Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 1: Again

The Texas State Constitution Article 4 Sec. 8(a) allows the Governor to call a special session of the legislature in "extraordinary occasions," even allowing him to convene it away from the capitol in cases of enemy occupation or plague. In recent years, rather than respond to emergent catastrophe, special sessions have been used to deal with legislation that simply wasn't gotten around to during the regular 140 session (or to draw highly partisan congressional redistricting maps).

Although the Legislature yesterday adjourned "Sine Die," Latin for "without a day" or "we don't know when we'll be back," everyone knew that the special session would start today. Last night Governor Rick Perry made that official by Proclamation 16212, calling the Legislature back for a special session. During special sessions legislation is limited to the issues for which the Governor called the session and Perry choose two issues he'd like to see completed: the "fiscal matters" bill which compliments the budget and details appropriations for public schools and universities and a series of bills related to "health care costs containment" and "Medicare services" which cut access to health care services for low-income people and attempt to bypass provisions of Health Care reform legislation passed by the United States Legislature last year. Perry can add issues to this list later in the special session and is expected to, at the very least, add two additional items: the renewal of the Texas Windstorm Insurance program and congressional redistricting.

Because all legislation during this special session will be limited to those provisions bills that died this session that are unrelated can not be brought back up. For instance SB 723 the anti-trans marriage bill is unrelated to any of the topics for which the special session was called and is therefor non-germane, conversely HB 604 the proposal to finally strike Texas' unconstitutional "homosexual conduct" law is also out of bounds.

There are two amendments which were offered to HB 1 on the House floor which could potentially find new life during the special session. The first, by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), would have prevented public schools that receive state funds from discriminating on the basis of a long list of attributes that included sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The second, by Wayne Christian (R-Center) would have required Texas Universities that use state funds for campus LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values centers." Because both amendments deal state funds spent on public education both could be attached to legislation considered during the special session.

The rules are different during a special session, mostly in that the process moves much more quickly. Layout rules that require committees to give five days notice before public hearings, for instance, are gone; as is the Senate's practice of using the intent calendar to require 2/3 of Senators to agree to debate bills. Special sessions move quickly and the queer community will need to pay careful attention to be sure we're not run over.

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