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The Brief: May 16, 2011

For state lawmakers, amid the sniping and the stalling, the clock is ticking loudly.

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The Big Conversation:

For state lawmakers, amid the sniping and the stalling, the clock is ticking loudly.

Two weeks to the day away from Memorial Day, the last day of the regular legislative session, Texas legislators are buried in important bills that have been held up over stalemates and delays.

Though bill-filing deadlines in the House have passed, members can — and will undoubtedly try to — resuscitate legislation by attaching it to Senate bills. School finance reform, a must-pass piece of legislation, missed a House filing deadline last week, for instance, but its supporters hope for a Senate revival.

But as the Tribune's Ross Ramsey notes, lawmakers still have piles of legislation to work through, from the budget to public school reform to redistricting — not to mention sanctuary-cities and tort-reform bills, which the House has approved (and the governor has pressed lawmakers to pass) but look stuck in the Senate. And the rules in both chambers make it harder and harder to pass legislation the closer lawmakers get to the end.

Sen. Steve Ogden, the Bryan Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, even told the Houston Chronicle on Friday that lawmakers probably wouldn't be able to finish on time.

"I think [a special session is] pretty likely because we’ve got too many issues that are unresolved at this late stage in the session," Ogden said. "So I think it’s likely, but I haven’t given up."

And civility still seems to be eluding the statehouse. Capping off a week of tense debate, largely centering on the sanctuary-cities bill, which Republicans pushed through amid intense Democratic opposition, two South Texas representatives squared off Friday in a debate complete with attacks about weight and whether a House member lives in the district he represents.

We'll see this week how much heads cool — and how far lawmakers can get.

Culled:

  • Polls closed Saturday evening in municipal elections across the state. Runoffs will decide the mayoral races in Dallas, between David Kunkle and Mike Rawlings, and Fort Worth, between Betsy Price and Jim Lane. Mayor Julián Castro sailed to re-election in San Antonio with 82 percent of the vote. In Amarillo, Paul Harpole claimed victory in an eclectic, 11-candidate field that included a controversial street preacher and the first transgender woman to run in a city race. And in Austin, a runoff will decide the city's highest-profile city council race.
  • Texas Monthly's Paul Burka reported Friday that former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm may be in talks to succeed Mike McKinney as chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. Gov. Rick Perry pressured regents to hire Gramm as the flagship university's president over Robert Gates, now the U.S. secretary of defense, in 2002. "He would have been a disaster then and he will likely be a disaster now," Burka says of Gramm.
  • The San Antonio Express-News has a look at the limited choices of the two Democrats on the 10-member conference committee that will negotiate a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the budget. "We're just trying to minimize the damage," says state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

"I didn’t run away. Maybe I thought you were going to eat me." — State Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, to Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, in a tense exchange during floor debate on Friday

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