Nothing dramatic happened on our front, at least compared to last week—and that’s a good thing. Instead, we’ve been engaged in our traditional end-of-session version of Whac-A-Mole, where bad things crop up without notice and we have to smack ’em back down before they pass into law. As far as we can tell, we’ve been staying on top of most of the trouble, but past experience teaches us that we are missing, and will continue to miss, things that happen without notice and will ultimately pass into law before we discover them. Such is life in the Legislature in late May! The ultimate result is that these final few legislative updates will be shorter than normal for the simple reason that we can’t keep up with it all!
The home stretch
Today is essentially the deadline for committees to hear bills from the other chamber. Both chambers will probably hold floor debates on Saturday—and the House might even meet Sunday afternoon—because all Senate bills must be approved by the full House on 2nd reading by midnight on Tuesday, and all House bills must be finally approved on 2nd and 3rd reading by midnight on Wednesday. After that, the only bills still alive will be either those on their way to the governor’s desk or those that passed both chambers in a different form, requiring one chamber to concur with the other’s changes or the formation of a conference committee to hash out the differences before Sunday, May 29, the absolute drop-dead day for bills to pass this legislative session.
Thanks to improving sales tax collections and skyrocketing oil and gas prices during the first half of this year, the Comptroller is getting to playing Santa Claus, promising additional funding for the state to spend in the next biennial budget. However, even the extra billion-and-then-some dollars she is delivering may not be enough to close the gap between the House and Senate budgets, especially in regard to education spending. Legislators do not want to come back to Austin for a special session, but they do want to come back to Austin for the next regular session in 2013, and that tension between policy and politics is causing nerves to fray. Combine that with the uncertainty of what our governor-who-isn’t-a-presidential-candidate-but-sure-is-acting-like-a-presidential-candidate might do when the budget hits his desk, and the result is a lot of tension around the Capitol. As of right now, the outlook for a final compromise looks more promising than it did two days ago, but that could change by the time you read this.
One bit of good news to take from the budget situation is that the conference committee has apparently adopted the House version of felony prosecutor apportionment funding. Under that plan, all offices will continue to be funded to some extent, whether they are in the Professional Prosecutor Act or not. Offices serving a jurisdiction with a population of greater than 50,000 will get the statutory minimum of $22,500, while offices serving jurisdictions of less than 50,000 will get $27,500. That may not sound great compared to what you’re getting now, but the Senate version was worse, so we’ll take our victories where we can find them. In addition, all salary, county attorney supplement, and assistant prosecutor longevity pay items are fully funded. Now the question is whether the Legislature can actually pass this budget before the end of the month.
No bill is truly dead as long as its language can be amended onto another bill, and the final two weeks of a session witness more rebirths of previously dead bills than a Shirley MacLaine biography. The result is that otherwise innocuous bills can suddenly become very interesting. Here are some examples:
HB 260 by Hilderbran/Dan Patrick: amended with language from SB 146 (unlawful transport of an undocumented person).
HB 1573 by Gallego/Carona: amended with post-conviction DNA expansion.
HB 3691 by Gallego/Carona: amended with language from HB 2019 (pretrial victim-offender mediation) and HB 2650 (limits on probation revocations for technical violations); may also become a vehicle for other “dead” cost-saving ideas relating to probation or parole.
If any of these bills interest you now, be sure to take action during the last 10 days of the session!
Sent to the governor
The following bills were sent to the governor this past week: HB 215 by Gallego/Ellis (lineup identification procedures), HB 716 by S. Miller/Fraser (the “pork chopper” bill), HB 1344 by Burkett/Deuell (defenses to display of harmful material to a minor), HB 1529 by S. Miller/Wentworth (identity theft), HB 1666 by Castro/Watson (online harassment), HB 2014 by Thompson/Van de Putte (yet another human trafficking bill), HB 2189 by Elkins/Deuell (legalizing “noodling”), HB 2482 by Pena/Williams (organized retail theft),
SB 82 by Nelson/Gallego (stalking), SB 331 by Shapiro/Madden (synthetic weed), and SB 688 by Nichols/Creighton (Medicaid fraud prosecutions).
Passed second chamber with changes
The following bills have passed both chambers, but the second chamber made changes that must either be accepted by the originating chamber or settled by means of a conference committee: HB 260 by Hilderbran/Dan Patrick (unlawful transport), HB 1573 by Gallego/Carona (clerk bill + post-conviction DNA), HB 2725 by Hartnett/Williams (incompetency procedures), HB 2973 by Hunter/Ellis (prohibiting SLAPP suits), HB 3342 by Naishtat/Rodriguez (mental health writ procedures), SB 116 by Uresti/Castro (third-party protective orders), and SB 166 by Shapiro/Madden (sex offender civil commitment).
Passed first chamber
Who cares? We’ll finally retire this category, as bills that have only passed one chamber by now have passed the same number of chambers as a dead bill.
Scheduled floor debates
Who knows? With the final committee hearings being held today, all the remaining action will be on the floors of the two chambers, but those schedules are unknown as of now. If you are watching a particular bill, note the deadlines mentioned earlier—SBs must be passed on 2nd reading in the House no later than Tuesday, and HBs must be passed on 2nd and 3rd readings in the Senate no later than Wednesday. After that, the amendment orgy ends, and the only proposals that survive are those that are still in a “live” bill.
TDCAA Summer Regionals
The schedule for TDCAA’s popular Legislative Update seminars has been set. To sign up, go to http://www.tdcaa.com/seminars/signup.asp and save 25 percent off the walk-up price by pre-registering. Space is limited at some locations, so don’t delay; sign up today!