A House United, for Once
House unanimously passes its version of a budget
Seasoned legislators were scratching their heads: A little after 4am on April 19, the Texas House of Representatives passed its $178 billion version of the state budget 149-0, and no one could remember the last time the budget got a unanimous vote on third reading. House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said, "The story of that appropriations bill is not that we passed it out of the House on record numbers, it's that we passed it with the cooperation of members."
Throughout the 19-hour debate, the mood on the floor was generally upbeat. With 475 floor amendments filed, nobody expected to be in bed early. But the biggest argument was not about individual measures but whether to break for the night and come back in the morning. Instead, the House powered through ("More like lumbering through," Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, joked around hour 13). Part of the difference was that doomed measures, such as a ban on state funding for stem cell research, never made it to the floor. Pitts and Appropriations Vice Chair Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, sat down with party caucus leaders the night before the debate to review amendments for legitimate points of order rather than waste time on floor challenges. Pitts praised the House for following that bipartisan lead in their conduct in the debate and added: "We would still be in there if we'd heard some of those amendments. We just had a lot of consensus on the floor, and that's the way it's supposed to be."
It was different last session, when the divided House passed House Bill 1 on third reading, 129-14. House Democratic Caucus Leader Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, gave some credit to Speaker Joe Straus' management style. "The members are working better together because the speaker is being more hands-off," he said, adding that while consensus-building can be a slow process, it was better than having former Speaker Tom Craddick fast-track unpopular amendments.
Now the bill heads into conference committee to thrash out the differences between the House bill and the Senate's $182.2 billion version. But while it's Senate tradition to pass the budget unanimously, Senate members on April 1 only mustered a 26-5 vote. With the House unified on its numbers, that could affect negotiations. Pitts said, "I take it as a mandate from the House, and I hope that when we find out who the conferees are, that they will try to get as near as possible to what we have passed."