Sunday, January 09, 2011

Session '11: Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas

Panelists discuss opening day of 82nd Legislature

Josh Hinkle
Sunday, 09 Jan 2011, 11:11 AM CST

AUSTIN (KXAN) - On this inaugural edition of Session '11, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, talks about the upcoming race for Speaker of the House. Also, Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, Elise Hu of the Texas Tribune, and Karen Brooks of participate in the onPolitix panel.


From KXAN Austin News, this is Session 11 with Robert Hadlock. Live, interactive break-downs on the issues discussed this week. How will the decisions made affect you? Plus, insights, interviews and our weekly round table discussion. You're watching Session 11 on KXAN Austin News.

Good morning. I'm Robert Hadlock. Thanks for joining us for this inaugural edition of our "Session '11" program. Tensions are high under the dome. This year the stakes are enormous, as Texas lawmakers head back to the Capitol this week. This Sunday, right here in our studio, we've gathering some of the sharpest and most experienced journalists who cover the Texas legislature. And straight ahead, KXAN's own political reporter "Josh Hinkle" joins us to look at the days leading up to the start of the 2011 Session.

The state comptroller will reveal what will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge for lawmakers. Tomorrow morning, she'll tell us just how massive the state's budget shortfall really is. Some predict it's well above 20 billion dollars. And it seems every group has an idea about how to close that gap... so "you" don't lose the funding and services "you" need.

With the state's rainy day fund, lawmakers have an estimated 9.6 billion dollar option. Groups like Texas Forward want to use that money to keep the state from cutting services. So far, agencies have had to cut 7 and a half percent from their budgets... and to prepare for even more in the future.

Scott McCown, Center for Public Policy Priorities: "Families, when they face tough times use their savings, and families look for more ways to put revenue on the table. Families don't just cut spending."

In 2003, the legislature used a portion of the rainy day fund to close a much smaller deficit. Another way to work with those affected by the budget crisis - change a law limiting most elementary school classes to no more than 22 students. In recent days, legislative leaders and the state's comptroller said it could save hundreds of millions of dollars. School districts which already face massive state cuts might then have more flexibility in educating students.

Jesus Chavez, Round Rock ISD Superintendent: "Whether it's one student. Whether it's two students per class, that's under consideration. It will most likely have to be done, so we can balance the budget."

But Democrats say changing this measure on the books since 1984 could actually hurt students' learning... and eliminate as many as 12-thousand teaching jobs. An alarming thought, as the Texas Education Agency announced its own looming staff cuts.

You let us know which issue is most important to you in the upcoming session in our latest onPolitix poll on Budget cuts, Redistricting, Gambling, Abortion, Immigration, Speaker politics, Environmental issues, Employment/Economy.

The budget, immigration, and employment/economy rose to the top. Clearly, a big issue for lawmakers, as well. And we'll be breaking it down for you all through the session.

Thanks Josh. And as we push forward - there are many hurdles Texas lawmakers face this week - namely - a highly controversial race for Speaker of the House. The legislature convenes Tuesday morning at 10. Lawmakers will be sworn in. And right after that in the House, they'll vote for Speaker. But before that happens - the Republican caucus will meet tomorrow to select "its" nominee. With a super-majority of 101 members - the G-O-P could choose to "keep" moderate "Joe Strauss" of San Antonio as speaker. But others are pushing for a push further to the right. Conservatives "Ken Paxton" of McKinney and "Warren Chisum" of Pampa are in the running. They and others called for tomorrow's Republican caucus.

"You" can join the conversation on these issues by chatting with us on our OnPolitix site. Just log onto and tell us what you think. We'll use your views in our upcoming OnPolitix Panel later in the program.

But first... As the fight for Speaker of the House boils over, we'll speak with the lawmaker who's questioning the constitutionality of how many in his own party wants to pick the speaker. Our live one-on-one interview with State Representative "Dan Branch" when we return to "Session '11."

Tomorrow, just one day before the session gets in gear, Republican House members will meet to select their nominee for Speaker of the House. This is not the typical process to elect this chamber's leader.

But with a GOP "super majority" - the nominee this caucus picks could render what any Democratic has to say in the matter "useless."

Joining us this morning as our "Newsmaker" is Republican State Representative "Dan Branch" of Dallas. This is his fifth time serving in the legislature. Representative Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

First elected to the Texas House in 2002. This will be his fifth term. Chairman of the Higher Education Committee and serves on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, as well as the Legislative Budget Board. Spoken out against the calling of the House Republican Caucus to select the next Speaker, questioning the constitutionality and fairness of the process.

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