Hot List: Day 140 of the Legislature

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Detail of Texas Capitol dome.

The Lead:

Well, kids, we’ve reached sine die—the 140th, and last, day of the 83rd Legislature’s regular session. (The circus is apparently staying in town for an immediate special session on redistricting, but more on that in a minute.)

First, as usual, the 139th day saw frenetic lawmaking. The House and Senate passed all the major bills on their calendars yesterday—and even wrapped up at a decent hour—including the budget and all its related bills, HB 500 which enacts hundreds of millions in tax cuts for business, a pretty decent ethics reform, and two Medicaid reform bills.

There will be many headlines from this session: undoing some cuts from 2011, tapping the rainy day fund for water projects, passing $1.4 billion in tax cuts without fulling restoring the 2011 reductions to public schools.

What we’ll remember about this session in the year’s to come will be Medicaid expansion—or lack thereof.

It had been clear for weeks (and perhaps months) that Medicaid expansion was dead at the Capitol. But yesterday lawmakers drove the point home, passing a bill that bans Medicaid expansion in Texas.

The Lege on Sunday sent the governor SB 7, a Medicaid reform bill. The measure includes an amendment tacked on by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) that forbids the state from expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. That eliminates even the smallest chance that the Health and Human Services Commission would negotiate a “Texas solution” on Medicaid. It gave Republicans a chance to vote against a key provision of the national health reform law they hate so much.

But it means Texas will turn away an estimated $100 billion—yes, $100 billion—in federal funds over nine years that will now go to other states. Refusing Medicaid will deny health coverage to roughly 1.5 million Texans.

Gov. Rick Perry may well have sacrificed the chance expand health coverage to millions—and reap the economic boon of $100 billion flowing into the state—for presidential ambitions that few pundits think are realistic. That decision—and the Legislature’s choice to go along with it—will be remembered and debated for years to come.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Hey, they passed a budget. Good on them. Details from the Observer here.

2. The Lege also enacted two major education reform bills that will expand charter schools and reduce the number of high-stakes tests. The record vote in the House on the testing bill was unanimous—a rare sight indeed. The Observer‘s Patrick Michels has more.

3. HB 500, which exempts hundreds of millions from the franchise tax, avoided a filibuster threat from Sen. Rodney Ellis and is headed to the governor. The Statesman has more.

4. The Tribune has a roundup of the transparency bills the Lege passed and finds the session lacking. They did pass the sunset bill for the Texas Ethics Commission yesterday that includes a few good reforms such as forbiding retiring lawmakers from spending their campaign accounts for two years after they leave the Lege.

5. Don’t go on vacation yet. The Houston Chronicle notes that a special session on redistricting could be imminent.

Line of the Day:

“The majority still refuses to take responsibility for their actions in 2011. Instead, even with lawsuits looming that have determined the State of Texas is not meeting its constitutional obligation, they’re allowing billions of our tax dollars to sit unused rather than investing it in the future of our children and this state.” —Rep. Abel Herrero on budget, which doesn’t fully restore cuts to public schools and would leave more than $8 billion in the rainy day fund.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. Those correcting amendments. There’s not supposed to be any substantive lawmaking today—just correcting minor mistakes—but every now and then an industrious lobbyist tries to sneak something through.

2. The parties.

3. The end of the Hot List. We don’t produce the Hot List during special sessions, so this is our last one until 2015. Happy Sine Die!

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.

  • Buddy Luce

    Medicaid position will prove foolish and wrong.