What to Watch: In-state tuition; religious freedom flap?

By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Could the uproar over religious freedom laws that engulfed Indiana and Arkansas be coming to Texas? The next couple weeks in the Legislature should provide the answer.

Lawmakers in Indiana scrambled to clarify that state's law amid complaints it could be used to promote discrimination against gay people. The Arkansas Legislature approved a similar measure, but backlash from top employers prompted Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to hold off signing it.

In Texas, a proposed state constitutional amendment by tea party-backed state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels would have essentially the same effect. But Campbell and many Republicans in the Legislature argue it's necessary to keep government from infringing on religion.

Campbell's bill is awaiting a hearing before the Senate State Affairs Committee. If that doesn't happen soon, it will be difficult for the proposal to clear committee and the full Senate in time to pass the Legislature before session ends June 1.

A similar measure in the House by Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause faces even longer odds. That's because its original sponsor, Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba, pulled his bill amid objections from Texas' business lobby.

Krause, another tea party favorite, resurrected Villalba's proposal. But it has yet to have a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee and will run out of time if there's not movement soon.

Here are other top upcoming issues at the Texas Capitol:

IN-STATE TUITION REPEAL: After last week's hearing was delayed, a Senate subcommittee meeting Monday should be a doozy. Members will discuss a GOP-led effort to repeal a bipartisan law that sailed through the Legislature in 2001 and offers in-state tuition at public universities to the children of some people in the U.S. illegally. Democrats and Hispanic advocacy groups have vowed to defend the law. But many conservatives counter it encourages people from Mexico and Central America to sneak across the Texas border.

CAMPUS CARRY: A bill that would allow license holders to carry concealed weapons into university buildings and classrooms cleared a House committee last week, meaning it could hit the floor of the full chamber soon. The measure easily passed the Senate last month, despite opposition from top university leaders statewide. It appears poised for approval in the House, though debate should be livelier than in the Senate. Obtaining a concealed carry license requires being 21, however, meaning many college students won't qualify.

PUBLIC INTEGRITY UNIT MOVE? A proposal shifting a unit of prosecutors who investigate wrongdoing by public officials out of left-leaning Austin and into the GOP-controlled state attorney general's office has stalled in the Senate, with not quite enough votes to reach the floor. But a separate proposal moving the unit has passed a House committee and could soon be debated on the lower chamber's floor. Both plans would direct the Texas Rangers and state attorneys to investigate corruption complaints, then forward cases to a district attorney where the accused official lives. Then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2013 vetoed the unit's funding after its Democratic chief refused his calls to resign following her drunken-driving conviction. That resulted in Perry being indicted on abuse-of-power charges that remain pending.

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