Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 135: We've Only Got Five Days to Save the Session

Today is the 136 day day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The Senate returns from recess at 9 am, the House at 10 am.

Both the House and Senate had very late nights last night. The House was racing to meet it's midnight deadline to hear Senate Bills on second reading, other than those on the local and consent calendar. The state constitution requires that bills be "read" on three different days in both chambers (they don't actually read the entire bill, just the bill number and a short description). After the first reading bills are sent to one of the House committees for consideration, then, if the committee recommends the bill, they are read a second time on the House floor after which they are debated and a vote is held. House rules create several deadlines for different kinds of bills to reach each step of the process. When midnight rolled around last night cheers rang out from the exhausted members.

The Senate stayed up late trying to find solutions to problems created by the House. On Monday SB 1581, the secondary and higher education fiscal matters bill, was killed by a point of order on the House floor. The bill contains additional instructions on how schools and universities in Texas are funded. If the Senate can not find a way to attach the substantive provisions of SB 1581 to other legislation the legislature will likely be forced to to come back for a "special session" later this summer to address the issue.

The state constitution gives the Governor the power to call back the legislature for a special session if there are pressing state matters which must be attended. The provision is designed to allow the legislature to address emergency situations like natural disasters or massive economic collapse, but in the modern era it has most often been used when the 140 day session clock ran out and important business had not been completed (or to conduct highly partisan redistricting). Every special session is limited to specific issues, in this case it would be school funding, and no matter outside of the stated issue may be considered.

State ethics laws prohibits campaigning or fundraising for campaigns while the legislature is in session. The Republicans face several very tough reelection campaigns, particularly for their 32 freshman members. This summer will be a key period for campaign fundraising as candidates attempt to amass war chests large enough to scare off primary opponents and serious Democratic challengers. Senate and House Republicans will be working very hard of the next 5 days to ensure that a special session is avoided.

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