Sine Die is less than a month away but there are still many things to be accomplished.
As law mandates, Texas must pass a budget before they can adjourn. The budget is currently tied up in the Senate awaiting the necessary votes to bring it up for debate. In order to bring the bill up for debate on the Senate floor a two-thirds majority must be in support of it.
Similarly, redistricting must be finished before final adjournment as well. The House passed redistricting bill House Bill 150 on Thursday, April 28, 2011 on a vote of 92 to 54 with 3 present not voting. Now that the House passed the bill, it must be considered by the Senate. If the House and Senate cannot concur on a redistricting bill by the end of the regular session on May 30th, the bill will go to the Legislative Redistricting Board composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, attorney general, comptroller, and land commissioner. However, the bill will likely end up challenged in federal court.
Also on the docket are Gov. Perry’s emergency legislative priorities, none of which have seen full passage as of yet. While not required for passage by Sine Die these measures are part of Perry’s agenda and will likely see passage before the session’s end.
Recall the State of the State address back in February. Perry addressed six main concerns to be addressed as emergency legislation, this means that they are fast tracked through the process and eligible for debate in the first sixty days of session. During the initial 60 days of the session legislation does not come up for floor debate unless it is an emergency item.
Emergency Items Update
Voter ID - conference committee
Eminent Domain Protection: conference committee
Sonogram Bill: conference committee
Sanctuary Cities: On calendars
Federal Balanced Budget Amendment: between chambers
What does this mean?
1. conference committee: If a conference committee is requested, the presiding officers each appoint five members from their respective chambers to serve on the committee. The senate rules require that at least two of the senate conferees be members of the senate committee from which the bill was reported. A conference committee’s charge is limited to reconciling differences between the two chambers, and the committee, unless so directed, may not alter, amend, or omit text that is not in disagreement. A conference committee report is not subject to amendment but must be accepted or rejected in its entirety. Failure of the conference committee to reach agreement kills the measure. If the conference committee report is acceptable to both chambers, the bill is enrolled, signed by both presiding officers in the presence of their respective chambers, and sent to the governor.
2. The Senate passed House Bill 15 on Monday, May 2, 2011 with a vote of 21 to 10 mostly along party lines. This legislation requires that a woman seeking an abortion to hear a detailed description of their fetus as well as be presented images and hear heartbeats. While women may opt out of hearing the heartbeat or viewing the images, it is still required to hear a detailed description of the fetus’ development and wait twenty-four hours between getting a sonogram and having an abortion. Exempted from this ruling is women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion facility who are to wait two hours between getting a sonogram and having an abortion. Also exempted are those abortions which occur in cases of medical emergencies, fetal abnormalities, rape, incest, or minors with a judge’s approval. After a procedural vote in the House the legislation if approved will go to the desk of Gov. Rick Perry for final approval however, if the changes are not acceptable to the House the legislation will go to a conference committee to craft a compromise.
3. House Bill 12, by Burt Solomans (R-Carrollton) will hit the House floor for debate on Friday, May 6, 2011. The “sanctuary cities” bill would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting a policy that prevents law enforcement from inquiring about the immigration status of an individual. This bill is one of five emergency items laid out by Gov. Rick Perry in his State of the State address in February of this year.
4. Senate Bill 18, the eminent domain bill by Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), is currently in a conference committee. This bill would prohibit eminent domain unless it’s determined the land in question will be used for public use. It is likely that the conferees will finish the bill on Monday from which point it must pass vote in identical form in both chambers before being sent to Gov. Rick Perry for final passage.
In other legislative news
The House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety passed three pieces of legislation relating to concealed carry of handguns on campuses or institution so higher learning on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. House Bill 1356 relates to the carrying of concealed handguns on certain premises of or locations associated with schools or institutions of higher education by a faculty member, staff member, or employee of the institution. House Bill 1167 relates to the carrying of concealed handguns on certain premises of or locations associated with schools or public junior colleges and public technical institutes. House Bill 2178 relates to the carrying of concealed handguns on the campuses of institutions of higher learning. These three bills passed out of committee along party lines with a vote of six to three across the board and are now eligible for debate on the House floor. Previous concealed carry on campus legislation similar bills HB750 and SB 354 are awaiting floor debate while HB 86 remains pending in committee. HB750 and SB354 allow a provision for private and independent institutions to “opt out” should the individual institutions choose to prohibit concealed handguns on campus. Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) tried to attach the measure allowing concealed handguns on college campuses to another higher education bill on Wednesday, April 27,2011. The bill in question, Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), aims to give colleges and universities more flexibility to deal with state funding cuts was immediately postponed. Sen. Wentworth must have a two-thirds majority in order to bring Senate Bill 354, the campus carry bill, up for debate and thus far has not succeeded.
So, as you can see the session is not going to have a tidy ending. It will be messy, long nights, early mornings, and a lot of work. With more than 8,000 bills filed this session and only 57 of them have been signed by the governor (mostly congratulatory, memorial, and in recognition) there is much to be done in the Texas capitol before May 30, 2011 comes around.
If you ask a lobbyist they’ll say we are in for special sessions, if you as a legislator they’ll never give you the same answer. The reason for this is because no one is sure whether or not a special session/s will be held and how many will be held. Some will concede in hushed tones that it is expected while others are convinced that come Sine Die everyone will be opening bottles of wine and settling down in their hometowns as they head back to “normal” living.
In other non-legislative news:
With the school year ending before session I have to finish my assignments and send them in while also being a kick ass intern. As I noted in my intern update I have four essays total to complete. I have completed my three book report essays about the legislative process. If I do not get an A+ I will be severely disappointed. We had to read the book State Legislatures Today: Politics Under the Domes and complete three essay questions related to our readings.
My essay topics are listed below. Each essay had to be between 3-5 pages in length.
1. Discuss the effect of professionalization on state legislatures. How much variation in level of professionalization do we see from state to state? What is the effect of professionalization on the legislative and representative functions of state legislators?
2. Discuss the typical process of passing legislation in the state legislatures. How does the time of the legislative session affect this process? How can variation in the power granted to leadership positions affect this process?
3. Discuss the notion of representation, and how it affects the decisions that legislators make. What are the different styles of representation that legislators can choose? What incentives do legislators have to take their representation function seriously? How might the representation function influence legislative decision-making?
Also, I still have to write my 12-15 page internship analysis paper. This paper is basically a profile of my internship experience and crafted as I see fit. I was tempted to be really creative and make a multi-media project but I don’t have enough time to accomplish that in the way I would like. Instead, I have written out a list of topics on which I will discuss my experience as an intern. Trying to decide how to cram five busy awesome months into a 12-15 page paper isn’t going to be simple and I will have to leave a lot out but I am confident in my abilities.
I have less than one month left in Austin and I am going to try to get as much out of it as possible.