Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 107: The House

Today is the 107th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10, the Senate at 11. Several good pieces of legislation passed both bodies yesterday, but contentious bills under consideration today will undoubtedly slow the process and make for a late evening for lawmakers. Here's what's going on in the Senate, this is what's happening in the House:

The Texas constitution requires bills to be "read" in each chamber on three separate days (the whole bill isn't read, just the bill number and a very brief description, called the "caption"). After the first reading bills are sent to committee for consideration. The second reading is the first opportunity for members to debate or amend the bill on the floor, after which it is voted on. Continued debate is allowed after the third reading but amendment of the bill requires a 2/3 vote. After debate on third reading (and potentially amendment) the whole chamber votes on the bill again. If the bill passes on third reading it is then sent to the other chamber for further consideration.

HB 1666 by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) expands the states current law against posting on social media sites with the intent to "harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten another person" to include non-social media sites like youtube and blogger. The bill sailed through the House on third reading yesterday, 141 to 1. Freshman Rep. John V. Garza (R-San Antonio) was the lone "nay" vote as even David Simpson (R-Longview), who opposed the bill on second reading voted "yea." It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB 2229 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) passed the House on second reading after initially being tabled. The bill makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people. The Advisory Committee is made up of people who are on the ground dealing with the day-to-day functions of the program and is designed to provide real world input. Earlier this year the committee was dissolved when Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, failed to renew it. It has since been reformed after public outcry. Coleman's bill seeks to prevent future commissioners from doing something similar.

HB 2229 seemed poised to pass until an amendment was added by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) creating a pilot needle exchange program. Texas has had needle exchange programs in the past and they are a proven way to reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood born diseases. However many House Republicans oppose such programs arguing that, by providing clean needles to IV drug users, the state is condoning drug use. The House voted on HB 2229 and it failed to pass, 53 to 89.

After talking with their colleagues Coleman and McClendon struck a compromise. A motion was made to reconsider the vote, McClendon withdrew her amendment, and the vote was taken again. This time HB 2229 passed on second reading, 104 to 36. It is on the schedule to be considered on third reading to today.

Also today, the House is scheduled to begin debate on the contentious issue of redistricting. The state constitution requires that the legislature redraw the House and Senate district borders every ten years in response to the U.S. census. HB 150 by Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton) will redraw the House borders. Solomons' proposal seeks to solidify the current Republican super-majority in the House. The committee hearings on the bill have been heated, with representatives of Hispanic and African American groups claiming that Solomons has purposefully divided their communities and lessened their voting power. The current House borders also dived the historic the "gayborhoods" of Montrose in Houston and Oaklawn in Dallas (Read LQ's Texas House Districts Divide Queer Main Street).

It should be a prime day for House floor watching, if you're so inclined you can watch the whole thing unfold HERE.

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