Legislative Committees Take Shape
Lite Guv Patrick begins making appointments
Take Your Committee Seats
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick handed out his first committee assignments as Senate president on Jan. 23, with some slight surprises in the mix. Not least was that, after initially saying that he would not appoint any Democrats to committee chairs, he selected two. First, he left the Dean of the Senate, Houston's John Whitmire, in charge of Criminal Justice. And second, the only Dem to vote for either House Bill 2's abortion restrictions last session or the end of the two-thirds rule this time, Brownsville's Eddie Lucio Jr., heads up Intergovernmental Relations. But Senate Democrats were not overcome by Patrick's largesse: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said, "First he said none, then he said one, then he said no more than three, so it was just a matter of seeing who it would be." As for the Travis County delegation, here's who got what:
• Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels: Veterans Affairs & Military Installations (Chair), Administration, Education, Health & Human Services, Intergovernmental Relations
• Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay: Natural Resources & Economic Development (chair), Nominations, State Affairs, Transportation
• Kirk Watson, D-Austin: Business & Commerce, Finance, Nominations, Higher Education
• Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo: Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs (vice chair), Health & Human Services, Natural Resources & Economic Development, State Affairs
Lobby Days Are Here Again
Monday saw the beginning of the lobby calendar proper, when various groups hold high-profile photo ops and meet-and-greets with lawmakers: sometimes to lobby for specific legislation, sometimes just to remind the Lege they're there. Colorado Street echoed with the low rumble of a few hundred Harleys as the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association gathered, and DPS staff dealt with a flurry of beep-beep-beeps from their metal detectors from every belt buckle and riveted leather jacket. Under the Dome it was a more solemn affair, as Holocaust survivor and Brownsville resident Leon Horn read testimony of his experiences in the concentration camps as part of an event organized by the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace. Meanwhile, Open Carry Texas should just apply for a parking permit, considering their trailer seems to be permanently parked by the south steps.
Think of Our Waistlines!
"I've got to get Bluebell over here," freshman Sen. Lois Kolkhorst told the Senate press desk. Historically, there has always been a plentiful supply of Bluebell ice cream on the House side, courtesy of the former state rep. for Brenham, and its absence is sorely missed by members. (Reporters, however, are more saddened by the retirement of Linda Harper Brown and her legendary, ever-open bag of candy.)
The Senate convened briefly on Jan. 26 to start distributing bills to committees, with the bulk going to Business & Commerce, Education, Finance, Higher Education, and State Affairs. The first Senate committee meetings have already been held, with Finance and Business & Commerce both assembling at 9am on Jan. 28... Lt. Gov. Patrick stocked the new Border Security subcommittee with one border Democrat, Lucio (even though his Brownsville seat has the shortest border section of any district neighboring Mexico), and two North Texas Republicans, Bob Hall and Brian Birdwell. Seemingly he forgot the coast is also a border... No sign yet of House Committee appointments, with Speaker Joe Straus playing a slow game again... Gov. Greg Abbott will address both chambers on Feb. 17. That same day, all four seats in special elections will have their run-offs... Education and legislative insiders were expecting Patrick's plans to pass school vouchers this session to die in the House. However, speculation mounts that a coalition of Democrats, rural Republicans, and institutional GOPers leery of further damaging school finances may hand him his first black eye of the session in the Senate instead... Patrick has already broken some bad news to conservatives, explaining that open carry is important, but not a priority this session... By contrast, there's an expectation that campus carry will pass the Senate: Expect awkward hearings on that issue, considering UT System Chancellor William McRaven – the retired admiral who commanded the operation to kill Osama bin Laden – has come out against armed students on campus... With the Health & Human Services Medicaid fraud software scandal growing, many are wondering when HHS executive director (and former Senator) Kyle Janek and his former general counsel (and former state Rep.) Jack Stick will end up on the hot seat in front of current lawmakers. You bring the popcorn, we'll bring the soda. (Actually, don't: Food and drink are banned from committee rooms.)