Update: April 29, 2011
As of today, there are 31 days remaining in the 82nd Regular Session—and so far, they really haven't accomplished anything yet. (Kind of like Prince William and Kate What's-Her-Name—but that didn't stop the world from stopping to gape at their wedding today, did it?) But don't be fooled by this lack of results; the Legislature is about to pass about 1,000 bills in a manner that gives a bad name to sausage-makers everywhere. The sheer volume of this "legislarrhea" makes it impossible for us to keep you updated on everything that is happening, especially when it comes to some bad stuff that might crop up. We'll do the best we can, but at this time, all we can do is ask you to please return to your seats because we are about to turn on the seatbelt sign in preparation for a bumpy landing!
The Big Picture
The Senate should have voted out its version of the state budget by now, but that hasn't happened thanks to sniping from the right and the left about what is or is not being spent in that proposed budget. Meanwhile, the House debated its own redistricting map and finally passed a version that will result in several of you having new state representatives next session. If you haven't already heard the details from your local news source of choice, go here and select Base Plan H283—that will show you all the messy details. The Senate has to approve the House plan before it goes to the Governor, but the two chambers usually don't mess in each other's business, so there shouldn't be many more changes to the House map (assuming the Governor doesn't veto it for some reason). Now the House will move forward to tackle Congressional redistricting and various agency sunset bills, while the Senate lags behind, having yet to debate its own new districts, let alone anyone else's. As the clock begins to tick faster and faster toward the end of session, these issues will take center stage, leaving little time or attention for your issues. We'll let you decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Is your retirement safe?
We think the answer to that question is still an unqualified "yes," but don't take anything for granted. This week, the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee took testimony on two very scary bills: HB 2261 by Zedler (R-Arlington) and HB 2506 by Chisum (R-Pampa). Representative Zedler's bill allows all retirement systems to ignore overtime or supplemental pay when calculating benefits, while Rep. Chisum's bill ends the defined benefits plan of state employees in the ERS and TRS plans (including elected felony prosecutors) and replaces it with a "defined contributions" (read: 401(k)) plan. As laid out in committee, HB 2506 would apply to all members of ERS (including elected felony prosecutors) who are elected after September 1, 2011, or who have not yet vested by then.
Our latest information is that HB 2261 by Zedler will be watered down to a study (if it moves at all). As for HB 2506 ... well, we can tell you that Rep. Chisum scooted from the room after he laid it out to avoid the beating the bill took from enraged state employees. Although many government pension plans have gone south in the last few years, expert witnesses reported that ERS, TRS, and TDCRS were all in very good shape by comparison. Making any changes to the existing systems would require a huge amount of legal work, IRS pre-clearances, and an infusion of state cash to fund existing obligations that would lose the benefit of support from future contributions if employees started keeping their retirement money in 401(k) plans. In light of that, it is likely that HB 2506 won't move this session, but put this issue on your back-burner because it will come up again.
Passed second chamber
SB 653 by Whitmire/Madden (combining TYC & TJPC into a new agency) passed the House and now returns to the Senate for approval of those changes.
Passed first chamber
In addition to the bills that have been posted for committee hearings next week (see below for that list), the following bills are on the march to or through the second half of their legislative journey: HB 38 by Menendez (changing graffiti punishments), HB 243 by Craddick (no texting while driving), HB 927 by Harper-Brown (enhancement for repeated indecent exposures), HB 1072 by Solomons (exempting OAG attorneys from State Bar dues), HB 1106 by Johnson (providing information to defendants placed on deferred adjudication), HB 1529 by S. Miller (ID theft), HB 1666 by Castro (online harassment), HB 2118 by Coleman (bath salts), HB 2337 by Gallego (juvenile statements), HB 2482 by Pena (organized retail theft expansion), HB 2734 by Madden (parole of illegal criminal aliens), HB 3003 by Hughes (ID cards for county security), SB 9 by Williams (omnibus homeland security bill, including changes to organized criminal activity laws), SB 121 by Ellis (eyewitness identification procedures), SB 279 by Davis (including pets in protective orders), SB 331 by Shapiro (fake weed), SB 377 by Huffman (capital murder of a child under 10 yoa), SB 838 by Dan Patrick (Class A DWI if BAC > 0.15), SB 877 by Hinojosa (procedures for discharge of surety's liability), SB 878 by Whitmire (prohibition on partial cash bonds), SB 958 by Wentworth (dangerous wild animal exemption), SB 1010 by Huffman (notice of plea bargain to certain victims), SB 1066 by Estes (bath salts), SB 1331 by Watson (defenses for minors who report alcohol abuse), SB 1522 by Hinojosa (pleas by inmates), SB 1608 by Carona (enhanced penalty for No DL + No insurance + injury), and SB 1717 by Duncan (county court reorganization and other changes). If you are concerned about any of these bills, you are running out of time to stop them!
Bills awaiting consideration by House Calendars Committee
Speaking of stopping or moving certain bills, the following legislation is in the lawmaking equivalent of Purgatory, having passed from committee but not yet received approval for debate on the House floor: HB 12 by Solomons (sanctuary cities), HB 48 by Pena (southbound DPS checkpoints), HB 96 by Fletcher (excusing State's witness from The Rule), HB 189 by T. Smith (deferred adjudication for DWI-1st), HB 274 by Creighton ("loser pays" rule for civil lawsuits), HB 351 by Veasey (expunctions), HB 892 by C. Howard (unlawful transport of illegal alien), HB 940 by Dukes (expanding offense of improper relationship between educator and student), HB 1043 by Christian (cockfighting), HB 1121 by Weber (human trafficking), HB 1406 by Riddle (permitting EMTs to draw blood in certain DWI investigations), HB 1457 by Fletcher (expanding wiretaps, etc.), HB 1477 by Allen (street time credit), HB 1507 by Christian (authorizing search warrants by certain non-lawyer JPs), HB 1696 by Zedler (election fraud cases by AG), HB 1919 by Price (defense to cruelty to non-livestock animals), HB 2019 by McClendon (victim-offender mediation), HB 2374 by Gallego (taking juveniles into custody), HB 2822 by Coleman (voyeurism in public restroom = SJF), and HB 3386 by Madden (shock revocation, other changes). If you want to have input on what happens to these bills, you can start by contacting the members of the Calendars Committee, who do their work largely behind closed doors, ASAP.
We are retiring this category because, quite simply, events are moving too fast for us to keep up with them. Sorry!
Scheduled floor debates
The House floor schedule for Monday and Tuesday is pretty light on bills of interest to you, and we don't know what they will tee up later in the week. The Senate list of bills eligible for debate next week should include HB 1 (the state budget bill), but that list can and will be supplemented with dozens (hundreds?) of bills not yet posted. Note also that the House will probably hold Saturday floor debates starting next week, while the Senate will try to maintain its "bankers' hours" for as long as possible.
If you are following a bill that has still not been heard in a committee of its originating chamber, you can probably stick a fork in it. However, remember that the language from dead bills can always reappear as an amendment somewhere else! With that in mind, here are some of the bills that will be considered next week:
Monday, May 2
House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence (2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment, E2.010)
SB 283 by Harris relating to the appointment of associate judges in CPS cases
SB 789 by Harris relating to the duration of a protective order
SB 819 by Harris relating to family violence and protective orders
SB 1026 by Harris relating to the powers and duties of an attorney ad litem in SAPCR
SB 1271 by Duncan authorizing alternative dispute resolution in criminal cases
HB 2641 by Burnam relating to a civil action for deprivation of rights
Tuesday, May 3
House Criminal Jurisprudence (10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment, JHR 120)
SB 198 by West exempting certain sex offenders from registering as a sex offender
SB 295 by Watson enhancing the penalty for assault against ER hospital personnel
SB 316 by Whitmire relating to criminal asset forfeiture accountability
SB 407 by Watson creating the offense of sexting
SB 623 by Whitmire disqualifying a DA or CA who is the subject of an investigation
SB 688 by Nichols relating to criminal Medicaid fraud and related offenses
SB 887 by Carona enhancing the penalty for theft of an automated teller machine
SB 1308 by Seliger relating to attorneys representing indigent defendants in capital cases
SB 1680 by Ellis relating to certain evidence in a prosecution of Medicaid/Medicare fraud
SB 1752 by Uresti relating to confidentiality of Class C misdemeanor juvenile records
SJR 9 by West proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication
Senate Criminal Justice (1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, E1.016)
SB 578 by Fraser facilitating the testimony of children in criminal cases
SB 1358 by Lucio relating to electronically transmitting a warrant for emergency detention
SB 1503 by Huffman relating to procedures regarding certain MHMR criminal defendants
SB 1526 by Hinojosa mandating reciprocal discovery in a criminal case
SB 1713 by Whitmire authorizing the use of CVC funds for a forensic exam in a FV case
SB 1787 by Dan Patrick amending the DIC-24 language used in DWI cases
HB 27 by Guillen relating to fines/costs by indigent defendants in misdemeanor cases
HB 200 by Parker relating to the notification of the release of certain sex offenders
HB 350 by Walle discharging juvenile fines/costs through community service or tutoring
HB 1344 by Burkett relating to a defense to the display of harmful material to a minor
HB 1573 by Gallego relating to certain pre-trial and post-trial procedures (clerk bill)
HB 1754 by Gallego reorganizing the Task Force on Indigent Defense
HB 1779 by Naishtat exempting mitigation experts from private security regulations
HB 2014 by Thompson relating to the trafficking of persons
HB 2725 by Hartnett relating to the restoration of competency in criminal cases
HB 3000 by Thompson creating the offense of continuous trafficking of persons
Senate Jurisprudence (1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, 2E.20)
HB 734 by Diane Patrick relating to truancy courts in certain populous counties
SB 1643 by Uresti relating to mandatory dismissal deadlines and extended jurisdiction in SAPCRs to which the Department of Family and Protective Services is a party