This Week in the Legislature
April 18 – April 24, 2015
Days 96-102; 38 days to go
Tensions rise between the House and Senate, between the Legislature and the Governor, and within both chambers’ memberships.
Top Story: Mounting Tensions Undermine Legislative Process
Many observers feel strongly that interpersonal and ideological conflict is slowing significantly the progress of major and minor legislation, including bills addressing border security, open carry, private school vouchers, tax cuts and pre-K. Nevertheless, budget bills have passed both chambers, clearing the way for House and Senate conferees to put a final budget together.
It’s not unusual for tensions to escalate between the House and Senate during late April, and this session is no different. Some will remember that two weeks ago, State Representative Dennis Bonnen took on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the chambers’ competing tax cut plans.
One clear sign of tension is the slow pace with which chambers are referring each other’s bills to committee. Both chambers are choosing to pass their own bills over the other chamber’s version. For instance, the House passed HB 910, its open carry bill, even though the Senate companion (SB 17) has been received in the House, guaranteeing that one chamber will have to hear the contentious and time-consuming bill all over again if it wants the bill to become law.
On Monday, Rep. Bonnen accused the Lt. Gov. of “playing games” on border security and bringing bad Washington-style politics “to Austin instead of solving problems.” The Senate passed SB 3, the Senate’s companion legislation to HB 11, authored by Rep. Bonnen, which passed the House more than six weeks ago. The rest of the House’s border security package, HB 10 and HB 12, is also immobile in the Senate.
n Tuesday, the Senate voted 18-12 to suspend the rules and bring up SB 4, the Lt. Gov.’s school voucher bill. The bill passed 17-13. Over the weekend, a motorist ran a traffic signal and injured Senator Kel Seliger, who was on a motorcycle. His injuries were not life threatening, but required surgery at Brackenridge in Austin. Many speculate that Senator Seliger, a senator from a rural district without private schools that would benefit from vouchers and only public schools that would have funds diverted to private schools, was the 13th vote blocking SB 4 from coming to the floor.
On Wednesday, that tension boiled over into the public as R.G. Ratcliffe of Texas Monthly reported. Lt. Gov. Patrick declared he was tired of Governor Abbott and Speaker Straus “picking on me.”
On Thursday, the so-called tea party members of the House offered amendments to the Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) Sunset bill that would further restrict abortions. The debate was less than civil, and after the amendment was adopted and hours had been spent on the bill, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer called a sustainable point of order, forcing the bill’s author to take the bill back to committee to cure the point of order and strip off the amendments.
With three weeks until the deadline for House bills to clear the House, many speculate as to the timing of these amendments. By complicating the DSHS Sunset legislation, tea party members used up valuable time, diminishing the chances of passage for many other bills.
In other political news, two of the Speaker’s top Chairs have already been “primaried.” The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports on the primary challenges coming to Chairman Charlie Geren and Chairman Jim Keffer.
In HD 124, former Bexar county prosecutor Ina Minjarez defeated former City Councilmember Delicia Herrera by a vote of 1,331 – 1,090. Each House District contains roughly 170,000 people, 125,000 of which are usually citizens of voting age. In this race only 2,421 people voted, or 2.77% turnout.
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