Highlights from around the Capitol
"We're here to support the 1.5 million people in Texas that need health care expansion," she said. "I want to help a lot of working families."
TOP SENATOR VOWS HIS CHARTER SCHOOL PLAN WILL PASS
The top proponent for school choice in the Texas Legislature vowed Wednesday that his much-watched effort to expand charter schools in Texas will become law — even though it could still face a tough road in the House.
Speaking to a midday charter school rally at the state Capitol featuring hundreds of activists, parents and teachers — some of whom brought their classes from Dallas, San Antonio and Austin — Sen. Dan Patrick cried, "I feel really good!"
"For the first time in almost 15 years, this Legislature is going to pass a bill addressing charter schools," Patrick said. "Raising the cap, allowing for more flexibility, innovation and an opportunity for those 100,000 parents who are on a waitlist."
Charter schools were first legalized in Texas in 1995 but the Legislature has not passed major legislation on them since 2001. Patrick, a tea party-backed Houston Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would gradually lift the current cap of 215 charters issued statewide, allowing it to increase to 305 over the next six years.
He originally wanted an unlimited number of charters, but had to scale back his proposal dramatically in order to win approval in the Texas Senate last month.
For now, Texas has issued 209 charters. Because operators can use a single charter to run multiple campuses, though, the state has 506 total charter schools educating 154,278 children, or around 3 percent of its 5 million-plus public school students.
Patrick and other advocates point to a survey conducted last summer by the Texas Charter School Association in claiming that nearly 102,000 more students across the state are waitlisted for charter schools that don't have the space to accommodate them.
The bill has yet to be heard in the House, however, and charter school legislation that passed the Senate died in the lower chamber during the last two legislative sessions in 2011 and 2009.
TEXAS SENATE APPROVES TEACHER RETIREMENT CHANGES
A plan to boost the financial stability of the Texas Teacher Retirement System requires teachers and the state to pay more in to the fund, while also setting up a benefit increase for some longtime retirees.
Under a bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday and sent to the House, teachers will see their contributions to the $117 billion benefit fund rise from 6.4 percent in 2014 to 7.7 percent in 2017. The state will also increase its contribution from 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
And school districts that do not currently contribute to Social Security would start paying in at 1.5 percent.
The bill also would give a 3 percent benefit increase for teachers who have been retired for 15 years or more.
SANTA APPROVES: HOUSE OK'S 'MERRY CHRISTMAS' BILL
On the brink of summer, defending Christmas is on the wish list of the Texas Legislature.
The House on Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill that aims to remove legal risks of saying "Merry Christmas" in Texas public schools. Traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, would also win a nod of state support so long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.
State Rep. Dwayne Bohac says the bill seeks to protect schools from "ridiculous" lawsuits. Says the Houston Republican: "Teachers are fearful of calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree."
Several Santa Claus impersonators were in the House gallery when the bill came up. They rang sleigh bells upon passage.
HOUSE OKS SHIFTING CONTROL OF FRACKING WASTE WATER
Energy companies engaging in fracking and other oil and gas exploration would be excused from some possible litigation involving recycled waste water under a bill approved by the Texas House.
The measure has been cheered by oil and gas companies, who say it will encourage recycling water from fracking and other oilfield activities.
But opponents say it shifts ownership and liability from the waste water's producer to firms paid to recycle it.
They say that will make it harder to hold producers responsible for problems.
A Democratic effort to block the measure in the House using a parliamentary procedure failed Wednesday. Lawmakers then passed it with a voice vote.
The bill sponsored by Weatherford Republican Rep. Phil King must clear a final, procedural hurdle before heading to the Senate.
TEXAS TROOPERS ARREST GAY RIGHTS PROTESTERS
Texas troopers have arrested five gay rights protesters after they blocked traffic in front of the state Capitol to demand equal rights.
A dozen demonstrators screamed, "End discrimination now," on Wednesday.
The group Get Equal wants Texas to pass a law making it illegal to discriminate against someone for being gay or transsexual in the workplace. Under current Texas law, employers may fire someone based on their sexual orientation or deny them health benefits.
Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has introduced Senate Bill 237 to ban workplace discrimination, but conservative Republicans have blocked the measure. If the Senate does not take up the bill by Thursday, it will not be considered again this year.
Troopers arrested three protesters from the group when they occupied a lawmaker's offices last week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"I happen to love Austin in the summertime." — Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, when hearing that Gov. Rick Perry had threatened to call a special session if the Legislature did not pass $1.8 billion in tax cuts.
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