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The Brief: May 27, 2011

In a change of pace, things have taken a decidedly, ahem, prurient turn in the closing days of the legislative session.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson (r), D-Houston, talks to Rep. Mike Hamilton during the local and consent calendar on April 26, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

In a change of pace, things have taken a decidedly, ahem, prurient turn in the closing days of the legislative session.

On Thursday, two days after drama escalated in the state Senate over an airport "groping" ban, a gender war broke out in the House over a special-interest group's use of a graphic image on flyers passed around the chamber and an accusation that a male lawmaker had displayed pornography on the House floor, the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reports.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, took to the microphone to denounce the Texas Civil Justice League, which in the flyer targeted an insurance bill by stripping the line "Don't Expand the 'Nanny State'" across a picture of a baby suckling a woman's breast.

"I am really disgusted, and I’m really ashamed, that there’s nothing better for some organizations than kicking women," Thompson said in a fiery speech that received a standing ovation. "I am appalled that the Texas Civil Justice League would go so low that they would put out these kind of hateful, resentful, bitter, despicable and violent flyers toward women just to get at a piece of legislation passed."

A number of female lawmakers gathered in support behind the back microphone.

E. Lee Parsley, the league's president, later issued an apology in which he said the flyer was a draft, was "never considered appropriate" and that copies of it had ended up on the House floor after he'd handed it to someone unaffiliated with the group. "I am very sorry the offensive piece exists at all and that you had to see it," he wrote. "It was in poor taste, and I accept complete responsibility."

Rep. Debbie Riddle, a conservative Republican from Tomball, stood up to call Thompson a "hero" after her speech and described witnessing another instance of objectification of women. "Do you think this has become standard operating procedure ... with the way some of the men have treated some of the women? With pornography on the floor of the house?" Riddle said.

She later elaborated that a male lawmaker — she wouldn't say who — had displayed pornography on his cellphone but that the issue had been resolved.

Culled:

  • Meanwhile, the panel of lawmakers tasked with hashing out the differences between the House and Senate budget proposals voted 9-1 Thursday to cut the state budget by $15 billion over the next two years. The deal, which reduced originally proposed cuts to college grants but otherwise contained no big surprises, now heads to the House and Senate for approval — and still hinges on the passage of a school finance reform bill, on which lawmakers still haven't reached a compromise.
  • He's not running; that's still his story. But a group of Hispanic House Republicans on Thursday endorsed Gov. Rick Perry for president, hoping their support, the group's chairman said, might help change the governor's mind.
  • His nickname around the Capitol is "mucus," a play on his initials. But for Michael Quinn Sullivan, who has emerged as arguably the highest-profile conservative activist in Austin this session, the ungraceful moniker may suit Sullivan for another reason: Republicans, as the Trib's Jay Root puts it, just can't seem to get rid of him.
  • The already crowded Republican field jockeying for Kay Bailey Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat, from which she'll retire next year, could see another entrant: state Sen. Dan Patrick, the conservative radio talk show host from Houston, who said Thursday he'll announce today whether he's in or not.

"They have no right to do women this way. We have not earned this disrespect in this house. We fight here, we get elected just like you do. … And men, if you don't stand up for us today, don't you walk in this chamber tomorrow." — Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, on the floor of the House on Thursday

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