It's a mad rush at the Lege before sine die
Baubles and Garlands
With less than three weeks before the Legislature calls sine die and ends the 83rd session on May 27, crunch time has arrived for many bills. With only limited time left on the calendar, watch for lawmakers desperately hunting for ways to save their pet bills by adding them on to other measures as amendments. The end result, commonly known as a Christmas Tree, is often the source of bad or incoherent law.
The Great Derailing
House Bill 500 was standard GOP anti-tax fodder. Yet it may have been the undoing of the rest of the session. The measure by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, evens out the current flawed business margins franchise tax by extending existing loopholes to more businesses. The Legislative Budget Board had calculated that this would cut revenue by $397 million. Then other reps appeared with a total of 33 amendments, many of them adding further exemptions. Democrats, lawmakers trying to balance the budget, and pro-education groups were furious that, after all the additional amendments, the bill leaves a $666 million hole in state spending for the next biennium. However, all lawmakers with plans to pass any further legislation became livid as the extended debate chewed up the calendar. Republican priority items including 'fetal pain' bills and bipartisan measures on open governance have already started to drop off the calendar.
You Sank My Battleship
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, made another failed attempt to wrest control of the Public Integrity Unit away from the Travis County District Attorney's Office. On May 7, King attempted to add an amendment to HB 3153 that would strip funding from the unit if the Travis County D.A. were found guilty of a felony. Some Republicans have long resented having this independent body overseeing their affairs and see a window of opportunity to dismantle the office after Rosemary Lehmberg's recent imprisonment for drunk driving. When it became clear that his amendment would not pass, and after vocal opposition from bill author Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, King pulled it down. However, he is still demanding that Lehmberg resign and has threatened to attach his proposal to another bill.
The Water Stops Flowing
Lawmakers are running out of options when it comes to plans to divert $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund into a new water infrastructure bank. Last month, a coalition of frustrated Democrats and anti-spending Republicans derailed HB 11. Speculation was rife that the spending could be folded into another measure – HB 19 – but House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is too busy trying to get the state budget finalized to reconvene his committee to hear more bills. Meanwhile, House Speaker Joe Straus has said he has no plans to bring Senate Joint Resolution 1, which also includes $2.9 billion for transportation and $800 million for schools, to the floor. If the chambers cannot agree on a vehicle, then Gov. Rick Perry may make them agree. He has already threatened a special session if some measure does not pass before sine die.
"What's Really Important"
The Senate was united in sadness on May 7 as Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, announced that her infant grandson Rex Van de Putte had died suddenly at the age of six months. Revealing the collegiality that underpins the chamber, the senator's oldest and sometimes bitterest sparring partner, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, led the condolences by telling his fellow lawmakers, "Today, what's really important is our friend."