Day 18 of the 82nd Texas Legislature
Forget the usual slow-moving first few weeks of the legislative session. After marathon debates, late-night sessions and predictably passing voter ID this week, the Texas Senate is getting down to budget business starting Monday. The Senate Finance Committee has hearings scheduled through early March, and they’ll start by taking up Article 2 – Health and Human Services. Word on the street is that the next emergency item to be addressed in the Senate is the controversial sonogram item, which would require providers to perform a sonogram for women seeking an abortion. While voter ID may be checked off the Senate’s to-do list, the House is preparing to take on the issue. House Democrats were able to squash the bill last session using the filibuster-like strategy of chubbing, which members voted to eliminate this week. Still, the Dems have said they’ll fight the legislation any way that they have to this time around as well.
1. Peña’s pals
State Rep. Aaron Peña has decided to start a club with his new friends in the Texas House (Peña switched from Democrat to Republican after last November’s election). The representative from Edinburg in South Texas announced yesterday he’s starting the Hispanic Republican Conference, which he told the BurkaBlog’s Patti Hart will “ ‘inject a dose of realism’” into this session’s most hot-button issues. While the group obviously includes the six Hispanic Republican House members, Peña will also open it to representatives whose districts include at least 30 percent Hispanic constituents. Peña also told Hart he felt he and his conservative Democratic views were “ignored” in the Democratic Party, and “he hopes that his views will have a bigger impact and ‘a moderating influence’ on Republicans.” [BurkaBlog]
2. Race to Washington
Michael Williams has officially added his name to a growing list of contenders hoping to take over Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat. Williams resigned from his position as Texas Railroad Commissioner two weeks ago when the Senate position became available and officially announced his intention run at a Texas Tribune event yesterday morning. While the political community as been abuzz with talk of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Williams insisted that Dewhurst was not the most suitable candidate for the job. Well, for what it’s worth, the Texas Observer’s Dave Mann writes that among the gaggle of potential Senate candidates, Williams is “one of the most charismatic entrants.” [Texas Observer] [Texas Tribune]
3. Ready for Round 2?
While Senate Republicans are still toasting Wednesday night’s passing of the voter ID bill, House Democrats—who successfully stalled the legislation last session—are gearing up for their fight. According to the Houston Chronicle, the House plans to address voter ID once the committee assignments have been made. In 2009, House Democrats used a tactic called “chubbing” (yes, chubbing) to stall the then less-restrictive voter ID bill, but last week the Republican super-majority voted to limit the ability to chub this session. Even without it, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, told the Houston Chronicle that the Dems won’t go down without a fight. “Bad public policy should be fought vigorously,” he said. “Vigorously means so that everyone can understand why it’s bad public policy and what impact that bad public policy will have on Texans.” Though it’s unclear exactly what the House version of the bill will look like, state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, says he’d be open to allowing more photo ID options for voters like state university ID cards. The Senate, whose bill limits the options to driver’s licenses, citizenship certificates, military or state ID cards, passports and concealed handgun licenses, struck down the state university ID amendment during its debate this week. [Houston Chronicle]
4. Nursing Home Life Support
Texas nursing homes are some of the most wounded victims of both the House and Senate’s proposed budgets. Under the current proposals, spending for nursing homes would shrink from $4.2 million to $2.8 million in the next biennium. Tim Graves, president of the Texas Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said the budget cuts would most gravely affect the 551 nursing homes with at least 70 percent of their patients on Medicaid. The budget reductions could force homes to close their doors for good. “We are not crying wolf. Pieces of the sky are falling,” he told the Dallas Morning News. With health and human services being the most vulnerable to budget cuts this session, state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has chosen to address these agencies and departments first in committee meetings scheduled to begin Monday. “Over the next few months, we’re going to try to improve it so at the end of the day, these cuts are not fatal,” he told the Morning News. [Dallas Morning News]
5. Unlikely Duo
It’s like the political version of Romeo and Juliet. Well sort of. Coming from different parties, a liberal Democrat and conservative Republican find common ground. State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Tom Craddick, R-Midland, (yes, the same Craddick that served as speaker of the House) are joining forces with identical bills that would stop payday lenders from charging excessive fees, which some say lenders use as a loophole to the 10 percent interest cap mandated under current law. As the Observer recently reported, payday lenders run virtually unregulated in Texas. Craddick and Rodriguez both saw their constituents suffering from high interest rates and loan malpractices and, despite political differences, agreed that something needed to be done. [Austin American-Statesman] [Texas Observer]