Highlights from around the Capitol
Norquist calls for immigration reform as Texas House Democrats urge national action on issue
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — National Republican activist and powerbroker Grover Norquist told a conservative forum Wednesday that his party is not anti-immigrant, even though many people have been led to believe so by a small, vocal group of extremists.
Speaking in Austin, his sentiments came hours after a pair of Democrats in the Texas House called on the Republican-controlled state Legislature to pass a resolution urging leaders in Washington to enact nationwide immigration reform as the White House and Congress propose new paths to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally.
Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, but lately has advocated for overhauling the nation's immigration laws. He said the majority of Republicans are with him — not the extremists.
"We've had some very loud voices, unnecessarily angry voices, that have been too loud and the reason that they've been loud and been heard is that the other people, the people here, have been silent," Norquist said, referring to business and religious leaders who gathered at a Baptist church for the forum.
Norquist said the party got saddled with the wrong message "because of the radio talk show host and the people who watch the guy on TV get described as very conservative."
"That's why I think our presidential candidates, even though in their heart many of them weren't there, started sounding pretty goofy on immigration during the last election," he said.
Norquist said Republicans relate to Hispanic voters on social issues such as opposing abortion, but "you never get to the second part of the conversation until you've gotten across that you're not threatening to deport their friends, their family, their relatives, their co-workers."
Texas has a 1,200 mile border with Mexico and nearly 2 million illegal immigrants, and many conservatives here have a softer view on immigration than some of their colleagues in other states. In fact, Gov. Rick Perry was criticized while seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2011 for his support of offering cheaper, in-state university tuition to illegal immigrants who attended high school in Texas.
Brad Bailey, of the Texas Immigration Solution, which seeks market-based immigration reforms, noted Wednesday that the Texas Republican Party last year softened its platform on immigration, acknowledging that mass deportation isn't possible and calling for a guest worker program.
"A lot of people are interested that Arizona is taking one route and Texas is taking another," Bailey said, referring to that state's strict immigration policies. "Both are conservative, red states."
TEXAS PROVIDERS URGE MORE WOMEN'S HEALTH FUNDING
A new coalition of Texas health providers on Wednesday called for more funding for women's health programs after the state cut off money to Planned Parenthood and other clinics.
The Texas Women's Healthcare Coalition that debuted Wednesday doesn't include Planned Parenthood, which Republican lawmakers targeted in 2011 under a bill that prohibits abortion-affiliated providers from participating in a state health program for low-income women.
Dr. Janet Realini, a chief organizer behinfd the coalition, says state budget drafts indicate that family planning services will mean 147,000 fewer women will receive preventive care and family planning than in 2010. Her organization argues that cuts will also lead to 24,000 additional unplanned pregnancies that will cost the state hundreds of millions in dollars in additional Medicaid costs.
"This coalition is designed to be another voice that this is not just about Planned Parenthood," Realini said.
The Texas Medical Association and Texas Hospital Association are among the coalition members.
A Texas judge last made a key ruling last month refusing to allow Planned Parenthood to rejoin the Texas Women's Health Program. State health officials have said that have recruited more than enough new providers to make up for the exclusion of Planned Parenthood in the program.
CPRIT CHIEF: NO MORATORIUM END TARGETED YET
A moratorium that has prohibited Texas' troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency from handing out more money since December will continue for now as hundreds of funded projects continue being reviewed, the state official in charge of the decision said Wednesday.
Wayne Roberts, interim executive director of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, declined to offer a timetable on when the agency that remains mired in a criminal investigation and widespread rebuke might begin operating as normal again.
"I'm weighing whether or not we ought to unfreeze anything," Roberts said.
He spoke after the embattled agency, known as CPRIT, ended two weeks of testimony in front of angry state lawmakers who questioned what led to the approval of more than $56 million in taxpayer dollars for grants that weren't endorsed by peer-review councils — if the projects were reviewed at all.
As the agency kept plunging into deeper turmoil by December, Gov. Rick Perry and other top lawmakers called for a moratorium on new grants until confidence in the beleaguered efforts was restored. CPRIT immediately agreed to the request.
Roberts said the agency still needs to review more than 300 previously awarded grants to make sure none of those were handled improperly. He stopped short, however, of saying he would wait until review is complete to propose an end to the moratorium.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"No, sir. 29." Sen. Judith Zaffirini, R-Laredo, replying to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst when he asked if Wednesday was her 39th birthday. Zaffirini turned 67.