Perry's Vexing Vetoes

Perry kills 24 more bills

Gov. Rick Perry: equal opportunity bill killer
Gov. Rick Perry: equal opportunity bill killer (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The legislative special session rumbles on, but last Friday, Gov. Rick Perry racked up a few more enemies by signing the last of his vetoes for the regular session.

With the veto deadline passing June 16, the body count of dead bills stands at 26, plus line-item vetoes on both the 2014-2015 biennial budget in Senate Bill 1, and the supplemental appropriations in House Bill 1025. While the Legislature could theoretically override Perry's veto by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, as Speaker Joe Straus informed his House colleagues, that's never happened.

Many of Perry's kills appear to be outright political pandering: for example, HB 950, the Texas version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Senate sponsor Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, wrote, "By vetoing the equal pay for equal work bill, [Perry] shows a callous disregard for wages required to support Texas families." Some are more inexplicable. HB 217 would have barred public schools from providing sodas and sugary drinks to students. In committee, it was supported by a broad coalition of health care advocates, including the Texas Pediatric Society and the Ameri­can Heart Association, and even the Texas Beverage Association. Only the Texas Conservative Coalition spoke in opposition. Perry dismissed it, saying it went to an "unreasonable and unnecessary extreme" – in part because it banned 2% reduced fat milk.

The single biggest legislative loser was Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who lost three bills – two as author, one as sponsor. Perry had already vetoed Seliger's SB 346, placing new campaign finance reporting requirements on politically active nonprofits. That was one of two measures he vetoed back during the regular session (see "There They Go ... Here They Come Again," May 31), and he followed that up on June 14 by killing HB 3509. That rarest of treasures – a Republican-authored environmental bill – would have reorganized how the state deals with federal endangered species listings. Calling it a defense against overuse of the Endangered Species Act, Senate sponsor Seliger said he was "disappointed that the Governor has decided to veto an agreed-to bill that many people, including members of his own staff, helped negotiate."

By contrast, the Travis County delegation was mostly spared Perry's savage pen. The one exception was Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the Laredo Democrat whose Valley district has now been gerrymandered to reach into East Austin. She lost two bills, including a measure on tax lien law sponsored in the House by her fellow Democrat, outgoing Austin Rep. Mark Strama.

There was a local impact to one of Seliger's lost measures. SB 15 was tailored to block the alleged witch hunt by Perry-appointed University of Texas regents against UT Austin President Bill Powers by limiting their powers to remove school leadership. The Texas Coalition for Excel­lence in Higher Education savaged Perry's decision as protecting his brand of cronyism, issuing a statement saying, "This veto will enable the continued destruction of some of our leading institutions by the very people who are charged with strengthening and improving them."

However, the biggest furor centers on Perry's decision to make good on his threat to terminate funding in SB 1 for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's office. During a parliamentary inquiry June 17, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, sought clarification from Speak­er Joe Straus about how it would affect the 400 pending criminal cases and the fate of its employees. Straus had no specifics, but told Turner that this was "an excellent question." Perry has claimed that he is simply showing a lack of faith in the leadership of Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg since her DWI conviction (see "What Happens Next?" May 3.) However, Turner placed Perry's veto in a historical context: Since 2003, there have been repeated attempts to either defund or disband the sole statewide prosecutor of malfeasance by elected officials. In that time, the Houston Democrat said, "This Legislature has resisted every attempt to abolish the Public Integrity Unit."

Perry's Vetoes

SB 1 (Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands) Line-item budget veto including funding for Public Integrity Unit and aquifer research in Houston.

SB 15 (Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo) Limiting the power of public university regents to remove school presidents: commonly nicknamed the "Protect Bill Powers bill."

SB 17 (Dan Patrick, R-Houston) Allows school staff at districts and charters with no security personnel to participate in DPS school safety training. Perry vetoed it for not going as far as other legislation.

SB 219 (Joan Huffman, R-Houston) The Texas Ethics Commission Sunset bill. Unlike other agencies, the commission does not dissolve without passage of a Sunset bill. However, Perry vetoed several significant reforms.

SB 227 (Williams) Allowing doctors and opticians to directly dispense topical medicines for skin pigmentation disorders.

SB 346 (Seliger) Requiring politically active 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups to file campaign finance reports.

SB 429 (Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound) Allowing a judge to consider all pre-existing court orders, including child support and visitation issues, before dismissing a child protective services case.

SB 504 (Bob Deuell, R-Greenville) Allowing school districts to opt out of detection programs for abnormal spinal curvature.

SB 722 (Rodney Ellis, D-Houston) Removing the requirement that an election's interpreter live within the relevant county.

SB 889 (Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio) Increasing the size of the Physician Assistant Board from nine to 13 by adding seats for four extra practicing PAs.

SB 1234 (John Whitmire, D-Houston) Truancy reforms: allowing former students to dismiss a truancy complaint if they provide either a high school or high school equivalency diploma by age 21.

SB 1606 (Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo) Allowing a taxing entity to apply a lien even if the property in question is outside its jurisdiction.

HB 217 (Carol Alvarado, D-Houston) No sodas in school: public schools to offer only unsweetened water, 1% milk or a substitute, or fruit or vegetable juice.

HB 535 (Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas) The "Made in America" bill, requiring state agencies to promote goods manufactured in Texas and to buy U.S.-manufactured goods.

HB 950 (Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston) The Texas version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, clamping down on wage discrimination and increasing the window to file discrimination suits.

HB 1025 (Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie) Most of Perry's line-item vetoes on this supplemental appropriation remove riders for bills that never passed, but he did cut out $5 million in university construction and special project cash.

HB 1090 (Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco) Establishing a disaster response search and rescue team for the Rio Grande Valley, and codifying an existing one in Dallas County.

HB 1160 (Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks) Allowing municipalities to take over as sole utility provider in a newly annexed territory.

HB 1511 (Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio) Raising the cap for the combined sales and use tax rates set by municipalities.

HB 1790 (Oscar Longoria, D-Mission) Allowing certain state jail felony convictions to be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor conviction on a defendant's record on completion of community supervision.

HB 1982 (Jim Murphy, R-Houston ) Allowing municipalities to apply for Texas Enterprise Zone funding for a commercial project, even if the company in question is situated in extraterritorial jurisdiction.

HB 2138 (Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston) Expanding the area of the Near Northside Management District, an economic development tool in Houston founded by the Legislature in 2011.

HB 2590 (Jim Keffer, R-Granbury) Clarifying the rights and responsibilities of property owners and oil, gas, or mineral lease holders during a foreclosure.

HB 2824 (Bennett Ratliff, R-Carrollton) Allowing the 20 districts in the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium to reduce the number of tests for grades 3-8.

HB 2836 (Ratliff) A major overhaul of benchmark tests for statewide assessment tests, including new requirements for an independent third party to review the effectiveness of testing at grades 3-8.

HB 3063 (José Menéndez, D-San Antonio) Allowing defense base development authorities to become reinvestment zones, stimulating job creation and capital investment through tax incentives.

HB 3085 (Armando Walle, D-Houston) Tougher regulation of junkyards in Harris County, with increased fines for violators.

HB 3509 (Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton) Moving the process for how the state implements federal endangered species listings out of the Comptroller's Office: surprisingly for the notoriously conservative Bonnen, a measure backed by environmentalists.

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News, 83rd legislature, Joe Straus, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Wendy Davis, Texas Pediatric Society, American Heart Association, Texas Beverage Association, Kel Seliger, Endangered Species Act, Judith Zaffirini, Mark Strama, University of Texas, Bill Powers, Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, Rosemary Lehmberg, Public Integrity Unit, Sylvester Turner

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