Watson Takes What He Can Get

Austin senator cuts budget breather from five days to two

Sen. Kirk Watson (right) chatting with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the 2007 session
Sen. Kirk Watson (right) chatting with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the 2007 session (photo by John Anderson)

Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson definitely understands lawmaking sometimes requires taking half a loaf. Or in his case, two-fifths. Rather than getting the five days he wanted for the public to examine the final state budget bill before senators could vote on it, he secured a promise of two days to look at the CliffsNotes.

Before the session started, Watson called on the Senate to implement a rule that would mandate a five-day waiting period between the drafting of the conference committee’s version of the budget and the Senate voting on it. The wait was necessary, Watson said, because when bills go into the conference committee – which is charged with resolving differences between House and Senate bills – they often come out with substantial differences, and both the public and legislators don’t have enough time to analyze what got changed.

When the Senate voted on its rules for the 82nd Session on Wednesday, Watson couldn’t wrangle up enough support for that, but he got what he called a “very good compromise”: 48 hours for people to see the “Outside the Bounds” resolution. That resolution is a document describing all of the changes that were made by the conference committee.

Of course, the budget itself will be available for that 48 hours, but that is usually a huge document, so the two days isn’t nearly as good as the five Watson wanted. Then again, it’s better than the 24 hours that is usually the norm.

It at least gives two days to read what Watson said is “a Cliffs Notes version” of what got changed between the budgets that respectively left the House and Senate and what then emerged from conference. “It outlines what the changes were so that we know what we’re voting on,” Watson told reporters on the Senate floor. “This is a real win for honesty and transparency in government budgeting.”

Interestingly, Watson (along with the rest of the Democrats) ended up voting against the new Senate rules overall because the senators voted for an exception to the two-thirds rule – a tradition that requires at least 21 senators to agree before legislation can be brought to the floor for debate – that would allow a simple majority to bring up Voter ID bills. Voter ID – shorthand for requiring photo ID in addition to a voter registration certificate at the polling place – was declared “emergency” legislation by Gov. Rick Perry, which means bills can be debated and approved in the first 60 days of the session, something normally not allowed. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate will take up Voter ID this Monday.

That Voter ID carve-out of the two-thirds bill allowed it to get through the Senate last year, but House Democrats killed it by "chubbing" the bill, a legislative delaying technique similar to filibustering. This year, that tactic will be tougher because of the emergency designation and the fact that Democrats' numbers in the House have been reduced from 74 last session to 49 this year.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More 82nd Legislature
Court Rules: Texas Voter ID Still Racist
Court Rules: Texas Voter ID Still Racist
Second ruling finds GOP deliberately suppressed minority vote

Richard Whittaker, April 11, 2017

Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down
Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down
5th Circuit: Senate Bill 14 violates Voting Rights Act

Richard Whittaker, July 20, 2016

More State Budget
Last Day at the Lege
Last Day at the Lege
Sine die arrives as threat of a special session looms

Richard Whittaker, May 29, 2017

How Much Will Texas Spend?
Budget in Progress
The Legislature's conference committee spending proposals

Richard Whittaker, May 21, 2015

More by Lee Nichols
From the Music Desk
From the Music Desk
On Willie, Billy, Stevie Ray, Blaze, and more highlights from four decades of covering Austin music

Sept. 3, 2021

Game Changer
Game Changer
A new football culture for Austin bars

Oct. 23, 2015


82nd Legislature, State Budget, budget, Outside the Bounds, Kirk Watson

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle