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Antitrust Overhaul Passes Its First Tests. Now, the Hard Parts.

Antitrust Overhaul Passes Its First Tests. Now, the Hard Parts.

WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill politicians have groused for years about the power and influence of the country’s largest tech companies. But they took little action to match their rhetoric.

That started to change on Wednesday, when House lawmakers took their first votes on a suite of bills that are meant to weaken the dominance of Big Tech. The bills, six in all, would bulk up antitrust agencies, make it harder to acquire potential rivals, and prevent platforms from selling or promoting their own products to disadvantage competitors.

The votes by members of the Judiciary Committee to advance some of the bills showed the growing bipartisan agreement for taking on the tech companies. A handful of Republicans joined the widespread support among Democrats for the bills.

The committee members debated the bills through the night until adjourning shortly after 5 a.m. on Thursday. Discussions are expected to resume later in the morning.

But the outcome of the votes, and the debates before they took place, also exposed the fault lines among Republicans and Democrats — and underscored why final passage of all the bills is expected to be difficult.

Democrats, who have had the most say over the bills, are focused on the market power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said the votes “pave the way for a stronger economy and a stronger democracy for the American people by reining in anti-competitive abuses of the most dominant firms online.”

Some Republicans have united with them, arguing that the proposals would help address one of their main concerns: the power that social media companies have over speech, and what they argue is political bias and censorship of conservative voices. But many other Republicans say that the bills only add more government intervention into the economy while not directly addressing their concerns about free speech.

That debate within the Republican Party spilled out on Wednesday as soon as the first bill was brought up for a vote. The proposal, considered among the least contentious of the six, would increase the costs of fees associated with some mergers, to help raise more funding for the Federal Trade Commission, which helps regulate deals.

During a three-hour debate about the bill, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, said the bill was a power grab for the Democratic-led antitrust agencies, making them bigger and more influential. He also said the proposals and the other antitrust bills failed to address the ability of Facebook and other social media companies to cut off political voices.

“Big tech censors conservatives,” Mr. Jordan said. “These bills don’t fix that problem, they make it worse.”

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, a fellow Republican and a co-sponsor of the bills, agreed that the tech companies silence conservatives. But he implored his party for unity to take on the power of Big Tech through the proposals, which he said would limit the overall power of the companies.

“These bills are conservative,” Mr. Buck said.

While progressive lawmakers largely back the bills, the proposals have frustrated Democratic lawmakers from California, who say they go too far in regulating their state’s most prominent companies.

Representative Lou Correa, a Democrat from Southern California, said that the number of people in the state working for the big tech companies had grown substantially, helping the state fund services like public education and support for people affected by Covid.

“We want to make sure that we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” he added later.

Mr. Correa also said: “These firms — high tech — are the reason California has a budget surplus, as opposed to a deficit, enabling the state of California to invest in public education, to help those affected by Covid, the middle class, those who are trying to get to the middle class.”

Other California Democrats who expressed concerns about the bills included Representative Zoe Lofgren, whose district includes part of San Jose, and Representative Eric Swalwell.

Ms. Lofgren worried during the hearing that the bills could ensnare companies that do not share the tech giants’ immense scale. Mr. Swalwell said before the hearing even began that he would oppose several of the bills.

“In my district alone, I represent thousands — likely in the five digits — of employees affected by the proposed laws,” he said. “It is these people whose jobs, families and livelihoods I was elected to protect — and must advocate for today.”

The committee’s passage of the bills kicks off a much harder process. Eight Democratic lawmakers have asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has tremendous sway over when bills are taken up in the full House, to slow the process. The lawmakers repeated arguments made by companies like Apple that say the bills could open up security and privacy vulnerabilities for customers.

The challenge is even stiffer in the Senate, where the bills will each require significant Republican support to reach the needed 60 votes. A few Republicans, including Josh Hawley of Missouri, have pressed for stiffer antitrust laws. But it is unclear whether many more will join him.

Some bills, like the one to generate more money for the Federal Trade Commission, could face less resistance than others. The most contentious is a bill that bans platforms from selling their own products, such as Amazon selling its own branded Amazon Basics toilet paper and putting rivals like Charmin at a disadvantage.

“We think it’s an uphill climb for the toughest bills,” said Paul Gallant, a research analyst at Cowen and Company. “The Senate filibuster is always the highest hurdle and I suspect it will hold back the toughest of these bills. But the House is going faster and farther against tech than anyone expected.”

The bills face fierce opposition from technology companies that have marshaled their considerable lobbying operations. Ahead of the votes on Wednesday, Apple sent a letter to committee leaders warning that the if the bills were passed, the company would not be able to offer certain privacy and security features for users. Think tanks and lobbying groups funded by tech companies issued critical statements before the votes.

The bills “single out a handful of America’s most innovative and globally competitive tech companies for divestiture and draconian regulation,” said Alec Stapp, a director of the Progressive Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank that received sponsorship from tech companies.

Chamber of Progress, a newly formed tech trade group representing Amazon and Google, said a recent Morning Consult Survey showed that voters didn’t see tech regulation as a top priority.

“Consumers want the government to scrutinize and regulate the tech industry, but don’t want Congress redesigning the apps and services that make their lives easier,” said its chief executive, Adam Kovacevich.

Alex Harman, a competition policy advocate at Public Citizen, which had been pushing for the bills, said Wednesday’s votes represented an important moment. Almost a decade ago, he said, there had been little Capitol Hill support for an investigation of Google’s practices by the Federal Trade Commission, which ultimately decided not to pursue a case against the company.

“Nine years later, we are in a world where a serious bipartisan effort in a committee is not just trying to push on an investigation, they’re trying to break them up,” he said. “That is a big deal.”

Author: Cecilia Kang and David McCabe
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories

How NYC Faces a Lasting Economic Toll Even as the Coronavirus Pandemic Passes

How NYC Faces a Lasting Economic Toll Even as the Coronavirus Pandemic Passes

“It’s gone from feeling super lonely and now it’s feeling pretty normal,” Mr. Gray added.

Wall Street and the banking sector are pillars of the city’s economy, and they have been among the most aggressive industries in prodding employees to go back to the office. James Gorman, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, told investors and analysts this month that “if you want to get paid in New York, you need to be in New York.”

Many firms, including Blackstone and Morgan Stanley, have huge real estate holdings or loans to the industry, so there is more than civic pride in their push to get workers to return. Technology companies like Facebook and Google are increasingly important employers as well as major commercial tenants, and they have been increasing their office space. But they have been more flexible about letting employees continue to work remotely.

Google, which has 11,000 employees in New York and plans to add 3,000 in the next few years, intends to return to its offices in West Chelsea in September, but workers will only be required to come in three days a week. The company has also said up to 20 percent of its staff can apply to work remotely full time.

The decision by even a small slice of employees at Google and other companies to stay home part or all of the week could have a significant economic impact.

Even if just 10 percent of Manhattan office workers begin working remotely most of the time, that translates into more than 100,000 people a day not picking up a coffee and bagel on their way to work or a drink afterward, said James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

“I expect a lot of people will return, but not all of them,” he said. “We might lose some neighborhood businesses as a result.”

The absence of white-collar workers hurts people like Danuta Klosinski, 60, who had been cleaning office buildings in Manhattan for 20 years. She is one of more than about 3,000 office cleaners who remain out of work, according to Denis Johnston, a vice president of their union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

Author: Nelson D. Schwartz, Patrick McGeehan, Nicole Hong and Gabriela Bhaskar
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories

House Passes Bill to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

House Passes Bill to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

Proponents in both parties said the move was long overdue.

“For far too long, the story of our country’s history has been incomplete, as we have failed to acknowledge, address and come to grips with our nation’s original sin of slavery,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a lead sponsor of the bill.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who pushed for passage, said he had talked to Mr. Johnson “many times about his concerns.”

“I think he saw that this was inevitable,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Many states have recognized Juneteenth for decades, but only some observe it as an official holiday. The day is already celebrated in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

After the protests for racial justice last year, dozens of companies moved to give employees the day off for Juneteenth, and the push for federal recognition as a paid holiday gained new momentum.

Texas was the first state to observe Juneteenth as an official holiday, starting in 1980.

The push to recognition comes as Republicans around the country, including some in Congress, are pushing to bar schools from using curriculum that explores the legacy of slavery and teaches about the effects of racism on myriad aspects of society.

“We do know there’s a movement to erase history with attacks on critical race theory and teaching children about the presence of systemic racism in our country’s history,” Mr. Markey said.

Making Juneteenth a federal holiday “acknowledges slavery as the original sin built into the United States Constitution,” he added. “We celebrate its eradication, but we can’t celebrate how deeply racism resulted in America’s policies and is still built into education, health care, housing and every other policy.”

Author: Luke Broadwater
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

US Passes 600,000 COVID-19 Deaths as States Lift Restrictions

US Passes 600,000 COVID-19 Deaths as States Lift Restrictions

The United States passed more than 600,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, marking another pandemic milestone on the same day that major states such as California and New York lifted their remaining restrictions.

Deaths have declined dramatically in recent weeks, reaching the lowest point since March 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal . COVID-19 fatalities peaked in mid-January at about 3,300 daily deaths and then dropped below 1,000 deaths in early April. The seven-day average fell below 500 at the end of May and is now hovering around 300, according to CDC data.

“Crossing the 600,000 milestone is a sobering reminder that the virus is still spreading and that there are still too many people unvaccinated,” Ajay Sethi, an infectious diseases professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the newspaper.

“In the U.S., death from Covid is almost entirely preventable,” he said, particularly now that vaccines are widely available.

The U.S. first surpassed 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in May 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported, followed by 200,000 deaths about four months later in September. In less than three months, the country reached 300,000 deaths in December, and then 400,000 in January and 500,000 in February. Now it has taken another four months to pass the 600,000 mark.

Worldwide, more than 3.8 million COVID-19 deaths have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins data. More people have died globally from the coronavirus already in 2021 than in all of 2020, hitting poorer countries particularly hard, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Deaths have decreased in the U.S. as COVID-19 vaccinations have increased. About 52.6% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose, and 43.9% of the population is considered fully vaccinated, according to the latest CDC tally.

Celebrating the vaccination numbers on Tuesday, California and New York lifted most of their remaining coronavirus restrictions, according to The Associated Press. California dropped state rules on social distancing and capacity limits at restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gyms and stadiums. Face masks are no longer required in most locations for those who are vaccinated.

New York also eased most rules about gathering sizes, social distancing and certain cleaning protocols for businesses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that 70% of adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“What does 70% mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it,” he said.

Massachusetts lifted its state of emergency on Tuesday, the AP reported, though many restrictions had already been eased. Lawmakers in Kansas also let a state of emergency expire on Tuesday, and Maryland announced its state of emergency will end on July 1.

Vermont lifted all remaining state pandemic restrictions on Monday. Gov. Phil Scott announced that at least 80% of residents ages 12 and older have received at least one vaccine dose. Vermont was the first state to pass the 80% milestone for all eligible residents, according to The New York Times , and Hawaii and Massachusetts have vaccinated 80% of ages 18 and older.

“Our state has shown the world what’s possible when you have a group of people with the right attitude following the data and trusting medical sciences,” Scott said.

Sources

Johns Hopkins University: “COVID-19 Dashboard.”

The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Covid-19 Deaths Top 600,000.”

CDC: “Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory.”

CDC: “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”

The Associated Press: “US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll.”

The New York Times: “Vermont is the first state to partially vaccinate at least 80 percent of its eligible population.”

Author:
This post originally appeared on Medscape Medical News Headlines

Medina Spirit passes drug tests, cleared to run in Preakness

Medina Spirit passes drug tests, cleared to run in Preakness
BALTIMORE — Medina Spirit has passed three rounds of prerace drug testing and been cleared to run in the Preakness on Saturday.
Maryland racing officials said Friday tests on the Kentucky Derby winner and fellow Bob Baffert-trained Concert Tour came back with nothing that would cause them to be scratched from the second leg of the Triple Crown. Baffert’s camp agreed to rigorous testing and monitoring of his horses as a condition of entry to the Preakness.
Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone in post-Derby testing. If a second round of testing there comes back positive, Medina Spirit will be disqualified and Mandaloun named winner of the Derby.
Medina Spirit was set as the 9-5 morning line favorite for the Preakness and Concert Tour the 5-2 second choice in the field of 10.

Author:
This post originally appeared on CBS8 – Sports

Bipartisan U.S. bill to raise merger fees for big deals passes Senate panel

Bipartisan U.S. bill to raise merger fees for big deals passes Senate panel© Reuters. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, asks questions during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC, U.S., April 27, 2021. Tasos Katopodis/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bill to increase the fees that companies planning the biggest mergers pay to government antitrust agencies and to give those agencies bigger budgets passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday on a voice vote.

The bill – co-sponsored by Amy Klobuchar, the top antitrust senator, and Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee – would lower the fee for smaller mergers under $ 161.5 million from $ 45,000 to $ 30,000. But for deals worth $ 5 billion or more, the fee would rise from $ 280,000 to $ 2.25 million.

Under the bill, those costs would increase with inflation.

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department’s Antitrust Division assess mergers to ensure that they comply with antitrust law.

The bill would increase authorizations to each, giving the FTC a budget of $ 418 million while the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division would receive $ 252 million.

In brief remarks before the vote, Klobuchar said the fees had not changed since 2001, and that the Justice Department sued Alphabet (NASDAQ:)’s Google last year while the FTC filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Facebook (NASDAQ:).

“You just cannot take on the biggest companies in the world with duct tape and Band-Aids,” she said.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, said in comments during a discussion of the bill that he was “quite disappointed by the lax antitrust enforcement we saw in the previous administration.”

He said that he hoped that the FTC and Justice Department would be tougher. “Democrats have historically been more vigorous on antitrust than Republicans, and so perhaps that instinct, which at times can be harmful, will be positively directed towards the monopolists we have in Silicon Valley.”

X: Therefore doesn`t .

Author: Reuters
This post originally appeared on Stock Market News

Bill punishing cities that 'defund police' passes Texas House

Bill punishing cities that 'defund police' passes Texas House
Texas Politics
Austin police investigating homicide in busy north Austin shopping area April 14, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Andrew Choat)
Austin police investigating homicide in busy north Austin shopping area April 14, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Andrew Choat)
AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas House passed a bill on Friday that would punish cities that cut funding for police.

House Bill 1900 passed just before 12:30 p.m. with a vote of 90-49.

“Let’s support public safety in this state. Let’s support our police. Let’s back the blue,” state Rep. Craig Goldman, who wrote the bill.

Under the bill, a “defunding local government” is determined by comparing the money and personnel going toward law enforcement in a city’s budget to that of the previous year, starting this September.

If approved by the Senate, and signed into law by the governor, HB 1900 would cap property tax rates in cities that cut funding for police and deduct from sales tax revenue the cost of state-provided law enforcement services.

The bill only affects cities with populations greater than 250,000 people — that’s 11 in Texas, including Austin.

An amendment to apply the bill to all cities in Texas failed.

Background on the bill

In the past year, Gov. Greg Abbott promised there would be consequences for cities that decrease police budgets. His office worked with Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, on HB 1900.

It came as a number of cities around the nation reduced police budgets in response to calls for racial justice and transformation of policing amid protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Abbott has long criticized the Austin City Council’s decision to cut $ 20 million from the Austin Police Department budget. The council also unanimously voted to move $ 130 million from its budget to other public safety programs. This bill, which if passed would go into effect Sept. 1, would not affect Austin unless it decided to reduce the budget further for the next fiscal year.

Author: John Engel
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Texas House passes statewide camping ban; how it would affect Austin's response to Prop. B

Texas House passes statewide camping ban; how it would affect Austin's response to Prop. B

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas House passed legislation that would create a statewide public camping ban Thursday in an 88-56 vote.

House Bill 1925 would create a Class-C misdemeanor for individuals who knowingly camp in a public place and punish local governments that do not enforce the ban. The bill would still need a final vote of approval in the House, while an identical bill in the Texas Senate remains in committee.

The statewide camping ban would impact the City of Austin’s response to Proposition B — a ballot measure passed by voters last week that will reinstate a public camping ban in the city on May 11.

There is an identical bill in the Senate, but it is still in committee.

Austin City Council is considering whether to direct the city manager to identify potential locations for city-sanctioned camping sites, but the statewide camping ban legislation would require local governments to seek state approval before designating any area for camping.

Leah Hargrave of Mosaic Street Ministry visited people living underneath the US-183 overpass at Oak Knoll in north Austin on Wednesday — where many are unsure what will happen when a new public camping ban takes effect on Tuesday.

“They’re not sure what’s going to happen on May 11. They just know something is going to happen on May 11,” Hargrave said.

Hargrave and other homeless service providers received an email from the City of Austin that it is “evaluating options” before the ban takes effect.

Beth Easterling, who lives at the campsite Hargrave visited, wishes those options would have been evaluated long before the vote.

“Who’s to say that we won’t be woken up in the morning saying, ‘you gotta go?’” Easterling said. “Then, we’ve all got to pack up our stuff and go.”

Author: John Engel
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Texas Senate passes bill allowing permitless carry of firearms

Texas Senate passes bill allowing permitless carry of firearms

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate gave initial approval on a contentious bill to allow permitless carry of firearms in an 18-13 vote on Wednesday.

House Bill 1927 removes the licensing requirement for Texans to carry firearms if they are 21 or older “and not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing the firearm.”

“The premise of the bill is not about trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This is about trying to reinstitute a constitutional right for law abiding citizens,” State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, said Wednesday.

“People who are prohibited from possessing a handgun will still be prohibited from possessing a handgun under this bill,” he said, noting that business owners and private property owners would still have the right to “exclude handguns on their property.”

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said she thinks “gun-free zones are victim zones, and I don’t like them,” before stating her support for the bill.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, announced his support for the bill Tuesday night.

“The people of Senate District 3 overwhelmingly support this legislation and as their State Senator, it’s my duty to represent my district accordingly,” Nichols tweeted.

Senators made several changes to the bill in the upper chamber. Senators added a provision to allow law enforcement officers to secure a handgun in a gun locker or other secure area when taking a person into the secure area of a police station. They also approved a measure to prevent anyone from legally carrying a handgun in Texas if that person was convicted of crimes in the past five years such as terroristic threat, deadly conduct, assault that causes bodily injury and disorderly conduct with a firearm.

Senators also affirmed that a person cannot carry a handgun while intoxicated in a public space. Other amendments adopted included increased penalties for felons caught with a firearm and increased penalties for Texans family violence convictions.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, expressed concern about protections for domestic violence survivors. She referenced previous legislation she carried to allow judges to suspend licenses to carry for domestic violence offenders when that judge issues a protective order.

“I’m really worried about our domestic violence victims,” Nelson said.

Schwertner also added a provision that designated areas such as schools, polling places and hospitals to prohibit carrying of handguns on their property. He also wiped a provision from the House version that required oral or written notice to the carrier from someone at the business or property, and instead simply required signage.

Additionally, Senators approved requiring the Texas Department of Public Safety to post firearm safety messaging on its website.

Schwertner received support for an amendment to remove a section of the bill that stated an officer cannot profile based on carrying a firearm.

State Sen. Bob Hall, R- Edgewood, voiced support for the bill.

“What we’re doing is following our Constitution of making changes with a view to prevent crime,” Hall said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, issued a statement after the bill passed.

“I am proud that the Texas Senate passed House Bill 1927 today, the Constitutional Carry bill, which affirms every Texan’s right to self-defense and our state’s strong support for our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” he stated. “In the Lone Star State, the Constitution is our permit to carry. I congratulate Senator Charles Schwertner for his leadership on this important issue and for the thoughtful and respectful debate in the Texas Senate today. We have moved quickly on this legislation and I want to thank all those involved who helped gather the votes needed to pass this historic bill.”   

“I don’t see anything that will be different by allowing those without a permit to carry that’s going to be any different than what we already see today.”
State Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster

Texas Democrats opposed the measure, stating it opens Texas up to “lose more loved ones to gun violence.”

“Texas Republicans continue to be a major threat to public safety, this time attempting to remove all requirements for people to carry a handgun in public,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “This law would further embolden hate groups and white supremacist organizations who thrive off of intimidation tactics and sowing distrust in institutions of public safety.”

Hinojosa cited the El Paso and Midland-Odessa massacres, saying Republicans “have quickly forgotten” lives lost to gun violence in the state.

“Their blatant disregard for Texans’ safety is appalling,” he stated.

Citing the Texas Safety Action Report published by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office in the wake of the El Paso and Midland-Odessa shootings, State Sen. César Blanco, D- El Paso, asked whether HB 1927 adopted any of the recommendations of the report. Schwertner said he had not read the report.

HB 1927 had previously passed out of the newly-formed Senate Special Committee on Constitutional Issues on April 29 in a 5-2 vote after 10 hours of testimony. It passed out of the House largely along party lines last month.

HB 1927 passed out of the upper chamber with some changes attached to the version approved by the House. It heads back to the House for approval on those changes. If the changes are approved, the bill heads to the Governor’s desk. If the changes are not agreed-upon by the House, the bill heads to a conference committee where a panel of lawmakers will iron out the differences between the versions before sending the bill to the Governor’s desk.

“No celebration yet folks! We are now reviewing amendments that were added by the Senate to look for issues that would break House rules governing the purpose of HB 1927,” said State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who authored the legislation, in a tweet Wednesday night. “Our first impression has us very concerned. Will share more as soon as we can.”

Abbott signaled he would sign the bill into law should it reach his desk.

Author: Wes Rapaport
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Texas House passes education-focused budget

Author Wes Rapaport
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Texas House passes education-focused budget

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House passed its budget Thursday night after a marathon debate to decide how to spent taxpayer money over the next two years.

The budget was framed in the lens of an economy recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, with priorities focused on public education. There’s also uncertainty among budget writers in terms of how much federal money is expected to land in the state from coronavirus aid packages.

“The Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 1 illustrates our dedication to education and prioritizes ensuring quality education for all our children, while also addressing the ill effects of COVID-19 on both public and higher education,” State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, said. “While overall you won’t see many additional funding items adopted at this time, the committee had some very robust discussions in our responsibility to support the state’s education system and how to address the uncertainty we’re facing this session given our current funding situation.”

To ready the state for when that money does arrive and which areas it may assist, the House approved an amendment to send nearly $ 18 billion in federal aid directly to education.

“The first round of federal dollars that we got, we actually supplanted state funds with that money. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen this time,” State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said.

“It goes through TEA (Texas Education Agency), but it’s gonna go to the schools, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Rodriguez said.

The chamber also approved a proposal to prevent public dollars to pay for private schools.

Click here to read the Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 1.

Amendments to the House version of the budget also included allocations to the state’s “Alternatives to Abortions” program and bulletproof glass for state trooper vehicles. An amendment to expand Medicaid in Texas was voted down.

House members adopted an amendment to force a special legislative session should federal relief money arrive to the state after the conclusion of the regular session. Doing so means more lawmakers would have influence over where that money goes, rather than a small group of appropriators or the governor.

It’s unknown how many of the provisions the House put in on Thursday will remain in the final version of the budget. The Senate passed its version already. Key members from each chamber will meet to iron out the differences between the two versions of the budget in a conference committee ahead of the final day of the session on May 31.