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School Finance Bill Advances In Texas Senate, Diversion Program For Low-Level Offenders Expands In Harris County, And Owners Of Two Houston Poker Clubs Arrested

These are some of the stories Houston Public Media is covering.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Top afternoon stories:

The Texas Capitol.

School Finance Bill Advances In Texas Senate

The Senate Education Committee held a hastily arranged hearing Wednesday morning to vote out comprehensive school finance reform legislation — accelerating the bill's journey to the Senate floor and eventual negotiations with the lower chamber.

The fast-tracked revision and vote on House Bill 3 came the day after House lawmakers voted through a property tax reform bill, making it contingent on school finance reform passing this session.

The full Senate is now expected to vote Friday on the legislation, which aims to increase the base funding for each Texas student, increase teacher pay, provide money for full-day preK for low-income students, and allow for long-term property tax relief.

Many details of the bill still need to be ironed out, however, and committee members voted Wednesday without an official analysis of how their districts would fare financially.

The new Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center was dedicated on October 1, 2018.

Diversion Program For Low-Level Offenders Expands In Harris County

More low-level misdemeanor offenders will be sent to Harris County's Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center instead of jail, local officials announced Wednesday.

New guidelines make adult offenders eligible for diversion when mental illness appears to be a factor in a low-level misdemeanor, as long as the person does not present a threat to public safety. Excluded are offenses involving DWIs, weapons, assault, domestic violence, terroristic threats, burglary of a motor vehicle or any offense compromising public safety.

Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Harris County has saved an estimated $9 million while helping more than 1,000 people since the center first opened in September focusing on trespassing cases, District Attorney Kim Ogg said. She expects the expansion to double or triple the number of people diverted.

Poker cards.

Owners And Operators Of Two Houston Poker Clubs Arrested

The Harris County District Attorney's Office and the Houston Police Department are going after two local poker clubs for allegedly engaging in organized crime and money laundering.

District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Wednesday the arrest of nine people who own and operate the Post Oak Poker Club and the Prime Social Poker Room. Both establishments are located in west Houston.

The DA's Office and HPD worked together on a two-year investigation that led to the arrests and subsequent first-degree felony charges. Ogg said in a news release that players are not being targeted.

The clubs' bank accounts — which have had millions of dollars flow through them — have also been frozen.

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