Sine Die Report: What Survived, What Died

House Speaker Joe Straus (l), R-San Antonio, adjourns the House of Representatives sine die on June 29, 2011.
House Speaker Joe Straus (l), R-San Antonio, adjourns the House of Representatives sine die on June 29, 2011.

It's over.

After 170 days — 140 days in regular session and 30 in special session — Texas lawmakers cleared their desks on Wednesday and prepared for the journey out of Austin. At the beginning of the special session on May 31, Gov. Rick Perry laid out four core issues he wanted lawmakers to resolve: balance the budget for the next two years (including a plan for cutting school funding), reform the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association's claims process, draw congressional redistricting maps, and rein in the cost of health care.

As the weeks passed, he listened to some of his conservative constituents and added a ban on so-called "sanctuary cities" to the call. In the final week of the session, he surprised many by tossing lawmakers one more political football: the TSA "anti-groping" measure. In the end, lawmakers managed to resolve the first four parts of the agenda (albeit without much Democratic support). But even with a GOP supermajority, they left those last two issues — the most emotionally charged — on the table for a future Legislature. 

The Trib's been tracking the key issues throughout the special session. Here's the final rundown: 

FISCAL MATTERS 

 

Bill: SB 1 contains the school finance plan for distributing $4 billion in cuts to districts statewide, several payment deferrals and tax accelerations. The bill is expected to generate $3.5 billion in revenue. It contains a provision to require online retailers, such as Amazon.com, to collect sales taxes if they do business in Texas and directly or indirectly have physical locations in the state. Perry warned against this provision and vetoed a similar bill (HB 2403) during the regular session. The budget conferees could have stripped the measure from the final bill, but they didn't because it had significant support in both chambers.  

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk. 

Bill: SB 2 is another fiscal matters bill needed to balance the state budget for 2012-2013. Democratic State Rep. Donna Howard initially tacked on – and passed — an amendment to direct any surplus in the Rainy Day Fund to enrollment growth in Texas schools, which are underfunded by $4 billion in the budget. According to some estimates, that Rainy Day surplus could be more than $2 billion with an improving economic climate. But her proposal died after Republicans instructed budget negotiators to strip it out of the final conference committee report. During the final debate on the bill, Howard warned lawmakers they would have to own up to cutting education by billions "when we had money in the bank." During debate in the Senate, Finance Chairman Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he had worked to keep the measure in the bill by putting a $700 million cap on it. But House negotiators wouldn't budge. 

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk. 

EDUCATION

Bill: SB 6 broadens the way districts can use funding for textbooks. When it passed the House, it contained House Public Education Chairman Rep. Rob Eissler's testing bill from the regular session, HB 500, which would allow districts to decide how new end-of-course STAAR exams count toward a student's final grade. His counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, opposed the measure. In the end, Shapiro won, and the test provision was nixed. 

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk. 

Bill: SB 8 is a comprehensive mandate relief measure that allows school districts to furlough teachers, reduces contract termination notification and minimum salary requirements and expands the Texas Education Agency's authority to grant waivers for the 22:1 student-teacher classroom ratio. SB 8 passed the House, but not without a fierce debate from Democrats and a smattering of "no" votes from Republicans. Eissler said the bill would allow district officials to reduce teacher pay and save jobs. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, fired back by telling the chamber the bill is "overkill." "I've not heard from one teacher who has applauded us for doing this," he said.

 

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk.

HEALTH CARE 

Bill: SB 7 is an omnibus health care bill designed to save the state more than $400 million over the 2012-2013 biennium. The bill aims to make Medicaid more cost-effective, to allow doctors to partner with hospitals and other health care groups to reach better outcomes and to expand Medicaid managed care into the Rio Grande Valley. SB 7 is a favorite of abortion opponents, because it includes amendments that reduce family planning dollars that go to organizations like Planned Parenthood, and it prevents hospital districts that use tax revenue to finance abortion from getting state funding, except in the case of a medical emergency. 

The measure is also home to two bills designed by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to give Texas more control over Medicaid and Medicare. The first is a health care compact that would allow Texas to partner with other states to ask the federal government for control — both fiscal and governmental — over both Medicare and Medicaid. The second is a measure that directs state officials to seek a waiver from Washington to operate Medicaid with a federal block grant. Neither measure is likely to gain the support of the Obama administration. 

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk.

Bill: SB 28 would have instituted a statewide ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and many public places. Supporters said it would have saved an estimated $31 million dollars in Medicaid spending over the next biennium. Despite public support for the measure, it faced opposition from owners of smoker-friendly establishments and a corps of conservative lawmakers who killed the measure during the regular session. 

Status: Dead. The bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but never made it to the floor. 

CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING 

Bill: SB 4 is the Texas Legislature's effort to draw congressional maps for the next decade. In short, SB 4 preserves the GOP's overwhelming majority in the state's congressional delegation. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge the issue is likely to be settled by a court or the U.S. Department of Justice whether the governor vetoes it, signs it, or lets it become law without his signature. Democrats contend SB 4 violates the federal Voting Rights Act and diminishes minority voting blocs by splitting them into different districts. 

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk. 

TEXAS WINDSTORM INSURANCE ASSOCIATION (TWIA):

Bill: HB 3 is meant to overhaul the claims process for coastal homeowners whose properties are damaged by hurricanes and to ensure that TWIA, the state's insurer of last resort, remains solvent. Fixing the financially and ethically wobbly insurer has stumped legislators all year. It became a proxy fight between trial lawyers and tort reformers. The Texas Trial Lawyers Association objected to applying new rules to insurance customers who have already got policies that spell out the old rules. Those policies are contracts, they argued, that shouldn't be changed by a legislative vote. They also objected to a provision allowing TWIA to sell policies with a discount to people who agree to give up their right to sue when something goes wrong and to instead submit to binding arbitration. The trial lawyers say the state is effectively making policyholders pay extra for the right to go to court. And, the patches on the system don't make it financially viable over the long term, said House author, Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. Lawmakers will have to take another stab later at restructuring TWIA's finances. But the bill will control costs enough to enable TWIA to sell the bonds it needs to before the current hurricane season ends.

Status: Passed and headed to the governor's desk. 

SANCTUARY CITIES

Bill: SB 9 and HB 9 proposed banning sanctuary cities in Texas by allowing law enforcement officials to inquire about the immigration status of people they detain or arrest. Any local entity that refused to allow peace officers to do so would lose state funding. HB 9 only addressed "sanctuary cities," whereas SB 9 also would have tightened regulations for anyone applying for a driver's license or state-issued ID. In addition, it would have expanded the federal government's Secure Communities initiative to every detention facility in the state. (It's already in every county jail.) By the end of last week, though, business leaders voiced strong opposition to the measures. An attempt to adde the sanctuary cities legislation to SB 1 ultimately failed because lawmakers were concerned it would kill the whole bill. 

Status: Dead. Lawmakers let the clock run out before they could address the bill. 

TSA "ANTI-GROPING” BILL

Bill: HB 41 was intended to ban invasive pat-downs by TSA agents during security screenings at airports. Perry added the issue to the special session call last week, after he was urged to do so by a number of lawmakers, including state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. A similar proposal was pulled down in dramatic fashion during floor debate last month by an angry state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, after the U.S. Department of Justice warned that its passage could violate federal law and disrupt commercial flights in Texas. House Speaker Rep. Joe Straus shocked lawmakers by calling it a "publicity stunt" that would never be considered on the House floor "as written." A panel was formed to make the bill more legally palatable. It emerged on Monday afternoon significantly changed. Simpson added a “clarifying” amendment that he said addressed the concerns of the attorney general and prosecutors around the state. Taking no chances, the Senate passed its own stricter version of the legislation, SB 29, Monday evening. They punted the bill to the House and adjourned sine die. An angry House refused to go along with the Senate plan, which had not been vetted by the attorney general's office and was considered vulnerable to a federal challenge. 

Status: Dead. The House killed SB29 after the chamber couldn't get the four-fifths vote needed to suspend the rules to bring the measure up for a final vote. The 96-26 vote meant the measure couldn't pass before the end of the special session, so House lawmakers adjourned sine die. 

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