Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 134: Last Day For Senate Bills in the House

Today is the 135th day of the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes and the Senate returns from recess at 9:00 am.

It was a red-letter day for Equality Texas yesterday. Two of the bills on their legislative agenda, HB 1942 by Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) and HB 1386 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) were passed by the Senate. Both bills are designed to give schools tools to combat bullying and teen suicide. The House must now concur with changes the Senate made to the bills. HB 1942, which passed first, is on the "items eligible" calendar in the House, a list of bills passed by the Senate on which the House must take action. House rules require that members have 24 hours to review Senate amendments before the vote to concur takes place. Since the amendments to HB 1942 were distributed to House members late last night it is not eligible for consideration until 9:20 this evening. The amendments for HB 1386 have yet to be distributed, that will likely happen today.

Today is the last day the House can consider Senate Bills on second reading. The state constitution requires that bills be "read" on three separate days in both the House and Senate. (they don't actually read the whole bill, just the bill number and a short description called the "caption.") After first reading in the House the bill is referred to one of the House committees. If the committee likes the bill and recommends it to the House the bill is then read a second time, after which the entire House may debate it and vote on it. If the bill passes it is then read for the third time, debated and voted on again. (There's an exception to today's deadline - bills on the "local and consent calendar," a list of noncontroversial bills that received unanimous support in committee, don't have to be considered on second reading until tomorrow).

Unfortunately SB 205 by John Whitmire (D-Houston) is not on the schedule for today, nor is SB 66 by Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). SB 205 would have expanded and clarified the requirements of school districts student codes of conduct in relation to anti-bullying policies. SB 66 would have closed a loophole that prevents school districts from expelling students who transferred to the district in the same academic year, even for egregious behavior problems. Portions of SB 205 were included in HB 1942, but it's a shame to see these two bills die so close to the finish line.

Wayne Christian (R-Center), who previously amended HB 1 (the budget) to include a provision requiring Texas universities that have LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values centers," is rumored to be looking for a Senate bill he can similarly amend. Christian's amendment to the budget was removed by the Senate. He prefiled an identical amendment, and one that would prohibit LGBT resource centers from being housed in state buildings, to SB 1811, one of a series of "fiscal matters" bills that compliment the budget. SB 1811 was debated by the House last Friday, when the debate went past midnight Simpson and several other members withdrew amendments dealing with education on the assumption that they could be added to SB 1581, another fiscal matters bill that deals specifically with education funding. Yesterday SB 1581 came up on second reading in the House but was killed by a "point of order" (an objection that the bill was not considered win accordance with the rules of the House).

If Christian is looking for another vehicle for his amendments SB 8, which is on today's schedule, may be his last chance. It's one of the last "fiscal matters" bills still waiting for House approval, but it deals with Health Care - a very different subject than education. If Christian offers his amendments to SB 8 they should be very susceptible to a point of order based on House Rule 11 Sec. 2 which requires amendments to be on the same subject as the original bill.

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