Thu May 28, 2015 2:20 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

When the Eighty-fourth Legislature ends on Monday, your Texas leaders will brag that they have balanced the state budget and put forth proposals to cut the state business tax and to reduce property tax burdens. What they won’t tell you is they are hoarding more than $18 billion that could have gone to deeper tax cuts, or to repairing the state’s infrastructure or improving roads, or to reducing state debt, or to eliminating a deficit in the pension fund for state employees, or even to public education.

Nope. They’re just going to hoard that money like the dragon Smaug sitting on his pile of gold and jewels and other treasurers in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

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Wed May 27, 2015 1:31 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Rare are the times like tonight when the three political parties of the Texas House are so vividly on display, when deals are so distasteful to all involved and frustrations flare into tempestuous displays of angry eyes.

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Tue May 26, 2015 8:53 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Gallup adoptionsAlthough public support for adoptions by same-sex couples has increased at a faster pace than support for same-sex marriage, anxiety among social conservatives and faith-based adoption agencies also has risen, especially while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether gay marriage is a constitutional right. Faith-based adoption agencies in other states have shut down rather than place children with same-sex couples. That anxiety will play out in the Texas House today as state Representative Scott Sanford plans to offer a religious freedom amendment to a family services bill. The amendment would allow adoption agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs.

Sanford had introduced HB 3864 to allow faith-based organizations to opt-out of adopting or fostering children with same-sex couples. The bill never made it any farther than the calendars committee. A similar bill by Senator Donna Campbell, SB 1935, never even received a public hearing.

But Sanford just last week won House approval of a bill to protect clergy from lawsuits if they refuse to perform same-sex marriages. The vote was 142-0. That was different, though, because it dealt more with a fear than a reality. In this case, the reality is faith-based adoption agencies may shut down unless they are allowed to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds.

UPDATE: Sanford never offered his amendment Tuesday night because debate on it would have prevented the House from debating a bill on the carrying of handguns on college campuses; however, I’m told conservative lawmakers have found a bill in the Senate to amend with the adoption language. So to fill you in on the issue, please read on in the original story:

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Mon May 25, 2015 4:21 pm By Erica Grieder

Last week, after the budget conference committee started laying out its compromise agreement, the general impression around the Lege seemed to be that on the single most important bill of the session, the House had been steamrolled by the Senate. The conferees, in keeping with the stated priorities of Dan Patrick and the Senate, had agreed to include about $1.3bn for property tax relief and about $800m for border security over the forthcoming fiscal biennium. They also stuck with the Senate figure for public education—an additional $1.5bn compared to the 2014-15 biennium, as opposed to the $2.2bn the House had authorized in its version of the budget. The conferees also abandoned a House provision on Medicaid: the lower chamber had proposed an additional $460m for Medicaid reimbursement payments (in an effort to encourage more doctors to accept Medicaid payments), the Senate had not, and the conference committee abandoned the idea.

Some representatives were disappointed, understandably enough. The House passed its version of the budget on a 141-5 vote, and its sales tax relief proposal–the rival to the Senate’s plan for property tax relief–unanimously. (The Senate passed its budget later with a similarly huge 30-1 margin, but it’s easier for leadership to twist people’s arms in a chamber with only 31 members—especially this year, clearly.) And some representatives, additionally, were surprised. In addition to the fact that the House has been unusually cohesive this year, they had the more internally consistent approach to the process, the more experienced conferees, and on public education, at least, probably the more popular position.

From my perspective, both chambers won some and lost some, and the impression that the House lost overall is due to the fact that the House lost on a handful of visible issues, as a result of circumstances beyond their control; and if the House was going to lose, that was the best way to do it. How I see it, below the jump.

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Mon May 25, 2015 8:24 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Texas Monthly politics team is starting to narrow down the list of the Best and Worst members of the 84th Legislature. We observe and we talk to legislators, lobbyists and reporters. We also want to hear from you. If you have any nominations, name them in the comments below, and, please, tell us why you think a particular lawmaker should be included in the list of the Best and the Worst of 2015.