After 16 Hours, Texas House Passes Fiscal Bill

State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, listens to testimony during a House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing on April 5, 2011.
State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, listens to testimony during a House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing on April 5, 2011.

Lengthy debate on a key budget bill featured many retreads of contentious topics from the regular session — but it was Rep. Wayne Christian's revival of his famous "pansexual" amendment around midnight that almost killed the whole thing.

Christian, R-Center, proposed banning state funding of college gender and sexuality centers through an amendment to the Senate Bill 1 fiscal matters bill that contained the school finance plan of $4 billion in cuts to districts statewide and several payment deferrals and tax accelerations adding up to about $3.5 billion in revenue, all essential to balancing the 2012-13 budget.

Democrats tried to persuade him to pull down the amendment in what was one of the most emotional debates of the regular or special sessions.

"You are violating the first amendment rights of these people," Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said, adding, "If you pass this amendment tonight, you will be buying Texas a lawsuit."

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, reminded members that James Byrd, the man dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, died in Christian's district. His amendment, she said, was "all about creating hate."

As Christian described the "naked rear end" he said was shown during a university seminar on anal sex, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, walked up, grabbed his microphone and said, "this is sickening."

When their efforts proved unsuccessful, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, called a point of order, one he apparently had been holding in reserve throughout the day and night, according to the Austin American-Statesman

After several minutes, during which rumors flew that the Democrats would torpedo the entire bill if the amendment wasn't withdrawn, an apparently chastened Christian returned to the microphone. He said that he didn't want to destroy a day's work and would back down — and that he never intended to sound prejudiced or discriminatory. 

"I pray for the day when we actually can discuss things and bring those walls of prejudice down," he said. He complained that a defense of traditional values was labeled as bigotry by some. 

Democratic attempts to derail other controversial measures failed, however. An amendment — also from Christian — that would keep state funding from any county hospitals that contract with organizations that perform abortions, passed.

In the early morning hours, members began killing their own amendments, like Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, who took down his pre-K accountability measure. 

And Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, delivered one last speech railing against the education cuts, warning that no representative who voted for the plan could claim education was his or her highest priority for the state and predicting that voters ultimately would not approve of the direction taken by the Legislature. "In the end, the people of the state of Texas must have the final say," he said. 

But House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, remained devoted to the school finance plan he's defended all along, concluding the 16-hour debate by asserting that voters had sent their state representatives to Austin to ensure that Texas lives within its means. He also noted that the 2012-2013 budget spends more on education than the previous biennium's budget (while technically true, the amount funded by the measure is $4 billion short of what the state would need to spend to cover the sharp growth in the number of students in Texas public schools. The school finance plan cobbled together by the conference committee at the end of the regular session remains the same.)

"It's not how much you spend it — it's how well you spend it," he said. "How much you spend is not a measure of how much you love."

Shortly after 2 a.m., the chamber voted, passing the legislation 81 to 62. The House must take one final vote on the measure and the other budget bill it passed Thursday, SB 2. 

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