Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered for a little more than an hour Sunday night, probably killing a school finance and revenue bill critical to the budget (it’s still possible for a four-fifths supermajority of the Senate to pull it up for a vote today). And the House hit a midnight deadline without approving three major pieces of legislation — including one that’s designed to corral Medicaid costs and help balance the state budget.
Gov. Rick Perry had promised earlier in the day to call lawmakers back on Tuesday if the budget bills weren’t all approved. The regular session ends today, and it looks like the first special session will begin as early as tomorrow morning.
Even without an unfinished 2012-13 budget to bring them back, Gov. Perry had already set the table for a special legislative this summer.
• The governor, tort reformers, trial lawyers and lawmakers in the House and Senate couldn’t put together a fix to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association in the 140-day legislative session, and Perry promised that if they didn’t get it done he’d call them back to Austin in July to finish up.
When they hit the deadline at midnight Saturday, they didn’t have anything except for the governor’s promise that they’ll be back.
• Lawmakers completed their work on new political maps for the State Board of Education and for the Legislature itself, but never even presented or held hearings on maps for congressional redistricting. Perry’s aides indicated for weeks that their boss would be unlikely to call lawmakers back for that purpose alone. Then, in the last days of the session, the governor told reporters he’d be willing to call a special session on congressional maps if House and Senate leaders can show him they’ve got enough votes to make it a quick deal.
Whether or not the governor is thinking about a presidential race, the memory of Senate Democrats running off to Albuquerque — as they did in the 2003 redistricting fight — has to make him wary of a session on that all by itself.
• Then there is the sanctuary cities legislation, one of six items the governor put on a list of legislative “emergencies” to speed consideration by the House and the Senate. That one didn’t make it out, and a special session could give him another shot at it.
On Sunday, they added to their troubles when the midnight bell tolled before the House had approved three bills that created interstate health compacts, contained Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s health reforms, provided funding for textbooks, and addressed efficiency in the Medicaid program. That last bill is one of several considered critical to the budget.
If the past is any guide, a special session that starts with one topic often picks up others along the way, and Perry could add other issues — new ones or things left undone during the regular session, small issues or large ones — as he goes along. Lawmakers will likely start with the budget bills on Tuesday, and if they can come up with negotiated solutions on others — redistricting, for instance — Perry might add those to the agenda.
When I went to bed last night, the failure to pass a windstorm bill was the only known reason for a special session, and it was unlikely to be immediate. This changes everything. Postcards notes that SB1811 almost went off the rails even before it got back to the Senate.
In the House, the leadership initially sought to wipe out the midnight deadline so Democrats couldn’t use it as a weapon; the bill was not eligible to be considered until 10 p.m., leaving a narrow window for action on such a large bill.
Instead, the Republicans waived the rules so they could bring SB 1811 up earlier, but only after House Speaker Joe Straus cast a rare vote.
Iconoclast David Simpson, R-Longview, joined the Democrats in opposition.
So the House proceeded in the early evening with its discussion of the mammoth, 393-page bill, primarily focusing on the school finance component.
The state will reduce by $4 billion the amount that it owes school districts under current law. The school finance provision in SB 1811 apportions that reduction among school districts.
“This proposal reflects the decisions of this body in House Bill 1,” said House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, referring to the budget bill.
That school finance provision, which was grafted onto the bill at the tail end of the session, apportions a $4 billion reduction in state aid among the school districts. Democrats objected that the school finance proposal was thrown together without input from the public or rank-and-file members.
“Now we’re being told we better the heck pass it or we’ll be in a special session, so close your eyes and hold your nose and vote for it,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.
But Hochberg said there is little understanding about what exactly is in the compromise proposal.
The printouts that detail how each district is affected by the reduction were not delivered to House members until Saturday afternoon, and the bill language itself was not available online until Sunday morning.
“We’re making a very big change here without any discussion,” Hochberg said. “We never brought a school finance bill to the floor this session. Never.”
That’s the key point here: SB1811 was being brought up for a vote at the very last minute because it wasn’t finalized until then. Everyone was being asked to vote on something they surely hadn’t read or understood. You’d think that would be a concern for more of them, but the Republicans in the House have dutifully followed orders from above from the beginning, so why should this be any different? During closing remarks – did we mention that debate was limited on this bill and amendments were prohibited? – Democrats expanded on their objections to it.
Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said that the proposal would codify the existing funding inequity into the system. He read a list of the spreads in funding in per student spending between the richer school districts and the poorer districts in various Senatorial districts — pointing out that the difference can be as much as several thousand dollars between the districts.
Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Dallas, was just as critical of the proposal.
“Today, what you’re voting for is Edgewood Foor,” he said and compared the decision not to touch the Rainy Day Fund to what would happen if a parent was late on child support. He said that any judge would laugh that parent out of court if they claimed they couldn’t meet their child support payment because they were preserving their savings account just in case things got worse.
Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said that the proposal would shortchange school funding by allowing the state to discount the ‘settle up’ expenses that the state owes the state.
“We’re making a very, very big change without any discussion,” said Hochberg. He warned that the proposal could drastically alter how programs for the gifted and talented and for shop programs are calculated in school finance.
Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, complained bitterly that the bill had only been available for reading for less than 24 hours and that the “lack of transparency” was a violation of conservative principles.
“This bill is full of the accounting tricks and chicanery that your voters said they were tired of,” said Strama.
Yeah, somehow I don’t think they really care all that much. They’ll get outraged over Sen. Davis’ filibuster for whatever reason is convenient, and it will go from there. I can’t say I’m thrilled about legislative overtime, but I salute Sen. Davis for standing up and refusing to go along to get along. A statement from Se. Jose Rodriguez in support of Sen. Davis is beneath the fold.
UPDATE: Rick Perry – Rick Perry! – just accused Sen. Davis of being a “show horse”. This is like Charlie Sheen accusing someone of being an unstable egotist.
STATE SENATOR JOSÉ RODRÍGUEZ’S STATEMENT SUPPORTING SENATOR DAVIS STANDING UP FOR TEXAS SCHOOLCHILDREN
AUSTIN — Today, State Senator José Rodríguez released the following statement regarding the filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis of S.B. 1811, the fiscal matters bill:
“Senator Davis is not only standing up for the children of her district, she is standing up for all of the children in this state who will suffer as a result of the $4 billion in cuts to public schools. For El Paso ISD alone, the cuts will equal $39.5 million during the next two years. Other El Paso County school districts will also stand to lose millions, including:
Anthony ISD: $475,000
Canutillo ISD: $3 million
Clint ISD: $6 million
Socorro ISD: $38 million
Ysleta ISD: $22 million
“Under this plan, there will be fewer resources in the classrooms, fewer teachers to instruct, and ultimately fewer opportunities for the children of our state. Over and over, the people of Texas have urged lawmakers to use the Rainy Day Fund to make up these cuts, and time and time again, the people were ignored. Instead the leadership chose to use accounting tricks to defer a $2.3 billion payment to the Foundation School Program, leaving our children and our schools in a deeper financial hole.
“In addition to standing up for the children of this state, Senator Davis is fighting for veterans, victims of abuse, and the elderly, many of whom may have lost their access to the courtroom. As a result of the choices made by the conference committee, my amendment to create a funding mechanism for legal aid services and indigent care was stripped. This choice denied over $32 million in legal aid and other services to Texans in need.”