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Extending the deadline

The deadline for finishing up conference committee work was supposed to be last night at midnight. There was too much work to do for that, so the deadline got pushed back for 24 hours.

That means the Senate on Monday likely will be approving dozens of conference committee reports — the final versions of bills — where they were supposed to just do minor corrections to a few bills.

Senate Administration Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, told senators a few minutes ago that 131 House bills loaded up with Senate amendments are still in conference — meaning they are still in negotiation with House members.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Williams said.

The vote to waive the rule and extend tonight’s deadline was 31-0. A four-fifths vote of at least 25 senators was required.

Among other things, that means that there’s more time for a deal on windstorm insurance, which is now the must-pass bill of the session, as a failure to do so will mean a special session. It also means that there may be some hope for the previously-declared dead solar bill.

At the stroke of midnight last night, Sen. Troy Fraser’s SB 545, the “chosen” solar incentives bill for the legislative session, seemed to have drawn its last breath when Rep. Sylvester Turner killed its vehicle.

Fraser’s solar bill would have provided incentives for solar installation, with a view to increasing solar energy generation in Texas. Since the bill didn’t make it through the House chubfest last week, it was tacked on to HB 1243, which would require utilities to purchase extra electricity from on-site renewable generation.

Well: Would have required. Turner killed the bill last night, seemingly out of hurt feelings over other bills that didn’t make it through the parliamentary process over the past day.

“All day long we have been sending bill after bill back on germaneness,” Turner said, objecting to the fact that HB 1243 had absorbed three loosely related measures.

He also objected to the electricity rate increases that would have been passed onto consumers to fund the solar incentives. Still, at 20 cents per month for residential customers, the increases were quite small.

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According to Environment Texas advocate Luke Metzger, establishing a solar incentives program is critical in Texas right now, since the solar manufacturing base isn’t permanently settled anywhere. If Texans buy more solar systems, it could persuade manufacturer’s to set up shop here. Without the incentives, Metzger says, “we’ll miss the solar boat for decades to come, potentially.”

But all hope is not lost. Last week’s chubfest in the House has put legislators through an exercise in it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it ain’t over for solar incentives, which may find a viable vehicle in Fraser’s own SB 546, the session’s “chosen” energy efficiency bill, which is in conference committee today.

If SB 546 can accommodate solar incentives legislation, Metzger does not think there will be a problem with germaneness.

However, he points out, “the other danger still is timing. This all has to happen very quickly in order to avoid Turner or anyone else trying to chub it to death.”

Keep hope alive. Maybe the extended deadlines will be sufficient to allow this to pass. Stranger things, almost always for the worse, have happened.

Other items to keep an eye on are SCR72, the joint resolution to clean up after the Railroad Commission, and HB498, the innocence commission study bill. A lot of good criminal jurisprudence reform bills were chubbing victims so salvaging that one would be nice.

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