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Vetoing smart growth

Houston Tomorrow takes a look at one of the vetoed bills that I hadn’t examined before, SB2169, “relating to the establishment of a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for this state.”

The bill would have instructed the heads of many state agencies to appoint representatives to serve on a task force charged with bringing back suggestions for the Texas legislature for ways to prepare for the projected population growth in the state. As noted by the Legislative Budget Board, “no significant fiscal implication to the state [was] anticipated” because of the bill, and its primary outcome would be that “each odd-numbered year the group [would have been] required to submit a progress report to the legislature.“ The Legislative Budget Board report went on to state that were this bill to have passed “Local governments may benefit from policies developed by the smart growth policy work group, but any benefits will depend on what future policies recommend and the operating environment of each local government.” According to the bill analysis posted at Texas Legislature Online, the bill would not “expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.”

They note that the bill had bipartisan support – it passed 99-48 in the House (98-49 if you accept Rep. Todd Hunter’s “meant to vote no”), and unanimously in the Senate. More to the point, “Out of the 76 representatives from the 8 largest urban counties in Texas, only 18 (22%) voted against the bill.” All 18 came from Harris and the Metroplex, mostly from suburban areas. Alas, the words “smart growth” are considered dirty by the likes of Governor Perry, as you can see in his veto statement, where he pays homage to the idea of “local control” when it suits him to do so.

On a side note, the Statesman reports that the Governor killed numerous bills for which there was little to no opposition:

A dozen of the 37 pieces of legislation that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed late last week moved through the Legislature without a single opposing vote.

The various measures would have, among other things, changed the makeup of the Teacher Retirement System board, allowed authorities to more quickly erase criminal records when someone is arrested but not charged with a crime, and given college students more time to graduate before they faced tuition increases for staying in school too long.

Most of the other bills Perry vetoed drew just a handful of dissenting votes — fewer than five in the 31-member Senate or 10 in the 150-member House.

“There’s no check on the governor’s power to veto bills that have been through an entire process,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a Republican from San Antonio who represents part of southern Travis County. Wentworth sponsored legislation that would have given lawmakers an opportunity to convene for three days after a regular session to override gubernatorial vetoes. It did not pass.

The Perry vetoes highlight the fact that most bills that pass the Legislature do so with overwhelming support, especially when they are locally focused bills such as several of those on Perry’s veto list. Lawmakers are particularly inclined to support legislation in the final days of the 140-day session, when they’re hit with a stampede of bills trying to make it to the governor’s desk before the clock runs out.

The scrutiny is more intense earlier in the session. Bills have to pass through numerous committees, often leading to hours of public testimony and several drafts before they even reach the floor of the House or Senate. Then the process begins again in the other chamber, and the two sides must ultimately reconcile the different versions of the legislation they approve.

It’s certainly true that some bad bills, as well as some bills that started out as good but then picked up some bad amendments (*cough* *cough* HB770 *cough* *cough*) can pass on near-unanimous lines. HB3588 from 2003, which authorized the Trans Texas Corridor, is a good example of that. Local and consent bills, which by definition aren’t controversial, also generally breeze through. Still, the Lege is designed to make it hard for bills to pass, and I haven’t heard anyone claim that the bills that got the axe this time around were ones that needed to be killed because of poor legislative oversight. These were Perry’s decisions for his own reasons, like them or not.

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