With fewer than five weeks left in the regular session, none of Gov. Rick Perry's emergency items — voter ID, sanctuary cities, sonograms for women getting abortions, a federal balanced budget amendment or eminent domain protection — have made it to his desk.
Perry says he isn't concerned, however, telling reporters this week that lawmakers have plenty of time to pass the bills.
“We have 34 days left in the legislative session,” he said. “I’ve done this before. I don’t get too preached up with 34 days to go.”
While some emergency items are in fact rolling along, one of the most controversial could languish in the House Calendars Committee until the sun sets on the current session.
The contentious voter ID bill that nearly derailed the 2009 session still caused uproar among Democrats this time around. But their effect on the bill, which requires voters to show an approved ID before casting a ballot, reflected their dwindled ranks after last year's election. The Senate moved quickly on its voter ID bill, Senate Bill 14, by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. Last month, following an 11-hour debate on the House floor, House sponsor Patricia Harless, R-Spring, laid out the bill and guided its passage through the lower chamber. It's comfortably in conference committee now, and now Harless expects the final product to come soon. She’s met at least 20 times with either Fraser or “agencies with a vested interest” in how the law is implemented, she said.
“There has been a lot of conversation and it’s all been very congenial. We are just trying to make sure it’s the best bill possible so we’ve taken our time,” she said.
The eminent domain bill, SB 18, by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, is also in conference. It would prohibit eminent domain unless it's determined the land in question will be used for public use. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks, the House sponsor, said Friday the conferees would likely finish the bill Monday.
“I don’t think it will be a problem at all,” he said.
Another contentious emergency item, HB 15 by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, would require women seeking an abortion to get a sonogram and hear a description of the fetus before the procedure. Miller’s bill is caught up in a bit of a stalemate over how long a woman would be asked to wait after the sonogram to have the abortion performed. Miller's bill has a 24-hour waiting period, whereas Sen. Dan Patrick's version, SB 16, requires only two hours. Lawmakers say Patrick meddled in the House speaker's race before the session began, and his bill, though passed by the Senate, hasn't come up for discussion in the House. Miller’s bill has been placed on the Senate calendar, though lawmakers in the upper chamber are likely to hash out their the budget bill before taking up the sonogram legislation.
Calling on the U.S. Congress to submit to the states for ratification a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution seems lower on the priority scale, despite Perry's continued attack on the way the federal government conducts business. That’s not to say it isn’t trudging along. HCR 18 by state Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, was voted out of the House this month and enjoyed bipartisan support. State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, is a co-sponsor, and Creighton says he expects the Texas Senate to set the bill soon.
“I think I have the support over there that we need for it to pass,” he said. “As a called item it will have priority.” The Senate version, SJR 1, by state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, passed out of committee in February and was voted out of the Senate a week later. It has yet to see action in the House, however.
Perry made abolishing "sanctuary cities" — the common term for entities that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status — a sticking point when he ran for his third term as governor against former Houston Mayor Bill White. So it surprised no one when he put that on the emergency item list as well. But it's stuck. HB 12, by Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit governmental entities from preventing law enforcement personnel from asking about the citizenship of the people they stop. The legislation, a potential vehicle for other immigration-related issues that haven't been moving at all, has been sitting in the Calendars Committee for a month.
Opponents of the legislation considered earlier this month that the bill — which has moved the furthest along this session — would languish in the committee and never see the House floor. But a 27-5 vote on a Senate bill by Republican Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, could be a vehicle for Solomons’ bill when it sees action on the House floor. The bill, SB 9, would require all law enforcement agencies to adopt Secure Communities, a program administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in which local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a DHS database to determine if the individual can be deported. The bill also would institute stronger penalties for a laundry list of felonies and would codify proof-of-citizenship or residency requirements for driver's licenses and state IDs. The bill has a broad caption, simply: “relating to homeland security, providing penalties,” which lawmakers say opens it up to a bevy of immigration-related legislation has stalled.
“You can drive a MACK truck through the caption,” said state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, one of five lawmakers who voted against the bill.