Capitol Briefs

• "Republicans Unglued" could be an apt title for the near-anarchy state of the House this session. Persistent rumblings of an attempted ouster of Speaker Tom Craddick rose to the surface Tuesday with GOP leader and ex-Craddick loyalist Jim Keffer announcing his intentions to run for speaker in 2009. The response from members was, well, sort of ho-hum. Keffer is a perfectly nice guy and all, but it's hard to muster enthusiasm for someone with wishy-washy principles. Just four months ago, he was helping to plot a Craddick overthrow by jumping into the speaker's race. Then he backed off and threw his support behind Craddick, who in turn reappointed him to chair House Ways & Means. Now he's back in the anti-Craddick camp, which by now includes just about any member on the House floor. Craddick insists he's not going anywhere; he released a statement Tuesday that said as much. "The paperwork was already filed last February," he assured us. And the beat goes on. – A.S.

• Just when ya think all the fun is in the House, the Senate comes out swinging – almost literally. Tempers were raised when the House Bill 218 – one of the slew of voter-ID bills the GOP has tried to hammer through this session – came up on the Senate floor for consideration. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called it up at a point when, remarkably (and far be it from us to declare anything suspect), Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was out sick and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, appeared to be absent. That apparently gave the Republicans the two-thirds majority on the floor needed to bring a bill up for debate, and so it voted, 19-9 (Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, was also out of the room, which cut the GOP turnout by one). But hold on. Turned out Whitmire wasn't absent, and, as he pointed out to Dewhurst in robust terms, he was "working the goddamn floor!" Dewhurst at one point told Whitmire to compose himself or leave the floor, but all that did was get everyone's dander up. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, weighed in, suggesting that Dewhurst check the video to see where Whitmire was. This got grimmer and more feisty, until Dewhurst finally acceded to another record vote. By now (and we again are not suggesting any conspiracy or planning or bad faith on his part) Hegar was back, which would cancel out Whitmire's vote. But bad news for the lite guv – Uresti too was back, having dragged himself out of bed and raced back to the Capitol. So the voter-suppression measure went down 20-11, and Dewhurst has quite possibly shattered any chance of a peaceful time before the end of the session. – Richard Whittaker

• A new toll-road moratorium bill, Senate Bill 792, has passed the Senate and is headed to the House this week with the blessing of Gov. Rick Perry. Local toll-road critics are leery of this last-minute legislative maneuver, but Sen. Kirk Watson says the latest bill provides greater transparency for toll-road construction, including an initial business plan for every future toll road in Central Texas, with clear expectations on toll rates and overall revenues. Under the bill, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization now becomes the body to approve any toll-road project going forward, which addresses criticism that the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority's appointed board of directors is not accountable. If SB 792 passes the House, it will put two bills on the governor's desk, one of which he's likely to veto. – Kimberly Reeves

• The bill in the Lege that would allow microbrewers to sell their product on the premises of their breweries appears to be dead. This very sensible and equitable idea – wineries are allowed to sell their product on-site, so why discriminate against beer? – never escaped the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee and, at this late date, never will. "Our bill was opposed by Mike McKinney of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, and with him opposed to it, we were not able to even get a hearing on the bill in committee," says Brock Wagner, founder of Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing and a leader of Friends of Texas Microbreweries, the coalition lobbying for the law. "We met with all the legislators on the committee, and all felt that we were making a very reasonable request, but at the end of the day that didn't matter." (A call to McKinney was not returned as of this writing.) Actually, there are two identical bills: HB 1926 by Houston's Jessica Farrar (in whose district Saint Arnold is located) and HB 2647 by Dripping Springs' Patrick Rose (Real Ale Brewing is in his district). Wagner says he is already looking forward to pushing the bill again in 2009. He'll have to find a way to overcome WBDT's financial muscle: A quick check of contribution reports shows that the organization and its employees have given thousands of dollars to committee Chair Kino Flores, D-Palmview. – Lee Nichols

• Legislation requiring state retirement funds to begin divesting from companies doing business in Sudan is headed for the governor's desk. The House on Tuesday unanimously passed SB 247, the "Stop the Darfur Genocide Act," with little discussion. The bill would require the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the Employee Retirement System to "engage and possibly divest" from companies that reap profits from Sudan. The bipartisan bill carried by Corbin Van Arsdale in the House and Rodney Ellis in the Senate has more than 85 co-authors. Gov. Rick Perry has already signaled his support for the measure and will likely sign it. – A.S.

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