The Brief: Top Texas News for May 4, 2011

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, listens to comments during floor debate on the state budget on May 3, 2011.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, listens to comments during floor debate on the state budget on May 3, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

Amid a flurry of activity in the Legislature on Tuesday, the Senate quietly eyed a procedural oddity it may use today to pass the state budget.

After failing again on Tuesday to corral the 21 votes needed under the Senate's two-thirds rule, Sen. Steve Ogden, the Bryan Republican who chairs the chamber's Finance Committee, indicated that he may break Senate tradition by pursuing a loophole of sorts in the upper chamber's rules.

As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey explains, Senate rules specify that on Wednesdays and Thursdays, only a simple majority — or, currently, 15 votes — is required to bring bills to the floor that have already passed through the House. ("Oddity" may be an understatement here.)

It's not the way things are normally done. And Ogden and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate, both said they'd prefer to do it the traditional two-thirds way, which would give the chamber more negotiating power as it tries to reconcile the bill with the starker House version, at which senators have balked.

 

But with just over three weeks left in the session, they may not have time to wait for two-thirds to climb on board. "We were not sent down here to preserve the two-thirds rule. We were sent here to govern. The people of the state of Texas don't give diddly about the two-thirds rule," Ogden said, according to the San Antonio Express-News. "They expect us to produce a budget that will meet their needs for the next two years, and if we don't, they're going to fire us."

On Tuesday, Ogden also pulled from the bill a proposal that would have drawn $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. That move cost Ogden Democratic support but could ease negotiations with the House, which, like Gov. Rick Perry, has resisted tapping the fund for the 2012-13 budget.

Meanwhile, the House saw one of its busiest days yet, passing (tentatively or otherwise) legislation that would create an anti-abortion license plate, protect medical information, allow employees to stow guns in their cars while at work and combat bullying in schools, among other bills. A Senate subcommittee also voted to prohibit Planned Parenthood from participating in the state's Women's Health Program, and senators compromised on a bill targeting management of the Alamo.

Culled:

  • Still searching for the 21 Senate votes he needs to pass a bill that would allow Texans to carry guns onto college campuses, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, tried again Tuesday to attach the measure as an amendment to Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini's higher education bill — which she withdrew in response.
  • The state of Texas executed convicted murderer Cary Kerr on Tuesday night in its first use of a new three-drug lethal injection cocktail. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a reprieve to Kerr, whose lawyers argued that he'd received inadequate representation during his original trial.
  • A group of Texas A&M University alumni took a shot at Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, accusing him of advocating for "naive" higher education reform pushed by "inexperienced individuals." In another escalating fight over higher ed, the chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee on Tuesday called out the chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents for floating a proposal to cut tuition at UT by 50 percent while increasing enrollment by 10 percent annually for four years.

"Whether I'm standing on my head or I'm standing up straight, I will get a budget passed out of here." — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on getting a budget passed out of the Senate

Must-Read:

 

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