The Brief: Top Texas News for May 27, 2013

The Big Conversation

With the Legislature hours away from adjournment, special session speculation continues to swirl.

On Sunday, the penultimate day of the 2013 Texas legislative session, the Legislature finalized its last major piece of business, approving a state budget that restores cuts to Texas schools, creates a state water fund and provides tax relief for businesses.

The vote capped off a contentious two weeks of seesaw negotiations between the House and Senate over public education and transportation funding and use of the Rainy Day Fund.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, provided some last-minute drama on Sunday, threatening to filibuster a tax relief bill that had been stripped of an amendment that would have required the comptroller to periodically review the state's tax breaks. Ellis later backed down. In the House, meanwhile, Democrats tried to derail the same legislation on a point of order but were overruled.

 

With the budget passed, attention has turned to Gov. Rick Perry, who must decide whether lawmakers have left unfinished business.

Though special sessions on redistricting and school finance have been expected, Perry faces pressure to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to address a long list of conservative-backed measures that stumbled during the regular session. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last week urged the governor to quickly call a special session for abortion, gun and drug testing measures, among others. Dozens of House Republicans have also signed a letter encouraging Perry to include abortion legislation if he calls for overtime.

A special session that includes such conservative red meat will likely break the accord that — the last two weeks of budget negotiations aside — has defined the session. It could also spell trouble for Democrats, who in the Senate would lose use of the two-thirds rule, with which they've successfully blocked legislation this year.

Perry's office has said the governor won't make any announcements about a special session until lawmakers have adjourned.

Capitol Highlights

•    Perry Vetoes "Dark Money" Bill (The Texas Tribune): "Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed a divisive measure that would have forced some tax-exempt, politically active nonprofits to disclose their donors. That effectively kills the measure for this session; lawmakers stripped a similar amendment from an Ethics Commission reform bill on Friday."

•    Major Education Bills Headed to Governor's Desk (TT): "Two major education bills — Senate Bill 2, which expands the state's charter school system, and House Bill 5, which changes high school testing and graduation requirements — are headed to the governor's desk after clearing the Legislature on Sunday night."

•    As Session Ends, Campus Construction Bonds Appear Dead (TT): "The Senate adjourned on Sunday night without any movement on a bill that would have approved nearly $2.7 billion in 'tuition revenue bonds' for campus construction projects, meaning the legislation is likely dead this session."

 

•    Gun bill goes down in a hail of angry words (The Dallas Morning News): "Lawmakers fought over gun rights and special privileges before all but defeating a bill giving legislators and congressmen the right to carry concealed weapons anywhere in Texas. In the debate, bill sponsor Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, was called 'dishonorable' for seemingly reneging on a promise to remove the special nod to lawmakers. He denied it, but there was a lot of head shaking and finger wagging."

•    Texas Railroad Commission to survive with new review (DMN): "The Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, will survive another four years under a catch-all bill designed to keep state agencies running."

•    Cannons interrupt Monsanto protest (Houston Chronicle): "A 21-cannon salute to Texas’ fallen soldiers on Saturday created chaos on the Capitol’s south steps, where hundreds of people had gathered to protest the agriculture company Monsanto."

Quote of the Day: "I’ve been around long enough to not make summer plans." — House Speaker Joe Straus on the possibility of a special session

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