Lege Lines: Kill Bill(s)
Abbott vetoes more than 40 bills
Anyone expecting Gov. Greg Abbott to withhold his veto pen in his first legislative session better not have slept in late on Saturday. By the end of a last-minute killing spree, Abbott had put a red line through a total of 42 bills and resolutions passed by lawmakers last session. On top of that, with the veto deadline expiring at midnight on June 20, he pulled an extra $295 million out of the state budget through line item vetoes.
Every session, it seems like one lawmaker gets hit harder than anyone else. This year's punching bag was Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, who was author or co-author of seven vetoed measures. That included House Bill 225, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Nicknamed the 911 Lifeline bill, it was patterned after Watson's 2011 SB 1331, giving legal protection to someone helping a drunk teen. Watson said, "If they call and they stay there, they don't get hit with an alcohol with minors charge." HB 225 extended that protection to drugs, but Abbott killed it. In his veto statement, he lauded its "admirable goal," but said lawmakers had rejected recommendations from his office to limit the protection to minors and first-time offenders.
A more direct loss for Watson was SB 496, which would have improved funding for flextime students. The good news is that companion measure HB 2660 survived the veto pen, so systems like AISD's Twilight Evening School Program will be more financially secure. However, SB 496 provided more leeway for teaching pregnant kids or young parents. Watson said, "It would have focused on keeping kids in school, particularly kids that have a child, and don't want to drop out. When you say you want to keep kids in schools, when you say you're pro-life, well, this is a pro-life bill."
While his name was on SB 496, Watson gave all credit to Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, as the real brains behind the proposal. She issued her own terse reaction to Abbott's actions, writing, "Without a doubt, the clearest victims of this veto are the at-risk students – including some teen parents – who will drop out of school due to a lack of effective services and support."
Watson's days as mayor of Austin dealing with congestion may have made the death of a third measure a particularly hard pill to swallow. SB 1032 would have gotten some state employees off the road by allowing telecommuting. He said, "Those in control of the Capitol say over and over again that they want to run government like business. Well, businesses are allowing telecommuting more and more."
Abbott had already signed a few vetoes before last week's massacre; most notable was SB 359 by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. Currently, Texas physicians must involve cops and courts if they want to hold a patient who, for reasons of mental illness, they believe is a risk to themselves or others. That's not always easy, especially in remote areas, and West's bill would have given doctors limited hold powers. However, the Texas Home School Coalition has a blanket opposition to any bill it decides "undermines parental rights" and prodded their members into a phone campaign against the bill. Seemingly, Abbott sided with their position that, not only are Texas homeschoolers now more qualified than teachers, they also now know more about mental health diagnoses than trained medical staff. Citing the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, Abbott wrote in his veto statement that giving doctors power of detention normally reserved for peace officers "would lay the groundwork for further erosion of constitutional liberties."
Watson praised Abbott for handling vetoes more diplomatically than his predecessor Rick Perry. In his first session at the mansion back in 2001, former state rep. Perry dropped the hammer on 83 bills in all. Yet he calmed down in later years, killing only 25 measures in 2011 and 28 in 2013. While Watson opposed Abbott nixing so many bills that had been vetted by lawmakers this year, he appreciated the courtesy of a morning phone call from the governor's office telling him the cull was coming. Under Perry, that first call usually came from the media. Watson said, "Perry used vetoes as a weapon. Abbott, even when I disagree with him and am disappointed, the truth is that it doesn't have the same feel."
Bill Graveyard: The Complete List of Gov. Abbott's Vetoes
HB 1 by John Otto, R-Dayton: Line item veto including $166 million for replacing old state offices, plus cuts to university research programs, water conservation initiatives, and tourism
HB 2 by Otto: Line item veto of $500,000 for planning a new Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters
HB 184 by Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park: Relating to the allocation of costs and attorneys' fees incurred by a Court of Inquiry
HB 225 by Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City: "Good Samaritan" law for drug cases
HB 499 by Guillen: Term limits for the public advisory committee to the Texas Transportation Commission
HB 973 by Ana Hernandez, D-Houston: Increasing compensation for some emergency service commissioners
HB 1015 by Terry Canales, D-Edinburg: New "best practices" legislation about community supervision for felons
HB 1119 by Hernandez: Authorizing a TxDOT study on placing and replacing mile markers
HB 1363 by Eric Johnson, D-Dallas: Reducing penalty for prostitution convictions
HB 1628 by Johnson: Allowing banks and credit unions to offer raffle prizes to encourage saving
HB 1633 by Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth: Requiring Railroad Commission to inform TxDOT of drilling permits near planned roads
HB 1855 by Toni Rose, D-Dallas: Mental health training for correctional officers
HB 2068 by Garnet Coleman, D-Houston: Changing hospital district deferred compensation plans from "opt-in" to "opt-out"
HB 2084 by Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Mission: Making Medicaid plans clearer and easier to read
HB 2100 by Hernandez: Revitalization project for Houston's Denver Harbor and Pleasantville neighborhoods
HB 2282 by Guillen: Simplified property tax protests in Bexar County
HB 2381 by Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City: Ensuring county election workers are appointed from both major parties
HB 2466 by Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth: Reimbursements for small employers improving workplace safety
HB 2647 by Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin: New rules for stopping groundwater pumping by power plants and mines
HB 2775 by Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin: Easier notarization of ballot access signatures for candidates
HB 2788 by Drew Springer, R-Gainesville: Requiring jails to implement water restrictions during droughts
HB 2826 by Jim Murphy, R-Houston: Single property tax relief applications to multiple ISDs for eligible businesses
HB 2830 by Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco: Making it tougher to get a refund of $2 or less from a county
HB 3043 by Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston: Updated license rules for journeymen linemen
HB 3060 by Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas: Increased enforcement of local animal control and water conservation ordinances
HB 3184 by Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio: Establishing pretrial victim-offender mediation programs
HB 3193 by Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio: Allowing municipalities to favor local businesses in contract bidding
HB 3291 by Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo: Increasing penalties for stealing oil, gas, and drilling equipment
HB 3390 by Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio: Extra regulations about shooting into your neighbor's property
HB 3511 by Sarah Davis, R-Houston: New rules for candidates filing electronically with the Texas Ethics Commission
HB 3579 by Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas: Clarifying how a criminal record gets expunged
HB 3736 by Davis: Extending conflict-of-interest rules to state agency governing board members and officers
HB 4025 by Jim Keffer, R-Eastland: Clarifying rules about county energy transportation reinvestment zones
HB 4103 by Guillen: Clarifying when municipal judges have to retake their oaths of office
HCR 84 by Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches: Commending mental health professionals during National Mental Health Month
SB 130 by Royce West, D-Dallas: Sealing court records for certain offenses set aside by judicial clemency
SB 313 by Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo: Instructing the State Board of Education to rewrite the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum standard
SB 359 by West: Allowing physicians to detain patients deemed a risk to themselves or others
SB 408 by José Rodríguez, D-El Paso: Increased preference for local bidders on municipal construction projects
SB 496 by Kirk Watson, D-Austin: Better funding for flextime students
SB 1032 by Watson: Telecommuting for state workers
SB 1034 by José Rodríguez: Ending accidental canceling of mail-in ballots
SB 1408 by Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville: Matching grants for federal community development funds
SB 1655 by West: Closing a fee-avoidance loophole for private colleges
By the Numbers
House Bills: 32
House Resolutions: 1
Senate Bills: 9
Republican bills: 10
Democratic bills: 32
Total budget cuts in line item vetoes: $295 million