The Austin Chronicle

Senate Bills in Flames

Chubs and piggybacks

By Lee Nichols, May 29, 2009, News

When one room in the (state)house catches fire, the whole building is of course in danger. Senators watched in horror as the "chubbing" at the other end of the Capitol threatened to kill many bills they had already sent to the House, so they went into a frenzy of searching for bills up for final passage in their own chamber to which they could amend their endangered bills. The hitch: Amendments must be germane to the bills on which they're piggybacking.

This tactic saved Austin Sen. Kirk Wat­son's bill authorizing a study of property tax "circuit breakers," an anti-gentrification idea that would offer relief to homeowners when their property taxes get beyond their ability to pay. His actual bill was going nowhere, so he attached it to Austin Rep. Eddie Rodriguez's House Bill 3983, which made some technical tweaks to Rodriguez's East Austin preservation zones law from last session. Piggy­back­ing also saved Watson's bill to restructure the Capital Metro board of directors and loosen restrictions on its rail operations. His actual Senate Bill 2015 died in the House but then got amended onto HB 300, the TxDOT Sun­set bill, which passed the Senate Monday night.

Thankfully, no such lifeboat was available to the "handguns on campus" bill of Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio (and South Austin). Wentworth determinedly pushed his bad idea through the Senate, but once the chubbing began, he couldn't find a similar bill. "If you see anything, let me know," he told me.

Of course, the Senate's pain is completely self-inflicted – or more precisely, Republican-inflicted. If the GOP senators hadn't forced a change in the body's two-thirds rule early in the session so that they could ram the voter ID bill (SB 362) through to the House, then this whole fight wouldn't have happened. So it might just be bittersweet justice that SB 545, which would promote solar-energy usage in Texas, possibly died Tuesday. It was authored by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay – also the author of voter ID. At press time Wednesday night, Fraser was hoping to amend onto a bill pending in the Senate.

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