Ever hear something about Texas politics or public policy over and over and wonder what it is? Or read something that made you think, "Huh, I have no idea what that means"? We at the Trib are here to help. From questions about how state government works to why Rick Perry is within his legal right to shoot a coyote while jogging, from what the heck "chubbing" is and why legislators keep talking about it to why the Texas Capitol is bigger than the U.S. Capitol, Texplainer will answer your burning questions. Why are there so many conflicting state budget numbers? What's the Rainy Day Fund for? Why can't the Legislature take up legislation in the first 60 days of the session when it only has 140 days to meet? We'll tell you. We want to hear from you so send us your questions by writing to texplainer@texastribune.org

Hey, Texplainer: What’s an "emergency item," and why are sanctuary cities and property rights emergencies for Rick Perry?

The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days every two years. During the first 60 days of those sessions, they're barred from passing legislation. They can look at it, fiddle with it, hold hearings and all of that, but they can't actually vote on it. Unless it's declared an emergency by the governor, in which case they can hurry up and vote (if they want to). On the first day of the current session, Gov. Rick Perry put abolition of “sanctuary cities” and property rights/eminent domain on the emergency list. He's expected to add voter ID legislation to that list soon and, in fact, can add any items he'd like. The proclamations from the governor have been used in different ways. When there's a real emergency that requires legislation — the kind of mess that's apparent to everyone inside and outside of politics — that's an easy call. But it also provides governors with the opportunity to highlight issues, to focus public and legislative attention on things they want in the spotlight.

Like sanctuary cities, which were a big point of argument during Perry's re-election campaign, or eminent domain, which has bedeviled the governor since he vetoed property rights legislation almost four years ago. It gives him a chance to showcase the issues and draw attention — he hopes favorable — to his efforts. In that sense, declaring an “emergency item” is a political decision. Voter ID would be in that same category. It passed the Senate two years ago but got bottled up in the House. It polls well, among Republicans and Democrats alike. And the GOP appears to have the numbers in the Legislature to pass it now.

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Some urgent issues don't make the list. The new state budget is a mess, but it will take more than 60 days to get that in shape for lawmakers to consider, and it won't take effect until September. Redistricting? A big deal, but the census numbers and maps won't be ready during the first 60 days anyhow.

Bottom Line: Absent a real emergency, it's a way for governors to highlight their pet issues.

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