AUSTIN — Lawmakers spent the last few days of the 140-day 81st regular session of the Texas Legislature maneuvering to get their bills passed before midnight, June 1.
House Democrats ate up enough of the clock with stall tactics to prevent final passage of the Republican-supported “voter ID” bill that originated in the state Senate.
Hundreds of other bills died because of the slowdown, but end-of-session tactical slowdowns are nothing new.
Also, to revive a floundering bill, some members employed the tactic of attaching the bill’s language in the form of an amendment to another piece of “germane” legislation. Amendments must be germane to whatever legislation they are attached. That is, they must relate to the general subject of the original proposition of a bill.
Senators and House members did accomplish their most important task. They put the finishing touches on and adopted Senate Bill 1, the state budget for 2010-2011.
The budget, an estimated $182 billion, gives the Texas Department of Transportation $17 billion with $6 billion of that going for new road construction.
Health and human services increases 10 percent and includes funding to improve state schools and centers operated by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.
“We’ve made a historical commitment to assisting our citizens with intellectual disabilities,” said Sen. Steve Ogden, chair of the budget-drafting Senate Finance Committee.
“It is significant that we are going, in this budget, to provide the funding necessary to reform our state schools and create many new alternatives, thousands of alternatives, for these most deserving citizens to receive the help and the treatment they need outside of an institutional setting,” Ogden said.
The budget gives higher education a 7 percent increase in spending, $450 million in new funds for cancer research and a 7 percent pay raise for correctional officers over the next two years.
Gov. Rick Perry has the final say. He can sign SB 1 into law as-is, send it back for reconsideration in the final day of the session, or call a special session for a heavy makeover.
Act aids wrongfully imprisoned
Gov. Perry on May 27 signed into law HB 1736, the Tim Cole Act, legislation increasing lump sum compensation paid to victims of wrongful imprisonment from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment.
The bill also requires the state to make monthly payments to the exonerated individual for life, and pay up to 120 hours of tuition and fees at career centers or state institutions of higher education. Exonerees also qualify for state-provided services to ease re-entry and reintegration into society.
The bill was authored by Rep. Raphael Anchia, D-Dallas, and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.
Forty Texas prisoners have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing based on DNA evidence. Dozens of others have been exonerated based on non-DNA evidence.
The bill is named in memory of Timothy Cole, who was serving a 25-year sentence after being wrongfully convicted for the rape of a Texas Tech student in 1985. Cole died in prison in 1999.
D-senators block SBOE nominee
Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist and self-described “creationist,” lost his bid to be reappointed as chair of the State Board of Education.
A motion to reappoint him failed to get a needed two-thirds vote in the Texas Senate on May 28. The vote was party line, with 19 Republicans for McLeroy of 11 Democrats against.
Nominated by Gov. Rick Perry, McLeroy served as SBOE chair for two years, beginning in 2007. During his tenure, the board engaged in high-profile discussions over how the subject of evolution should be presented to Texas school children.
Speaker files for second term
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on May 27 filed papers with the Texas Ethics Commission signifying his intention to run for a second term as speaker.
His current term as speaker expires when the 82nd Legislature convenes in 2011.
Rep recovering from heart attack
State Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, continues to improve after suffering a May 12 heart attack while at work in the state Capitol. Kuempel, 66, underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker. He has served as a House member since 1983.