Gun, school choice rallies on-tap at Texas Legislature

By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - New Gov. Greg Abbott skipped the annual Texas Right to Life march and rally at the state Capitol on Saturday - a favorite event of his predecessor Rick Perry- but sent his wife Cecilia, the state's first Hispanic first lady.

Top Texas Republicans have long maintained that Hispanics voters agree with the GOP on social issues such as abortion, and Cecilia was joined by another Hispanic Republican star, new Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose mother was born in Mexico. The governor, meanwhile, made his first gubernatorial trip outside Austin last week a stop in the Rio Grande Valley. Abbott campaigned on making Hispanic outreach a signature of his administration and, early on, he appears to be following that strategy. It will be worth watching to see if that lasts.

Here's some other upcoming stories worth watching in Texas politics:

LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES: The Texas Legislature is barred from passing bills during the first 60 days of session, except for urgent budgetary measures or special priorities chosen by the governor. Abbott didn't list proposals he'd like to fast-track through the Legislature during his inaugural speech last week. He may announce some soon, though, which would get lawmakers working more quickly on top issues of his choosing.

GUN RALLY: The advocacy group Open Carry Texas has planned a Capitol rally Monday to support the open carry of handguns without a license. Several bills have been filed to support open carry, although most would require a license. Group members also plan to visit the offices of all 181 lawmakers, and security personnel will likely be keeping a close eye on the event. A Jan. 13 rally on the opening day of the legislative session by a different gun rights group was marred by a confrontation between activists and a Democratic state lawmaker in his office. House members then voted to make it easier to install "panic buttons" to call security to their Capitol offices if needed.

SCHOOL RALLY: School choice advocates are promising the "largest-ever school choice rally" on the steps of the state Capitol on Friday, expecting hundreds of parents, teachers, students and community leaders. New Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, has promised to push hard for vouchers, which allow taxpayer money to flow to private and religious schools. Such a proposal might garner support in the upper chamber but has in the past been opposed in the House, where Democrats and rural Republicans worry about further sapping funding from already cash-strapped public schools. Bush, meanwhile, is a vocal proponent for charter schools and is among those attending.

PERRY CASE: As he prepares to announce an expected second presidential run as soon as May, former Gov. Rick Perry continues to face two felony abuse-of-power indictments. The Republican's high-powered legal team has challenged the case on constitutional grounds. The judge overseeing the case, Republican Bert Richardson, may decide this week whether it can continue - a ruling that could crimp or buoy Perry's 2016 plans.

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