With a deal in the works tonight on the state's two-year budget — the biggest priority of the legislative session — the House and Senate are debating a crucial school finance measure and another critical bill that raises enough money to pay for the budget.
The Senate is talking education, and Morgan Smith will be liveblogging the action below. They're adding a school finance measure — SB 22 — to a fiscal bill, turning that into a multi-part school finance bill that can then be sent to the House for approval. They're using SB 1581, which was shot down in the House Thursday because it carried a provision allowing concealed handguns on college campuses.
The House, meanwhile, will be taking up SB 1811, and Brandi Grissom will be keeping you updated on that. The bill is intended to generate about $2.5 billion in the 2012-2013 biennium through savings and non-tax revenues. It's necessary to bridge the gap between the two chambers over the budget bill. If SB 1811 does not pass, the budget numbers don't add up.
The budget talks are paused while legislators work on these bills in the House and Senate, and everything appears, for the moment, to be on track. Budget writers will return later to try to close differences on higher education spending.
The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.
Today, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) announced a budget agreement from the Senate and House conferees of $80.6 billion in General Revenue on House Bill 1:
"I'm pleased that the House and Senate have come to an agreement that will help balance the budget and protect Texas taxpayers while making a historic $15-billion cut in government spending," said Lt. Governor Dewhurst. "We are hard at work passing a number of related bills, including school finance reform, which also must pass in order to balance the budget."
“I want to thank the House and Senate budget writers for their tireless work in bringing forward a budget that is disciplined, fiscally conservative and that lives within our means,” said Speaker Straus. "The agreement that we reached with the Senate today funds nursing homes, our public schools and universities, and provides financial aid for college students while keeping substantial revenue in reserves and avoiding any new taxes.”
As it is now, it suspends the FY2012 sales tax holiday, but Pitts says he'll take out that provision. Good news for back-to-school shoppers.
“The fact is, thousands of teachers will still be laid off, schools will still close and jobs will still be lost. Republicans did not save the day - they were playing political games with this budget process from the beginning.
“Democrats tried to make this budget better at every stage of the process and were run over at every attempt. Democrats tried to close corporate and oil and gas tax loopholes and tried to use the Rainy Day Fund. Republicans chose to refuse those efforts and instead endanger our economy, our schools and our future.
“This budget is still far worse than it needs to be because this Republican-dominated legislature made cruel choices based on completely misplaced priorities.
“Democrats rolled up their sleeves and tried to improve this budget, but make no mistake – this is a Republican state budget and we will make them defend every budget vote they took this session.”
He has an amendment expressing a commitment to ending target revenue by 2017 and using that money to increase the basic allotment (a cost estimate the state uses, along with average daily attendance, in its funding formulas to calculate how much it owes each district). There's a concern that future legislatures could push that 2017 deadline back — this amendment is aimed at easing that.
If they're going to do more than that, he says, he has a bunch of measures he wants to add.
Apparently there's a list of amendments that are needed to make the budget work.
Pitts says he's "not advised" how many amendments are left.
"We need to look at all resources available to the states," she says. "This is an example of what we need to do."
"This amendment would allow us to become better informed," she said. "This amendment is just a common-sense amendment."
The amendment fails: 98-47.
"We know that it will save $30 million," she said.
The ban not only protects historical buildings like the Capitol and helps prevent fires, Crownover says, "It protects our very most precious private property, and that's our lungs and our heart and our brains."
Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, says the smoking ban is big government. He proposes an amendment to exempt some private entities from the ban.
"This is another government edict when we don't need the edict," he said.
"If you happen to be eating a candy bar, and I happen to be under your mouth and catch some crumbs then that's bad for me?" said Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, saying that smoking is different because second-hand smoke affects other people.
Elkins says if cigarette smoking is so bad why don't we ban it like drugs. His amendment exempting some private places was successfully added to the ban.
House members are yelling "Vote!" "Vote!". Speaker Straus calls for order.
Crownover says the ban in her bill would apply only to public places.
"For a man who is always talking about the size of the budget ... and the cost drivers there have to do with our health and our health habits and personal responsibility," she says.
"I ask you to show some decor," Kolkhorst says.
Simpson responds: "I'm going to withdraw this amendment," he says.
He has a list of all the carcinogens associated with cologne and perfume. At a nursing home, he says, he was at recently cologne and perfume was prohibited.
"If it is such a problem," he says, "why do we associate asbestos with lawsuits and not second-hand smoke?"
Amendment is withdrawn.
Her husband died of Leukemia and one of the major causes of Leukemia is benzene, a carcinogen in second-hand smoke.
Rep. Dwayne Bohac says his wife's first husband never smoked and died at age 35 from lung cancer.
"I think you have a good bill," he said.
He says vote for liberty and private property and vote against the ban.
His amendment to change that 86-62 gets added onto the bill. It would exempt businesses from the margins tax if they aren't profitable.
A very rare adoption of a Democrat amendment.
Although Rep. Pitts says it will cost the budget, the House puts it on with a vote of 139-2.
"Beekeepers are the backbone of the ag industry," Lavender said, to great laughter in the chamber. "You don’t have anything if you don’t have bees."
Apparently the House agreed.
House members (and maybe some press corps folks) register their objections to the hold-up with boos.
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, asks if he would be recognized to call the previous question (immediate up or down vote on the whole bill, stopping amendments). More applause.
Rep. Dwayne Bohac says not right now. Maybe later.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.