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Liveblog: Will House Take Up "Christmas Tree" Fiscal Bills?

State reps will try to hang a grab bag of amendments onto Senate Bills 1811 and 1581 — two critical pieces of legislation the House takes up today that could determine whether a budget is passed and a special session averted. Click here for our liveblog of the action.

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After postponing the debate yesterday so that budget negotiations could proceed, the Texas House will sort through a grab-bag of proposed amendments to Senate Bills 1811 and 1581 today — two pieces of legislation critical to passing a budget before the end of the regular session. The bills are broadly defined as “relating to certain fiscal matters,” which means that any idea even tangentially fiscal in nature could potentially be added via amendment. More than 230 amendments have been pre-filed for SB 1581 and SB 1811 combined.

Last week the deadline to pass bills filed by representatives out of the House killed hundreds of bills. Now lawmakers are looking for ways to give legislation that didn't make it — like Rep. Rob Eissler's proposal to remove mandates on class size and Rep. Myra Crownover's proposal to implement a statewide smoking ban — a chance for rebirth by attaching it to the legislation up for debate today.

SB 1581, which makes fiscal reforms to public and higher education in order to save $30 million over the next biennium, already carries a medley of amendments adopted by the Senate: Including a provision to allow college students to carry concealed handguns on campus and a $2.15 fee on cigarettes sold by small tobacco companies. Some House members are already questioning whether the Senate amendments are germane, and may attempt to amend the amendments off the bill.

But most of the House action will fall on SB 1811, which is intended to save the state $2.6 billion in the 2012-2013 biennium. Even without amendments, the bill is a hodgepodge of fiscal reforms: It includes a laundry list of changes to the tax code and gives the state comptroller the ability to call off the back-to-school tax free weekend if the state is short on revenue (an idea that House budgeteers have agreed to ditch). The biggest cost-saving measure in the bill delays payments to school districts to push the cost of funding the 2013 school year into the next fiscal year. The schools get the same amount of money, but pushing it back a day moves it out of one state budget and into the next, allowing lawmakers to balance the budget without raising money in some other way. 

The savings and non-tax revenues in SB 1811 are essential to reconciling disagreements between the two chambers over the appropriations bill. If SB 1811 does not pass, the budget numbers don't add up

In other words: The pressure is on. 


by Becca Aaronson
The House is in session. Before things got started, Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, told the press box the House isn't ready to pass SB 1811 and 1581. He thinks the legislature will need a special session to pass the budget. Stay tuned.
by Becca Aaronson
Rumor on the twitter feed and House floor is representatives will break for lunch before taking up SB 1811. If the House is not prepared to pass the fiscal reforms, the debate may be delayed even longer.
by Thanh Tan
Lots of confusion in the House chamber. As leaders met in a back room with the governor, Rep. Larry Taylor announced the GOP Caucus would meet at 1:30pm. Now, the full House is adjourned till 2pm. So much for taking up fiscal matters first.
by Becca Aaronson
No answers on the budget deal yet. Coming out of a meeting with Speaker of the House Joe Straus, Governor Rick Perry said, "They're working on it."

Perry added the message from constituents is clear: "They want us to have a balanced budget without raising taxes, getting into the rainy day fund."

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Economy State government 82nd Legislative Session Budget Texas Legislature