What to watch: School vouchers vexed? Tax deal; open carry

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock says he could have muscled his sweeping overhaul of the state's school finance system through the House with hours to go before the bill-passing deadline.

But the Killeen Republican and head of the House Public Education Committee decided that doing so ultimately would have been pointless.

There was no support — or even appetite — for his $3 billion bipartisan plan in the Senate, even though the way Texas pays for its schools has already been declared unconstitutional in a case awaiting appeal before the state Supreme Court.

Dominated by tea party standouts, the upper chamber instead has focused on school vouchers, or plans that let parents get state funding to pull their kids out of struggling public schools and send them to private alternatives. Accordingly, the Senate's highest-profile classroom proposal offers tax breaks to businesses that contribute to nonprofits offering students scholarships to change schools.

Voucher plans of any kind are strongly opposed in the House, however, where Democrats and rural Republicans have traditionally teamed up to defeat them — ensuring that every available dollar of state funding stays with public schools.

Now that the House has abandoned its attempted school finance fix because of Senate reluctance, it's not hard to imagine lower-chamber opposition burying the upper one's scholarship program.

How likely that scenario is will become obvious soon, as the House moves — or doesn't — to advance the scholarship bill the Senate sent it weeks ago.

Here are some other issues to watch in Texas politics:

TAX DEAL DETAILS: Gov. Greg Abbott says there's a deal to end a weeks-long standoff between the House and Senate over tax cuts. The Senate is backing a $3-plus billion property tax cut for homeowners, while the House wants a comparable sales tax reduction. The governor says a deal to end the impasse is in place and more information would be forthcoming. But, as budget writers from both chambers continue to hammer out details, none have emerged — at least not yet.

OPEN CARRY: Monday morning, the Senate State Affairs Committee will consider Sherman Republican Rep. Larry Phillips' bill allowing licensed Texans to openly carry handguns, holstered on their hips or otherwise in plain sight. The legislative session opened looking like it would be the most firearms-friendly in years, but gun rights have been overshadowed by other issues of late. The Senate has already passed its own bill allowing so-called "open carry," but it considering the House's proposal suggests guns are poised to move back to the top of lawmakers' agendas.

VIDEO VISITATION: Citing cost concerns, some county jails in Texas have eliminated in-person visits with prisoners in favor of offering only video sessions that connect inmates and visitors virtually. The House has approved a bill by Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, that would prohibit video-only visitation and mandate that many jails offer in-person visitation periods weekly. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, but chairman and Houston Democrat John Whitmire says its chances of advancing aren't great. Whitmire said Johnson's bill would have to "get in line" behind other higher priorities.

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