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Patrick Sets Committees; Taylor Gets Education

The Texas Tribune
January 23, 2015

By Morgan Smith

Offering a window into the Senate’s key players during the upcoming legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his committee assignments Friday.

Democrats will lead just two of the Senate’s 14 committees. Democrat John Whitmire of Houston, the upper chamber’s longest-serving member, will keep his spot at the head of Criminal Justice. Democrat Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville will lead Intergovernmental Affairs.

Republican chairs include:

Larry Taylor of Friendswood on Education; Donna Campbell of San Antonio on Veterans Affairs; Kevin Eltife of Tyler on Business and Commerce; Jane Nelson of Flower Mound on Finance; and Kel Seliger of Amarillo on Higher Education.

One veteran Republican, Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, lost his chairmanship. Joan Huffman of Houston will replace him leading State Affairs. One freshman senator received a chairmanship: Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who will lead Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs. Perry enters the Senate after serving two terms in the House. (For a full list of assignments, see below)

“This efficient structure of streamlined committees will allow for the passage of not only a variety of issues but of Texans’  top priorities, such as education reform, tax relief and border security,” Patrick said in a statement accompanying the announcements.

There had been speculation among Capitol observers that the higher education committee, chaired by Seliger, who has been an occasional critic of Patrick's, might be folded into the education committee. Not only did it survive, however, but Seliger, who sponsored a fundraiser for Patrick and contributed to his campaign, retained his chairmanship.

The assignments come after a larger reworking of the upper chamber’s committees, dropping the number from 18 to 14, with Patrick axing panels on open government, jurisprudence, economic development and government organization.

Who Patrick would pick to chair Education, the committee he headed as a state senator, was a subject of much discussion heading into the session.

Taylor, a sophomore, served on the committee he will now lead during the 2013 legislative session. Before elected to the Senate in 2012, he spent 10 years in the House.

During his time in the lower chamber, he was perhaps best known for leading the charge, along with tort reform groups, to overhaul the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, a state-funded insurance pool that has paid out millions in damages for hurricane-related lawsuits. The fight became a proxy battle between Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and later resulted in top trial lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn pouring money into an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Taylor's bid for Senate in 2012.

In his first year as a senator, Taylor carried two education bills, both co-sponsored with Patrick. One was a so-called "parent trigger" bill, which requires the state to convert failing campuses to charter schools if enough parents petition. The other was legislation similar to House Bill 5, which ultimately became law, making changes to curriculum requirements and reducing the number of state standardized tests for high school students.

Committee on Education
Taylor, Larry | Chair
Lucio Eddie, Jr. | Vice Chair
Bettencourt, Paul
Campbell, Donna
Garcia, Sylvia
Huffines, Don
Kolkhorst, Lois
Rodriguez, José
Seliger, Kel
Taylor, Van
West, Royce

Committee on Higher Education
Seliger, Kel | Chair
West, Royce | Vice Chair
Bettencourt, Paul
Burton, Konni
Perry, Charles
Van de Putte, Leticia
Watson, Kirk