So of the three items on the call for this special session, two of them are sailing along. SB2, the Senate bill to keep state agencies like TxDOT alive, has already passed the full Senate by unanimous vote and will be taken up by the House tomorrow, where HB2 passed out of committee. HB1, which issues a bunch of transportation bonds that had been approved by voters in 2007, also passed out of committee. SB1 was still in committee as I blog this, but it should pass easily enough.
Legislation that would allow state transportation officials to continue contracting for privately built toll roads derailed this afternoon in the Senate, amid an angry backlash over plans to toll a Dallas-area expressway that is being built with taxpayer money.
At the end of a sometimes-heated hearing, Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, acknowledged that Senate Bill 3 — which would extend the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to continue entering into comprehensive development agreements (CDAs) — cannot pass.
“This issue is controversial and right now, we don’t have the votes,” Ogden said.
“I think we pass the bills that are essential — SB 1 and 2. SB 3 is optional … and right now, I don’t see it getting out of this committee.”
The controversy over SB 3 had started earlier in the day as nearly a dozen senators told Senate leaders they intended to “tag” the bill — meaning it would not get a public hearing as planned.
But Ogden said he prevailed on senators to allow the hearing to proceed. Tempers quickly flared after North Texas senators learned that of three CDAs that are in the pipeline now, one project is being built with federal stimulus money — and drivers on a restricted lane will still pay tolls.
A similar fate befell HB3 in the House committee. Both sides noted that very little would be affected by waiting until the 2011 session, and there’s plenty of opposition and uncertainty around them to think that passage any time this week could happen. While Lt. Gov. Dewhurst says that a deal is in the works for a minimalist version of the bill, I think Sen. Ogden’s view that this is optional and can be dropped is likely to carry the day. That just leaves the question about whether Governor Perry will go to the mat for it, or if he’ll just let it go and claim victory for the things that do pass. We’ll see. EoW has more.