In the end, thanks in large part to the stimulus package and its infusion of funds that prevented the need to dip into the Rainy Day Fund, the budget process was relatively uncontroversial. Yesterday, it was passed by the House, and is now on its way to Governor Perry’s desk.
With just three days left in the 81st Texas Legislature, the only thing certain was the state’s $182.3 billion budget, which, among other things, increases spending for the mentally disabled, correctional officer salaries, college financial aid and pre-kindergarten programs. Most of the money, which includes $12.1 billion in federal economic stimulus dollars, is dedicated to education and health care.
The vote in the House was 142-2, after unanimous passage in the Senate. Perry is certain to do some line-item vetoing, if only to remind us that he can. Odds are he’ll pick something that no one will see coming. We’ll know soon enough.
Of greater interest at this time is the handful of bills that are still struggling to stay alive.
The House kept the debate on windstorm insurance reform alive by agreeing to seek a compromise on the bill in a joint conference committee. Perry has told lawmakers he will call a special session if the windstorm insurance reform does not pass.
At issue is how to keep solvent the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which provides insurance for homeowners who cannot find private coverage — without pushing insurance rates up. Hurricanes Ike and Dolly busted the association with an unexpected $2 billion in payouts.
Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood said they hope to reach a settlement so as “not to have a special session.”
Here’s the conference committee information. They have till midnight tonight to work it out, get a bill printed, and distribute it to members. Tall order, but doable.
Also Friday, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said he was still trying to revive the Children’s Health Insurance Program. An effort earlier this week to piggyback CHIP on a bill for newborn disease screening did not comply with House rules that subjects be “germane.”
Although a coalition representing 70 groups called on legislative leaders to “take all necessary means” to pass the bill, the prospect is dim.
Apparently, the measure to which the CHIP bill had been attached as an amendment, which had originally been sent back by the House because author Paula Pierson didn’t think it would concur, has now been approved for a conference committee, but that’s to remove the CHIP amendment so the original bill, having to do with newborn screening, can pass. There’s still the original House CHIP bill by Rep. Garnet Coleman, which hasn’t been approved by the Senate but still could if they agree to suspend the rules to bring it up. I’m not holding my breath on that one. The Chron editorializes today in favor of taking action, while Rick Casey took Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Sen. Steve Ogden to task for not getting this right the first time.
Disputes also were holding up a bill to renew the life of the Texas Department of Transportation for another two years. Portions of the bill call for a local option gas tax, supported by business leaders and elected officials from North Texas and San Antonio.
In Harris County, officials are keeping an eye on a provision that could limit or ban new cameras being placed at intersections to catch red-light runners.
That one could get ugly. Rep. Joe Pickett has called out lobbyists who are agitating over the local-option tax, which has both strong support and strong opposition. More from McBlogger and EoW, both of whom are in the latter camp. On a tangential note, the Chron rails against the attempt by the state to meddle in local affairs regarding red light cameras.
Finally, one bit of bad news.
At the stroke of midnight on Friday, House Bill 1243 turned into a pumpkin and a fairy godmother was nowhere to be found to save it or the electric cooperative measure attached to it.
Provisions to improve accountability in the electric cooperatives, including Pedernales Electric Cooperative, had been tacked on to the bill in the Senate. And Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, challenged whether that amendment and others belonged on the bill.
A lengthy confab at the dais followed by a postponement delayed a vote on whether to send the bill to a conference committee, called for by Turner, until shortly before midnight. That vote failed 48 to 90.
But by the time Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, stepped to the microphone to save the bill, it was too late.
Another half-hour of parliamentary hand-wringing ensued. But, in the end, the glass slipper didn’t fit.
That unfortunately means that SB545, the solar bill, is dead as well. Major bummer about that.