Special session likely to end with no voucher deal
As the clock ran down on the Legislature’s third special session, Texas House and Senate leaders exchanged barbs over Gov. Greg Abbott’s school choice bill and border security proposals, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
In a social media post, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said House Speaker Dade Phelan “wasted another special session” as that chamber failed to even consider Abbott’s measure to use public money for private tuition, commonly known as vouchers.
The Senate early in the session passed a school choice measure that has gone nowhere in the House, where a combination of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers have stood firm in opposition to vouchers since the regular session began in January.
Caught in the rift between the two chambers’ leaders is a House border security bill that originally allowed law enforcement officers to expel anyone who illegally crosses the border. Patrick led efforts in the Senate to change the bill to require officers to hand over illegal migrants to federal authorities.
“The Speaker is desperate to improve his border credentials with conservatives and sent the House version of HB4 over to the Senate,” Patrick said. “The bill’s author claimed it’s the toughest border bill ever, but it is simply a Texas-sized catch-and-release bill.”
Phelan called the Senate’s revamped version “a long-term, state-funded hospitality program for illegal immigrants” and said the House would not accept the Senate’s version, the Statesman reported.
Abbott is considered likely soon to call a fourth special session.
securities fraud trial set for April 15
More than eight years after being charged with securities fraud, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will go to trial in Houston on April 15, according to the Texas Tribune. State District Judge Andrea Beall scheduled the trial during a hearing last week. Paxton is accused of trying to solicit investors in a McKinney technology company without disclosing the company was paying him to promote its stock, a charge he has denied.
Paxton was acquitted in September in an impeachment trial in the Senate.
Beall also ruled last week that Collin County must pay special prosecutors $300 an hour for their work in the case. The county had attempted to limit their pay to $2,000 total, according to The Dallas Morning News. The judge called that amount “wholly unreasonable” and “arbitrary and capricious.” The legal fees have been estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Paxton could face up to 99 in years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
Texas is world’s Bitcoin mining capital
For better or worse, Texas is now the Bitcoin mining capital of the world, which could have an impact on the ERCOT-run power grid, according to The News.
Bitcoin mining requires vast amounts of electricity. Companies are also earning millions of dollars in energy credits by voluntarily shutting down when the grid is reaching capacity. For example, a large-scale Bitcoin operation in Rockdale received $31.7 million in energy credits for powering down – nearly four times what it made actually mining Bitcoin that month, according to Texas Monthly.
Bitcoin mining companies in Texas now account for about half of all Bitcoin mining in the United States, which also makes it the world leader. Bitcoin mining accounts for up to 3% of industrial power usage in Texas, according to The News.
Texas job growth falls below national rate
For the first time since last November, Texas job growth fell below the national rate in August, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. However, from last December through August 2023, the state’s job growth outpaced the U.S.
The state comptroller’s office has pulled back from a January prediction of a mild recession for Texas.
“We anticipated slower growth in our revenue estimate, but we also know that Texas’ economy is better positioned than other state economies and the national economy to absorb slower growth rates,” Comptroller Glenn Hegar said.
His office credits a diverse economy and relatively low taxes and regulation for the state’s economic successes. Migration also plays a crucial role, according to Pia Orrenius with the Fed.
“Really, the secret sauce in Texas is the economic growth that is sustained by both firms and people moving to the state,” she said.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park.