Early Warning: The Lege Is Coming!

The Trib Fest previews the next Lege, and it ain't necessarily pretty

Anti-immigration hawk Rep. Debbie Riddle warns: There are people in Libya 
who want us dead.
Anti-immigration hawk Rep. Debbie Riddle warns: "There are people in Libya who want us dead."

The Chronicle monitored a sampler of the legislative preview sessions at last weekend's Texas Tribune Festival and found at least one connecting thread: Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

Trade and Transportation Discussing the state of highway construction and maintenance in Texas, state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, quipped: "The potholes are coming!" That was his Paul Revere-style commentary on the lack of state funding: "We don't have enough money to cover the roads in their current condition." Austin Sen. Kirk Wat­son described the state's current policy as "debt, diversion, and denial" and said that if the state isn't going to meet its transportation responsibilities, "it needs to get out of the way" and permit local initiatives (e.g., local option gas taxes). Sher­man Republican Rep. Larry Phillips noted that politically unpopular toll roads have had considerable success in North Texas.

Race and Immigration State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, offered "Bienvenidos, y'all!" as the greeting to immigrants most in keeping with Texas' state and international traditions. Anti-immigration hawk, Rep. Debbie Rid­dle, R-Tomball, was having none of it: "Our first priority should be the safety and security of the people of Texas," she said, and reported that Houston is now "the command and control center of the Mexican drug cartels" and that "there are people in Libya who want us dead." Look for Riddle to draft legislation closing the Texas border with Libya.

Back on planet Earth, Van de Putte said the legislative atmosphere on these matters would largely depend on Gov. Rick Perry: "If he again puts these 'red-meat issues' [e.g., voter ID and sanctuary cities] on the call, it will set a toxic tone from the very beginning."

Health and Human Services But for the shift of topic, the refrain echoed transportation: How can the state provide services for Texas without actually spending more money? The discussion quickly devolved into Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville and Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton (both doctors) wanly explaining that the Lege is doing the best that it can, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and especially Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Hous­ton, responding that the Lege is in a health care crisis of its own making.

Considering the pending election, Coleman said neither Obama nor Romney could effectively remove the benefits "Obamacare" has brought: continuing coverage, pre-existing conditions coverage, and so on. Deuell responded that having health insurance is not the same as having health care, and that Texas can't afford to expand Medicaid to "able-bodied people." Yet when the discussion shifted to the Women's Health Program and the banning of Planned Parenthood (for which Deuell can claim much responsibility), he blithely reversed his position, arguing that there will be "sufficient providers" to replace the 50% or more of eligible Texas women Planned Parenthood previously served. What would he recommend for working people without insurance? VP candidate Paul Ryan's "Patient Choice Act" which promises to provide insurance vouchers or tax rebates for the private market and "make people consumers again."

In other words, if you're expecting the 2013 Lege to meet its constitutional obligations to Texans, be ready to pass the cowboy hat.

See more on Tribune Fest at the Newsdesk blog.

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Texas Tribune Festival, Texas Legislature 2013, Kirk Watson, Garnet Coleman, Debbie Riddle, Leticia Van de Putte, Texas Tribune, legislature

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