicans in a general election. Keep an eye on him.

The bad news is that some other petty little odious amendments did make it through. I haven’t followed this closely enough to tell you about it, but there are plenty of others who have, so for more information than you could possibly need, here’s where to go:

TFN‘s exhaustive liveblogs – one, two, three, four.

Vince’s liveblog from today.

Thoughts from Kansas, another busy liveblogger. Too many posts to recount – try their creationism archives for an overview.

Martha on Twitter – you might also search for the #txsboe hashtag. Martha also testified before the committee.

On balance, I’d call it a good week for science, though between this and the stem cell skulduggery, I wouldn’t say it was good by that much.

UPDATE: The TFN summarizes:

OK, we’ve had a little time to digest all that went on today at the Texas State Board of Education. Without going through each of the many amendments that passed, here’s essentially what happened. This morning the board slammed the door on bringing creationism into classrooms through phony “weaknesses” arguments. But then board members turned around and threw open all the windows to pseudoscientific nonsense attacking core concepts like common descent and natural selection.

The amendments approved today are very problematic, regardless of the important victory over “strengths and weaknesses.” We anticipate that all 15 board members will be participating tomorrow, however, including a pro-science member who was absent today. So there is still time to reverse course.

Tomorrow, with the final vote, the board has a serious decision to make: is the science education of the next generation of Texas schoolchildren going to be based on fact-based, 21st-century science or on the personal beliefs of board members promoting phony arguments and pseudoscience?

You can still weigh in by sending e-mails to board members at [email protected] Texas Education Agency staff will distribute e-mails to board members.

Like I said, it could have been a lot worse. But it could still be a lot better.

UPDATE: Dave Mann thinks the picture is bleaker.

The seven social conservatives on the 15-member board mostly got their way this afternoon. They passed a series of minor amendments that, with a slight word change here and there, diluted the state’s science standards and the teaching of evolutionary theory. Critics say these proposals open loopholes in the standards for the teaching of unscientific theories espoused by religious conservatives. (The same approach was tried, quite successfully, at the board’s meeting in January.)

[…]

The change in fortunes occurred largely because of Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who voted against the social conservatives in the morning and mostly with them in the afternoon. Agosto is viewed as the key swing vote on the board. He voted against the “strengths and weaknesses” language in January and again this morning, despite fierce lobbying from religious groups in his district.

Agosto wasn’t alone. Several other pro-evolution board members voted with the social conservatives’ this afternoon.

The board will take its final vote on the science standards, which will set content of classes and textbooks for years to come, tomorrow. The board can add in or take out language up until final passage.

So one last fight is likely tomorrow.

Remember the name Rick Agosto. The fight next year has to be in March as well.

Ogden’s stem cell skulduggery

Sigh.

Steve Ogden may have lost support of Senate Democrats for SB 1 with his surprise rider prohibiting state funds to be used in stem cell research, or as the rider states: ”in conjunction with or to support research that involves the destruction of a human embryo.”

The rider was added Monday with little debate, on a 6-5 vote, with several members absent from the committee.

It sure must be tough to be a researcher in the Medical Center these days. You finally see this kind of restriction being lifted federally, and now you have to worry about the state shutting you down. It’s a wonder they don’t get whiplash.

I seem to recall Rep. Myra Crownover complaining about a vote being taken on the unemployment insurance stimulus funds while a couple members of that committee were not present because they didn’t know a vote was going to take place. If that was wrong, then so is this. Actually, given the subject matter, it’s wrong regardless. Surely this deserved a real debate, and an up-or-down vote, instead of being snuck into the budget. It’s not a matter of principle – I’ve no doubt Sen. Ogden is sincerely acting on his – but one of procedure and policy. Matters of policy should be debated. As Sen. Kirk Watson said in his statement opposing this action, it’s not clear whether the committee intended to implement such a sweeping ban. The only way to know for sure is to talk about it and let anyone who has questions ask them.

UPDATE: BOR has more.

So how’s the state of our state?

Well, you can read the text of Governor Rick Perry’s State of the State speech and see for yourself what it was all about. Frankly, I think Matt got it in one: This was a campaign speech. I mean, stem cells? Ultrasounds? That he spoke about voter ID is no surprise, though how he framed it was a bit odd. Immigration, too, on which there was more muddled thinking. Point being, who other than a Republican primary voter thinks these are the top issues in Texas today? It was small ball, intended for a small audience. You’d have to ask them if the speech was effective, because it wasn’t addressed to me, or to most of the people (I presume) who are reading this.

For responses to the Governor’s speech, and a good sampling of what he should have talked about but didn’t, here are responses from freshman State Reps. Joe Moody and Chris Turner, and State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. Click on beneath the fold for press releases from State Reps. Trey Martinez-Fischer and Garnet Coleman. And here, much shorter than Perry’s speech, is a YouTube response from Rep. Coleman.

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