The Austin Chronicle

Lege Lines

By Richard Whittaker, May 24, 2013, News

Time to Break Out the Margarita Machines

The 83rd legislative session is almost over. Well, maybe. The regular session will end with the scheduled call of sine die on Monday, May 27, but there remains a lot of unfinished business. It seems clearer than ever that lawmakers will be back to deal with redistricting, with increasing pressure from Repub­lic­ans to simply adopt the interim maps drawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio last year. Yet there are several dominos left to fall before any further action under the Dome: The San Antonio court has scheduled a hearing for May 29 on how to proceed, but they must wait for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a challenge from Alabama to the Voting Rights Act.

You Kill My Bill, I Kill Yours

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, has pledged to derail every bill by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, unless there is Senate action on the House plan to establish a new innocence commission for the wrongfully convicted. In a statement, McClendon said she would block every bill by an unnamed senator until "she" allows House Bill 166 to move forward – the bill commonly known as the Timothy Cole law, in memory of the Texas Tech student who died in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape. McClendon didn't name names, but since Huffman is the only woman on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee where the bill is trapped, it's a pretty limited process of elimination. Huff­man had previously stalled the bill, saying she didn't like establishing a new body to "second guess" court judgments.

Deal or No Deal

Fine tuning the budget is always the last (and only mandated) big task for the Legislature, but the House and Senate seem incapable of reaching an agreement on bills necessary to finalizing the numbers. As of Wednesday morning, May 22, the Senate is waiting on the House to pass Senate Joint Resolution 1, to create the new water infrastucture bank, but the House won't move until the Senate passes the supplemental appropriations in HB 1025. If no deal is reached by sine die on May 27, lawmakers could be back for a special session on May 28.

More Ethical Elections?

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks, has helped toughen up the restrictions on dark money in Texas elections by amending SB 219, the Texas Ethics Commission Sunset Bill. His measure requires any 501(c)(4) spending more than $25,000 in an election to file reports with the commission. Geren had already cracked the whip hard to see that SB 346, containing new and tough reporting requirements for legislation for political nonprofits, passed uncut (see "Lege­ Lines," May 17.) Meanwhile, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Aus­tin, had her own victory, convincing her fellow lawmakers to slow down the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists. Her amendment to SB 219 requires a two-year "cooling off" period before retired legislators can start glad-handing their old colleagues.

Sights on CSCOPE

There was confusion as two separate Republican efforts to destroy one of the state's largest providers of lesson plans for schools stepped on each other's toes. On May 20, the House passed SB 1406 by Sen­ate Education Com­mit­tee Chair Dan Pat­rick, R-Houston, which would place groups such as CSCOPE under review by the State Board of Education. However, at the same time, Patrick was striking a deal with the 20-member CSCOPE board to remove all lesson plans from its website by Aug. 31 – thus, he argued, negating the need for his own bill. Either measure will be a blow to the 875 school districts that depend on this service and now have no back-up provider. Paranoid right wingers have targeted CSCOPE, alleging that its curricula promote an anti-American agenda.

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