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There are other items on this session’s agenda

I know, hard to believe, but there are two non-abortion items on the session agenda, and the Senate has already taken preliminary action on two of them.

Sen. Robert Nichols

Six hours before a marathon state House committee hearing on abortion, two Senate committees quickly kicked out less controversial bills on transportation funding and criminal justice reform to the full Senate on Tuesday morning.

The Senate could vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 2 as early as next week. The measures address two issues — transportation infrastructure funding and sentencing guidelines for 17-year-old murderers — that Gov. Rick Perry included in the second special session’s agenda. Similar pieces of legislation died on the last day of the first special session amid a dramatic fight over abortion legislation. Both Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, refiled their legislation soon after Perry announced a second special session.

In a nine-minute hearing, the Senate Finance Committee voted 11-0 Tuesday morning in favor of SJR 1, from Nichols, which matches the version of Senate Joint Resolution 2 that the Legislature nearly passed last week. The measure would ask voters to approve amending the state Constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund, raising nearly $1 billion a year in additional financing for road construction and maintenance. The Texas Department of Transportation has said it needs about $4 billion in additional funding each year to maintain current congestion.

About 40 minutes later, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-0 in favor of SB 2, from Huffman, which is similar to Senate Bill 23 from the first special session. The bill revises the sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated mandatory life without parole for capital murderers younger than 18.

Both measures could be debated on the Senate floor as early as next week.

Sen. Nichols incorporated changes that the House added to his ball in the first special session, while Sen. Huffman’s bill was the same one she’d filed before, without including the House changes. Had the House simply voted on these bill as they were they wouldn’t have needed to be re-voted on by the Senate and thus wouldn’t have been casualties of the Davis filibuster. Alternately, David Dewhurst could have put Nichols’ and Huffman’s bills on the agenda ahead of SB5 last time around, but I guess he didn’t expect Davis to be able to keep up her effort for that long. Silly man.

In theory, the Democrats have some leverage over the transportation bill, since it is a joint resolution and thus needs a two-thirds majority in each chamber. That possibility was raised in the previous session – basically, the Dems could refuse to vote for SJR1 unless the abortion legislation was altered in some fashion, which would mean it would not have enough votes to pass. As with a quorum break, the main problem with that gambit is that as long as Rick Perry is willing to keep calling special sessions – and by now we should all be clear on the fact that he is willing – such leverage is necessarily short-lived. Once the Dems hold up their end of the bargain and vote for SJR1, their influence vanishes. If we knew for a fact that the next time the Lege convened would be 2015, this tactic could work. In the world we live in, all it can do is prolong the agony.

Anyway. Yesterday was also the day for the House State Affairs Committee hearing on HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill. As before, BOR is liveblogging things, so check over there for the latest updates. I’ll report on it after the hearing is over. The Trib has more.

UPDATE: As expected, the show hearing in the House ended at 12:01 AM, with the committee voting the bill out afterward on partisan lines 8-3. The Observer and Texpatriate have more.

I do not expect another Ardmore

The AusChron tries to get out the Democrats’ strategy for Special Session 2.

When the Texas House convened last last month to pass, on third reading and onto the Senate for final passage, Senate Bill 5, the omnibus abortion regulations bill, Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat heard several colleagues discussing whether House Dems would be ready to walk out – to break quorum – in order to stop the measure from moving forward.

Among the questions before Democrats as they face today’s start of a second-called special session, with passage of abortion regulations first on Gov. Rick Perry’s to do list, is whether a mid-summer, out-of-state sojourn may be in the cards. “There was talk about it” on the floor last month, he said, “and there will undoubtedly be talk about it again.”

[…]

With the 30-day special-called session only getting under way today, there is plenty of time for Republicans to maneuver to pass the divisive measures – as one Capitol staffer said last week, not even Davis can talk for 30 days. But there remain other strategies to explore, said Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson – though he declined to offer specifics. “I’m not going to get into strategies,” he said, “but we’re not going to give up the fight.”

[…]

Requiring testimony in each chamber may be one way to moderate the legislation’s forward progress, but it is unlikely to do much to halt the ever-forward movement. So, might a mid-summer trip to a nearby state be the way to go? That’s certainly an option, says [Rep. Donna] Howard. Though, realistically, says Naishtat, he isn’t sure that it would work to derail the measure completely. “I don’t see how House or Senate Democrats could break quorum for the amount of time necessary to defeat the bill – it could be as much as three weeks,” he said. “On the other hand, other people doubted that Sen. Wendy Davis could pull off a filibuster. So what I’m saying is, you never know.” Indeed, Naishtat agrees that at this point, every option is on the table. And it would be “foolish,” he said, for Republicans to “underestimate our power, our intelligence, our mastery of the rules, and our commitment to doing everything legal to prevent the passage of … anti-pro-choice bills.”

I’m not privy to the Dems’ thinking, and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss any feasible possibility out of hand, but I have a hard time seeing how a quorum break would be successful. As with the Davis filibuster, all it can do is delay. It can’t prevent any of this awful legislation from passing, because Rick Perry can just keep calling more sessions, which you know he will. The reason why Ardmore was doable in 2003 was that the Dems only needed to be gone for five days. As with the previous special session, the re-redistricting bill came up late, and it was close enough to the deadline for passing bills out of the House for the Senate to take up that they could bug out on Monday and return on Saturday having accomplished their task. Busting quorum now would be like what the Senate Dems tried to do later that summer. As was the case back then, there was no magic day after which you could say you were in the clear. Maybe they’ve though this through and they know what their endgame is, but I have my doubts. It’s asking an awful lot of a lot of people, and I don’t know how practical it is. I hate to be a wet blanket, and I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I see it.

Two more factors to consider. One is that in the aftermath of Ardmore and Albuquerque, there were some rule changes made in each chamber to make future quorum busts more difficult and more punitive to the fleeing party. I don’t remember the details, but I do feel confident that the Rs would be extremely vengeful towards a caucus that skipped town. Two, back in 2003 the Governors of Oklahoma and New Mexico were both Democrats, and thus unwilling to cooperate with the efforts to locate and extradite the Killer Ds. Both Governors are Republicans now, so no such assistance would be in the offing. The only neighboring state now with a Democratic Governor is Arkansas, but I would not want to put my fate in that state’s hands. The nearest state where I’d feel safe, politically speaking at least, is Colorado. Point being, any out of state excursion would need to be done by air, not by bus, which increases the cost, the risk factor, and the likelihood of something going wrong because there’s just too much you can’t control.

Anyway. If it were up to me, I’d do everything I could to drag the proceedings out, while giving the crazier members of the GOP caucus as many opportunities to say something as stupid as Rep. Laubenberg did last session, and I’d lay whatever groundwork I could for litigation to block the law. The name of the game is the 2014 election. Go down fighting, keep everyone engaged, and be ready to pick up where you left off as soon as the session ends. Be sure to read the whole AusChron story, there’s a lot more in there besides quorum breaking.

Will Perry call a special session to force the Lege to draw a Congressional map?

Maybe.

Gov. Rick Perry today said state lawmakers should be the ones to draw new congressional districts, not judges.

“I do think that the responsibility is with the members of the Legislature,” Perry said this morning. “To allow the courts to do that is not in the best interest of the people.”

[…]

There are six days left in the legislative session, and while Perry says he hopes lawmakers will get the job done, there is virtually no way that lawmakers can still tackle the task of congressional redistricting.

And here is the problem for Perry: The 2001 Legislature did not draw a new congressional map, leaving that job to federal courts. In 2003, Perry called lawmakers into repeated special sessions to do so.

So will he do that again? Numerous people close to Perry have said he will not.

I’m a little surprised by this. Greg has a theory (see second comment) that Perry is looking to get something from the Congressional delegation and will act when he has it. I think he may not want to get in the way of an intra-Republican pissing contest, between Lamar Smith and Joe Barton, and may just not care to have any distractions as he tries to get himself drafted to run for President. He’s usually pretty clear about what he wants and what he’ll do to get it, so it shouldn’t be too hard to tell. If the ongoing school finance negotiations fail to bear fruit and a special is needed to sort that mess out, then I don’t see how he avoids adding Congressional redistricting to the call. Will he do it just for that? So far I have no reason to believe he will, but that could change.

What’s different between now and 2001, when the Congressional map was also judicially drawn? (I seem to recall it’s been that way every time since 1971, the difference being that now Republicans have the control over the process.) In 2001, the House was still majority Democrat, and the two chambers could not agree on a bill. In addition, the Texas Congressional delegation was 17-15 D (though one of those Ds was Ralph Hall, who doesn’t count and who later switched to keep his seat), so the Republicans had a reasonable argument that the districts did not reflect the state’s political reality. (Much like Latinos have a decent argument now, not that it’s gotten them anywhere.) They also had a backup plan, which was to dominate the 2002 elections and redraw the map at that time to their preferences in the 2003 session.

The history of the 2003 legislative sessions is told as best I could at the time in my Killer D’s archive. Late in the session, some maps began to emerge, and though it wasn’t clear that anything could pass the Senate, House Democrats decided to take no chances and broke quorum on May 12, departing the state for Ardmore, OK, where they stayed for five days, returning after the House deadline for passing new bills had passed. After a number of redistricting hearings were held around the state, a special session was called to try again. After the House passed a map, everything came to a screeching halt as ten Senate Democrats plus Republican Bill Ratliff signed a letter saying they would not vote to suspend the rules and allow a redistricting bill to come to the floor. With the Senate’s two thirds rule in effect, that meant redistricting was dead for the session.

And that’s when it got even stranger. A second special session was called immediately after the first one ended, only this time with no “blocker bill”, meaning that the Senate’s two thirds rule was not in effect. This time, Senate Democrats took a powder, having previously announced their intent to do so under these conditions. They headed west to New Mexico and stayed there through the end of the second session. Two weeks after that, Sen. John Whitmire returned to Houston and announced his intent to attend Session #3; his comrades followed him home shortly thereafter and the next session was called. Finally, as time was running out in the third overtime, Tom DeLay swept into town, cracked a few heads, and got a deal done.

I give all that history to say that I can’t really think of a good reason why Rick Perry wouldn’t call a special session on Congressional redistricting. The two thirds rule in the Senate is hardly an obstacle, as they have demonstrated numerous times. There’s no way that a court will draw a friendlier map for Republicans than the Republicans themselves can. The only thing that makes sense to me is that he’s just biding his time, for whatever purpose. He waited 30 days before calling the first special session in 2003, so who’s to say he needs to act now. All I know is that if we go into 2012 with a map drawn by a three-judge panel or the like, it’ll be the biggest political mystery of recent years.

Finally, I should note that while the Senate Redistricting Committee may be fallow, other folks are taking on the map-drawing task. State Rep. Marc Veasey released a statement saying he “will present a statewide congressional redistricting map that provides the opportunity for Latino and African-American Texans to elect their candidate of choice as required by the Voting Rights Act, in recognition of the fact that minority population growth is the only reason Texas is receiving four additional congressional districts”. That’s happening at 9AM in the Speaker’s room at the Capitol. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

UPDATE: Welcome Kos Elections readers, and thanks very much to David Nir for the kind words. Roll Call suggests another possible reason why Perry isn’t motivated to call a special session on redistricting this time around:

If state lawmakers pass a map during special session, Perry will ultimately have control over it — and it’s likely the delegation won’t love the result. There’s still bad blood between Perry and the Texas delegation, which largely supported Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R) bid against the governor in 2010.

“If Perry takes control of the process, then at least you know that it will be a Republican-friendly map. It may not be a delegation-friendly map,” said one Texas GOP source close to the redistricting process. “He’s essentially let the Texas delegation know, ‘Don’t come to me with any favors.’ Read between the lines: The Congressional delegation, at least two-thirds of them, endorsed KBH in the primary.”

Never underestimate the power of spite, especially where Rick Perry is concerned.

Another point of order delays Eissler’s school bill

HB400, the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler that among other things raises the 22:1 student:teacher limit in grades K-4, came up for debate last night after the “sanctuary cities” bill got sidetracked by a point of order. Here was the original AP story about this bill going into the debate.

Districts could increase class sizes, cut employee pay and give teachers unpaid furloughs under the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. Schools could also wait until the end of the academic year to notify teachers that contracts won’t be renewed. Current law says teachers have to be notified 45 days before the end of the year.

GOP House leaders say the bill will free schools from state mandates while saving teacher jobs. They say districts have been begging for more leeway in dealing with lower funding because of massive budget reductions.

“These changes should have been made a long time ago,” Eissler said, citing current law that only gives school districts the option of laying off teachers.

But key teacher groups statewide say the bill will devastate educators and their ability to stay in the classroom. They say Eissler’s bill is launching an attack on educators that will result in severe pay cuts and make it even easier to fire teachers.

[…]

Teacher advocates argue that the reforms Eissler seeks should be temporary, much like a Senate bill that allows teacher furloughs and salary reductions only while the state faces a budget crisis.

Democrats in the House argued that the bill was just paving the way for legislators to continue underfunding public schools.

“This is a conciliation bill that says we are prepared to downsize and dumb down the educational system of Texas,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “It is nothing to do about quality education, nothing to do about excellence, and everything to do with us not wanting to spend one additional dollar from the rainy day fund.”

Eissler did give some ground on these points as the debate opened.

Eissler, R-The Woodlands, demonstrated he came ready to deal when he offered an amendment from the floor that kept the 22-1 class size ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade but made it significantly easier from districts to get a waiver exemption as long as they maintained a 22-1 district wide average. And teachers’ groups scored a victory when Eissler agreed to make the bills’ measures temporary — something he previously said he would not do.

“As much as I hate weakening our 22-1 law at all, all I’m saying is that if we have to do it, we should sunset it,” said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, the author of the amendment.

Eissler initially said he believed making the measure temporary would be “creating havoc” in school districts. But after a few moments of deliberation, he approved the amendment.

That sunsetting would be for the 2014 school year. These gains did not stop the bill from being put on hold by another point of order from Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, who had previously stalled the “sanctuary cities” bill as well.

[Martinez-Fischer] objected to Eissler’s bill because the committee minutes reflect that Rep. Todd Smith, R- Euless, offered a committee substitute for the bill, but the bill printing says it was offered by Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

“So you either have a committee meeting problem, or you have a printing problem,” Martinez Fischer said.

“But – you don’t have a chairman problem,” he said within earshot of Eissler.

The San Antonio legislator told Eissler he could have avoided the problem had only he “put in his two cents” and influenced House Speaker Joe Straus to make Martinez Fischer a chairman. Eissler and Straus are close allies.

“I’d be fixing all these bad bills,” Martinez Fischer said.

“That’s why I love Trey,” Eissler responded.

This morning, Speaker Straus upheld the point of order, saying the bill needed to be reprinted, so it will be Monday at least before it can come back to the floor. Seems like some Republicans must have been expecting this, because many of them didn’t show up on Saturday, enough to endanger the quorum in the House. Despite some frayed tempers, it appears that the House did indeed still have a quorum, and after a motion to stifle debate, the House rammed through the so-called “loser pays” rule, which was the most recent “emergency” declared by Rick Perry, then finally adjourned for the weekend. Monday is going to be a lot of fun.