Voucher Bill Senator Backpedals, Denies Any Bill in Works

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After months of preaches and promises on a potential voucher proposal during this legislative session, it appeared Sen. Dan Patrick had finally found a mark willing to sponsor a bill relating to his "Business Tax Scholarships." As reported in The Rio Grande Guardian last Wednesday, Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Democrat out of Brownsville, had stepped up to bat for Patrick, saying he was finalizing language on a bill to allow private, sectarian schools to receive state funds.

Now, however, it appears that Lucio has grown cold feet. After a weekend of calls and responses, the senator seems to have forgotten all about a voucher bill that both his party and the Republican Speaker of the House believe has no shot to pass.

"We're not planning on a bill of that nature," Lucio's general counsel Daniel Collins told Hair Balls on Monday. "We don't have a draft out, and there's no language to file."

This claim stands as a direct about-face from the Guardian's earlier story, in which reporter Steve Taylor noted that Lucio would "soon unveil" a voucher bill -- which he repeatedly denied was a true voucher:

The question is whether we are going to make a difference for those in need and those who are falling through the cracks. That is what my bills are really all about. It is not about taking away from public education funding. It is not about vouchers. It is more about helping a category of students who have fallen on hard times, who are disadvantaged economically and who need our help to make it through the system. ...

This will not be considered a voucher system. It will be set up in such a way that we do not use public education money. I do not want to see us being divided on this issue.

Despite Lucio's pleas, such a proposed plan -- which would redirect a portion of businesses' franchise tax to a voucher pool -- is one of the most divisive issues facing the current legislative session. Not only would it allow money otherwise allocated for the state to go toward creationist, sectarian institutions, but it would also remove certain measures of public accountability pertaining to the funds.

Collins, for what it's worth, stopped short of accusing Taylor of misquoting the senator.

"I wasn't there for that conversation, so I don't know if he misquoted [Lucio]," Collins told Hair Balls. "I can only repeat what I've said before, that he hasn't instructed us to file anything."

Taylor, meanwhile, stands firmly behind his reportage.

"He told me he was filing this bill -- maybe he's changed his mind," Taylor told Hair Balls. "Someone told me he'd been hearing from teachers, but can't remember who said it -- [he or she] said Lucio has heard from lots of teachers, that he's had lots of phone calls from teachers unions."

Whatever the reason for Lucio's prompt switch, it appears Patrick will have to find a new bearer for this controversial, battered bill. This move should effectively cause any Democrats to shy away from taking it up, which will hopefully allow Patrick to drop any pretense of claiming a bipartisanship that simply doesn't exist.

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