Day 15 of the 82nd Texas Legislature.
It looks like we’re going to skip the appetizer and get right to the meat this year—the red meat. A voter identification bill is up for debate in the Senate and if it’s anything like last session’s debate—a 26-hour endurance match—lawmakers at the Capitol are in for a long day and night. Unlike the Senate, the House decided not to rush the voter ID bill to the floor, but the legacy of last session’s voter ID controversy did surface during the House rules debate yesterday. The House effectively did away with “chubbing,” which ensures that Democrats (or any other House members) can’t stall legislation to death, as Democrats did with voter ID last session. With the Senate introducing its slightly manicured version of the budget yesterday afternoon, some are wondering why the heck aren’t we talking about the $27 billion budget gap. That’s a good question. The Senate Finance Committee could begin work on the budget by the end of the week. Until then, issues like voter ID take precedence over the state’s dire financial problems. And so it begins, pack a lunch and bring a sleeping bag. Today is going to be a long one.
1. The Longest Day
Republicans are wasting no time with voter ID. The Senate is scheduled to take up the contentious issue beginning 8 a.m. today despite protests by Senate Democrats. A similar voter ID bill passed the Senate last session, but died in the House. This year the GOP is back with a vengeance. The bill is more stringent than last session’s, and the Senate passed a Resolution that requires only a simple majority to pass voter ID legislation. You can pretty much guess where the line is going to fall today, but you can still expect Democrats to put up a fight. It is going to be a slow and grueling death—2009’s voter ID debate was 26 hours. This year, the Senate voted to keep all testimonials to a three-minute maximum, but they’re also cramming all expert and public testimonies into one rather than two days. [Austin American Statesman] [The Texas Observer]
2. No chubs allowed
The House Rules debate yesterday remained mostly non-partisan. Unlike the Senate, the House voted, during its debate on how it would debate and process bills, against skipping the committee process to rush voter ID bills to the floor. But the GOP majority made sure that there would be no problems when voter ID did come to the House this year by stripping Democrats of one of the few political weapons they had left—the mighty chub. Chubbing, as it is appropriately known, is an intricate stalling technique similar to filibustering that the Democrats used to block the voter ID bill in 2009. Without chubbing, Democrats will be all but helpless against the Republican super majority when the House takes up the voter ID issue, that is unless they can come up with some other crafty loophole to block the bill. [The Texas Observer] [The Dallas Morning News]
3. The Other Sister
The Senate unveiled its first shot at the budget yesterday, and while it’s still ugly, it does look incrementally less so. The $158.7 billion budget is $2.3 billion bigger than its doppelganger in the House and, like its twin, it assumes no new taxes and doesn’t touch the Rainy Day Fund. Perhaps the greatest difference between the Senate and House versions is in education funding. The Senate version provides $500 million more for direct state aid to public schools, $400 million more for other public education programs, and $500 million more for higher education. Despite the slight improvement, education funding will still be cut drastically under the Senate budget, but not to worry, our kids may get dumber, but our borders will be safer. Border security is one of the few areas that would actually see a slight increase in funding under the initial Senate budget. Like the House plan, this is only the first step in the budget process, and the final bill may look very different. [Houston Chronicle] [Austin American Statesman]
4. Fix It!
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst considers the biennial budget to be a very big deal. So big, he broke from the usual tradition of naming all Senate committees at the same time and appointed just the Senate Finance Committee yesterday afternoon so it could get to work immediately. The rest of the Senate committees will be assigned on Thursday or Friday. All of the members appointed to the Finance Committee were on the list two years ago, with the exception of Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, will serve as chairman again, with Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as vice chair. [The Texas Observer]
5. Easy Rider
It looked like a scene from Mad Max yesterday as Texas biker clubs descended on the Capitol. Over 1,000 bikers met on the South Lawn of the Capitol yesterday afternoon to protest legislation such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), the Road Block bill, and the Equal Access bill. So pretty much legislation across the spectrum. “We want our votes to be heard, our names to be recognized, our clubs to be recognized as people who do hold jobs,” one biker told a Texas Insider reporter. Who says, politics and leather chaps don’t mix? [Texas Insider]