From Late Night Senate Sessions to Pre-K Cuts

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Day 16 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

It may not have been last session’s 26 hours, but last night, the voter ID bill kept senators debating and hearing witness testimony until about 9:30 p.m. But don’t worry, the fun’s not over just yet. Members will reconvene tonight at 9:20 p.m. (yes, that’s p.m. not a.m.) to cast their votes on the controversial bill. After last night’s vote of 20 Republicans for and 12 Democrats against, anyone want to guess how tonight’s is going to turn out? Even after they settle on voter ID, which has 26 amendments, the Senate isn’t done for the week. Members are on tap to begin discussing their slightly heftier version of the budget by Thursday or Friday. House members, a bit quieter these last few days after passing their rules on Monday, are required to turn in their committee preference cards this week.

1. Surprise, surprise

Shocking no one, the state Senate has already taken the first step to passing voter ID legislation—the bill is now out of committee. To debate the bill that would require photo identification to vote, senators spent much of yesterday acting under committee rules rather than those normally used on the floor. Democrats, who oppose the bill and contend it will suppress voter turnout in low income and minority communities, argued with Republican state Sen. Troy Fraser, the bill’s sponsor, for almost five hours before they began hearing from witnesses. The arguments were predictable enough—the Republicans maintained the legislation was necessary to prevent voter fraud—and in the end, the bill passed on partisan lines. Now the Senate will begin debating the bill and adding amendments. But as the Observer notes, very few have mentioned the the real reason behind this fight. Members of both parties believe that legislation will likely help Republicans get elected, and for Democrats, that’s a scary proposition. Tonight’s floor debate is scheduled to begin at 9:20 p.m. [Texas Observer] [Austin American Statesman

 

2. Another side to the story

Turns out, not all voter ID bills are created equal. The bill that the state Senate passed out of committee last night (see Item 1) takes a significantly more stringent approach than similar bills of sessions past. Unlike years past, this bill doesn’t allow for non-photo alternatives to prove one’s identity. In fact, only four types of identification are permissible, and no expired licenses are allowed. Before it can get implemented, however, the bill will have to get clearance from the Department of Justice. Texas is one of several states that must get clearance, because it has a history of discrimination at the polls. The review could be complicated. As a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said, this law would be “the most restrictive voter identification law in the nation.”  [Texas Observer]

 

3. Learn from the ladies

We all know girls can handle doing a thousand things at once, and apparently so does Gov. Rick Perry. At the Lubbock Day Legislative Luncheon yesterday, Perry dismissed opponents’ concerns that his laundry list of “emergency” items is meant to distract from the gaping budget hole we’re facing and suggested that lawmakers should be able to handle several issues at once. “I guess they think y’all can’t multi-task … I guess we need to introduce ‘em to some of you ladies, who certainly know how to multitask,” said Perry. (We think this was a compliment.) Perry also told reporters the budget is “always the most important thing we do … Anyone who doesn’t understand that, with all due respect, just doesn’t understand the process.” [Houston Chronicle]

 

4. Kiddie cuts

It’s not a great time to be young in Texas’ public education system. With the state proposing cuts to education grants that fund things like pre-K and teacher incentives, public school officials are finding that their hands are tied. “It’s choosing between bad and worse and bad and bad,” Daniel King, the superintendent of the Rio Grande Valley’s Pharr-San Juan-Alamo district said. “It’s definitely not a good day when we are sitting around talking about whether class size going up could help salvage all-day pre-K, or vice-versa.” The House’s first version of the budget eliminates all grant funding, while the Senate’s, released this week, allocates $400 million to be used for all grant programs, and it’s up to the districts to decide where to cut. As Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune reports, “the grants currently allow districts to extend the state’s standard half-day pre-K to a full-day program at a cost of about $200 million per biennium,” and advocates worry that should pre-k programs be touched, children will miss out on learning essential skills like the alphabet and counting. [Texas Tribune]

 

5. Not Just A Pretty Face

In this weekend’s Austin American-Statesman, humor columnist John Kelso had one long joke about Texas First Lady Anita Perry. Let’s just say it didn’t get a laugh. The column, called “Someone needs to goose Anita Perry to get a smile out of her,” examined photographs of the governor’s wife and discerned that she must not be very happy. It wasn’t exactly scientific research, nor was it clear why Anita Perry’s facial expressions warranted much comment. The column breaks an unwritten rule that political spouses are off-limits—particularly those, like Perry, who stay out of the limelight. Among the Capitol crowd, it’s caused quite a stir, prompting Texas Monthly columnist Paul Burka to respond: “It was a bizarre attack on a politician’s spouse that felt mean and gratuitous.” [BurkaBlog] [Austin American-Statesman]