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TxDOT lives, Lege adjourns

The threat of a special session has been averted…we think.

The House just voted to work the Legislature out of a jam by keeping open the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies at risk of closing.

Members needed a little handiwork to make it happen, and some would say they flat ignored House rules to do it.

The problem began Sunday, when the Legislature failed to pass a bill keeping open the transportation agency, the Texas Department of Insurance and a handful of other agencies. Those agencies were up for review by the Legislature this year, and so they were scheduled to close if those reviews were not complete.

Today, the last day of the legislative session, is supposed to be only for technical corrections to bills. The House just made what sponsors called a technical correction to a bill authorizing state agencies to receive federal stimulus dollars.

Agencies have to be open in order to get stimulus dollars, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts. So the House corrected the stimulus bills to say that the departments at risk would stay open.

As with everything else, that was not without controversy.

Reps. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, protested that lawmakers were doing an end-run on traditions and rules that allow only minor tweaks to bills on the session’s final day. They said the concurrent resolution, passed by a vote of 111-29, made substantive changes in law. It would prevent closure of the transportation and insurance departments this fall. With Senate approval, they and three other small agencies would face “sunset” review by lawmakers next session.

One advantage of the resolution is it averted a need to get two-thirds of House members to suspend rules to bring back to life a “safety net” bill that would take the agencies off the chopping block. Since the voter ID meltdown in the House last month, Republicans have been loath to suspend rules, calling it a matter of principle.

Turner and Davis, however, said House leaders were playing fast and loose with rules, setting a very bad precedent.

Turner called it “a blatant and intentional attempt to circumvent the rules.”

Davis said, “It’s ironic that we’re here to make laws for people to abide by and we won’t even stand by our own rules.”

Speaker Joe Straus, though, rejected parliamentary objections by Davis and Turner.

I’ve kinda lost track of how many bad precedents have been set this session. What’s one more for the road?

Of course, if after all that the House still managed to screw things up

The Senate has just retired en masse into a closed-door meeting to discuss the resolution the Texas House passed about an hour ago to continue operations at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Word is there could be a problem with the House wording: It may not allow TxDOT to issue the $2 billion in bonds it needs to continue road-building projects.

Big problem that would be.

I’m going to go find a paper bag to breathe into. Talk amongst yourselves.

While I will cling stubbornly to the belief that no special session is in the offing – Governor Perry wasn’t too worked up about the possibility earlier today, I do wish something could have been done to salvage CHIP.

“CHIP is dead,” said State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, a supporter of expanding the program.

Dukes said she was disappointed that her colleagues didn’t make the effort to massage parliamentary rules for CHIP as they did today for a “sunset” safety-net bill that keeps agencies operating.

“They changed the rules for what they desired,” Dukes said. “But no rules were suspended for those children in great need.”

There were bigger obstacles than the rules, or the chubfest, in the way, as Rick Perry was vowing to veto any CHIP expansion legislation that crossed his desk. The only way forward for this is with someone else in the Governor’s mansion. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman about this is beneath the fold. May this be the last post of the 2009 legislative session.

UPDATE: It’s unclear what, if anything, the Senate is going to do about the un-authorized bonds. It’s also unclear if that’s a problem. At least windstorm is a done deal.

State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston) has issued the following in response to the failure of the Legislature to pass legislation related to Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The House has adjourned Sine Die without passing CHIP legislation this session.

Unfortunately, CHIP has become a partisan issue, where passage is seen as victory for Democrats and failure deemed a victory for Republicans. In the end, the only losers are Texas children. The reality is, CHIP died when Senate leadership failed to move CHIP out of the Senate Finance Committee. To add insult to injury, Senate members attempted to attach a CHIP amendment to a clearly non-germane bill. The ultimate death came from the Governor, who repeatedly promised to veto legislation that would insure Texas children. I had a conversation with the Governor’s office at 4:00 PM, and they reaffirmed the Governor’s intention to veto any CHIP legislation. I am deeply disappointed that 80,000 children will now be forced by the Governor and conservative Republican members to go without health insurance. As the Houston Chronicle stated, there are 80,000 reasons to pass and sign this legislation. The 80,00 children that would have been enrolled in this new program will now remain part of the 1.4 million uninsured children in Texas.

This session’s CHIP legislation would have:

  • Implemented a sliding scale to cover uninsured kids with working parents earning from 200 to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Families covered under these provisions would have paid co-payments and monthly premiums, and would have contribute more than the state to the CHIP buy-in created in this bill.
  • Included strict “crowd out” language possible to ensure that private health insurance is not substituted by CHIP coverage.
  • Exempted child support payments and assets in college savings plans from being considered when determining eligibility for programs like CHIP and Medicaid.

Here is the Legislative Study Group’s CHIP update.

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