The Lege Stirs Into Action
Will any of these bills make it into law?
179 Senate bills (and counting). 356 measures from the House. The 84th session of the Texas Legislature may not formally kick off until Jan. 13, 2015, but lawmakers have already been busy drafting legislation since filing began on Nov. 10. The big question now is, which lawmakers will be there to vote on them, considering there is likely to be a slate of empty seats and special elections.
The first special is a byproduct of the Nov. 4 general election. Republican Sen. Glenn Hegar was only halfway through his four-year term representing western Houston when he was elected comptroller, so he must vacate his seat in the upper chamber. Gov. Rick Perry quickly called a special election for Dec. 6, and Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has already thrown her hat in the ring, which could trigger another special for her seat.
Then there's Democratic jockeying in San Antonio. When Mayor Julián Castro stepped down to become U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ivy R. Taylor was appointed his replacement by her fellow city council members. Now the office will be on the 2015 ballot, and Democratic Rep. Mike Villarreal has stepped down to concentrate on a run. However, he could have competition: Fellow Dem Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who recently lost to Sen. Dan Patrick in the lieutenant governor race, has done little to dispel rumors she'll run for mayor. That could leave San Antonio facing two rapidly called specials, with Council Member Diego Bernal and PR consultant Melissa Aguillon already vying to replace Villarreal. If that seems like bad news for the Dems, there could be worse tidings from Houston, with continuing rumors that ranking House Appropriations Committee member Sylvester Turner is eyeing a run for Space City mayor.
As for legislation, the normal opening day deluge has slowed to a trickle. Locally, only two state reps from the Travis County delegation have filed any bills. First out of the gate was the newest member, District 50 Democrat Celia Israel filing House Bill 76, allowing electronic voter registration. She's been joined by District 48's Donna Howard, whose HB 256 would provide child care support for at-risk students with kids of their own.
It's far busier over in the Senate, but almost solely because of Sen. Judith Zaffirini, whose gerrymandered district brushes Austin but is anchored in Laredo. She has filed a total of 34 bills, many focused on education, including Senate Bill 21, relating to revenue bonds; and SB 22, on outcomes-based funding for colleges. Meanwhile Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, is promoting SB 119, turning the Cap Metro board into a purely elected body, and SB 120, increasing the penalty for interfering with a mail-in ballot from a state jail felony to a third-degree felony. Other significant measures proffered include:
•SB 137, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock: limiting appropriations growth to the increase in state population and inflation.
•SB 143, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston: automatically informing voters of problems with their voter registration form.
•HB 80, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland: a statewide ban on texting while driving.
•HB 106, Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and HB 164, Rep. James White, R-Woodville: open carry legislation for handguns.
•HB 111, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio: same-day voter registration.
•HB 130: Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas: overturning the ban on same-sex marriage.
Luckily/sadly for Texas, most of these measures will either end up dead on the vine, folded into omnibus bills, or rewritten beyond recognition.