Lege update 8/1

There are three words I would have never thought I’d be piecing together. But here we are, three Special Sessions into the summer. Thus far, Transportation funding is the only issue on the call, though Campus Construction & Guns on Campus could still appear. As one may recall from my previous post on the issue, the Senate has already approved SJR1. At press time, the journal has still not been uploaded, so I have absolutely no idea how the vote went down.

Anyways, the Texas Tribune now reports that the House Select Committee on Transportation has taken up SJR1, and purposefully chosen not to move forward with the legislation. The Committee then took up HJR1, which is Joe Pickett’s plan, and passed the measure 6-1 with the lone dissenting vote coming from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County). Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County), the only other Democrat on the committee, voted yes, as did all four Republicans.

There are a few different circumstances, however. First, Comptroller Susan Combs announced that Oil & Gas taxes would come into the coffers at levels $900 Million higher than previously expected. Second, there were some changes to Pickett’s proposals. From the Tribune:

Pickett added a provision to the plan that would require the Texas Department of Transportation to find $100 million in “efficiencies” over the 2014-15 biennium and put that money toward paying the agency’s multibillion-dollar debt. Paying off that much debt early would save the agency $47 million in debt service payments, Pickett said.

[…]

The other key difference in Pickett’s new proposal would be in the way the Legislature could ensure that the plan wouldn’t drain the Rainy Day Fund’s balance beyond a level with which state leaders are comfortable. A previous version required the Legislative Budget Board to periodically set a minimum balance, or floor, for the Rainy Day Fund below which tax revenue could not be diverted to transportation. Pickett switched out the LBB with a select joint committee of five House members and five senators.

Also, at the start of each legislative session, lawmakers would have the opportunity to file bills proposing that the floor selected by the committee be adjusted, Pickett said. Such a bill would need to pass both chambers within the first 60 days of the session to be enacted. 

This bill, most likely, will be approved by the full House. At that point, HJR1 and SJR1 would have to be battled-out in Conference Committee, just like last time. It is unclear what the end game here is.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reported that Sen. Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) officially announced his candidacy for Attorney General. Paxton will be facing off against Rep. Dan Branch and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman in the GOP primary. It will be quite the contest. Paxton, by the way, has a two-year term, so if he loses the primary, he will be unemployed.

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Lege update 7/9

First and foremost, I want to discuss the events that took place today resulting in the possibility of productive, meaningful legislation. And by that, I mean, the stuff that will not almost certainly be struck by a Federal Court.

As the astute followers may recall, exactly one week ago the Senate unanimously approved SJR1, a Transportation funding  bill, and SB2, a “Miller compliance” bill. Both bills passed the committee somewhat under the radar.

Today,  both of those bills came up for consideration in the equivalent Senate committees. HB4, the Miller compliance bill, passed 4-1, with Rep. Terry Canales being the sole dissenter. The Houston Chronicle reported its passage, and insinuated it was somewhat different from SB2, the Senate equivalent. For the life of me, I read HB4, and cannot find any meaningful difference between it and the Senate’s bill. Both bills provide a mandatory sentence of life with parole, or forty years, for 17 year olds convicted of capital murder.

Then, the House Appropriations Committee took up the Transportation bill, and was less successful. A companion piece of legislation to SJR1,which would have diverted a significant amount of cash from the rainy day fund into highway maintenance, HJR1, was set for a vote. However, the Texas Tribune reports that Sylvester Turner, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Committee, raised a variety of concerns with the measure. These included the fact that SJR1/HJR1 sets a maximum amount to be withdrawn from the rainy day fund. Turner was concerned that this would raise too little money for transportation. A competing bill was also considered by the committee. That bill, HJR2, was the brainchild of Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso). That bill would have eliminated the diversion of fuel tax money into education. Instead, all of the money would go to transportation. The educational setbacks would presumably be offset by rainy day fund withdrawals.

Personally, I find SJR1/HJR1 to be the favorable bill. All Pickett’s bill does is pass the hot potato to students and teachers. That isn’t fair, they’ve been the ones messed with recently. I would rather see a problem down the road for highways than high schools, but that’s just me.

Now the big news. The Texas Tribune reports that HB2, the House’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, has passed on second reading 98-49. The day was a long one for the House, coming into session at 10AM and immediately bringing up the bill.

The Democrats –and one Republican, Rep. Sarah Davis of Harris County– brought up 22 amendments. One after another, every single one of them was tabled. They would have provided exemptions for rape and the health of the mother. Not important, in the GOP’s mind. They would have struck everything but the 20 week ban, since that seems to be all the Republicans keep bringing up. Lots of good amendments, including ones for sex ed, but to no avail. The Republicans are not interested in compromise, they are only interested in appeasing their primary voters.

Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County), Abel Herrero (D-Nueces County), Armando Martinez (D-Hidalgo County), Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County) and Joe Pickett (D-El Paso County) were the five Democrats to brake ranks and vote yes on this obscenely unconstitutional legislation. None of them have been or ever will be pregnant. Funny how those things work. I will do everything in power, financially and politically, to make sure none of these men ever win another Democratic primary in my Texas. These men ought to be ashamed of themselves, for it is their constituents, the poor population in El Paso, Corpus Christi and the Valley, who will be hundreds of miles away from the nearest sage, legal abortion.

Kudos to Sarah Davis, however, for doing what is right. Also, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, whose father is the one Democratic Senator supporting the asinine bill, voted against it. Good for him.

The House adjourned slightly after the vote and will reconvene at about 10AM tomorrow for third reading. Once again, Senfronia Thompson stood at the front mike with a wire coathanger. The eyes of the world are still upon us, and I will have more on what to do from here tomorrow when I fly back to Houston.