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House and Senate Adjourn; Special Session to Begin Tuesday

Both the House and Senate have adjourned sine die. But without a school finance deal in the Senate, Gov. Rick Perry is expected to call a special session for 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Republican Senators gather on the floor awaiting sine die as no agreement is reached on SB1811 on May 30, 2011.

Update (6 p.m.):

House Republican leader Rep. Larry Taylor, of Friendswood, said it's highly likely that Gov. Rick Perry will put the controversial bill banning sanctuary cities on the agenda for the special legislative session that is expected to start tomorrow. And in a letter to Perry outlining the priorities he'd like address during the special legislative session, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst included the sanctuary cities bill and a slew of other priorities:

SB 8 – Relating to improving the quality and efficiency of health care;
SB 23 – Relating to the administration of reforms, efficiency, cost-saving, fraud prevention, and funding measures for certain health and human services and health benefits programs;
HB 5 – Relating to establishing an Interstate Health Care Compact;
HB 12 – Relating to the enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration by certain governmental entities;

HB 272 – Relating to the operation of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and to the resolution of certain disputes concerning claims made to that association;
SB 12/HB400 – Relating to the flexibility of the Board of Trustees of a school district in the management and operation of public schools in the district and the flexibility for public schools to administer primary and secondary education efficiently;
HB 1937 – Relating to prosecution and punishment for the offense of official oppression by the intrusive touching of persons seeking access to public buildings and transportation; and
HB 900/SB 308 – Relating to the composition of the congressional districts for the State of Texas.

In the letter, Dewhurst also said that because Democratic senators have shown an "unwillingness to find consensus on these important legislative items," he sees no other alternative except to operate under a simple majority rule instead of using the two-thirds rule that has allowed the minority party to block some measures it opposes.

"Democrats have made a bad strategic move," Taylor said. "Negotiating will be a lot harder for them."

Update (5:35 p.m.):

Both the House and Senate have adjourned sine die. But without a school finance deal in the Senate, Gov. Rick Perry is expected to call a special session for 8 a.m. Tuesday. 

House Speaker Joe Straus said the fact that lawmakers must return is unfortunate. But "we showed great discipline, focus," he said. "We are all very tired, but I think we should all be satisfied with a job well done." 

Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, wasn't so positive. He called Sen. Wendy Davis' Sunday night filibuster in the Senate "a gift to the governor," who he said can now set whatever agenda he wants for a special session. And Ogden wasn't confident it will be a short one. 

"The political calculation is risky. It could get pretty interesting and contentious around here," he said. "...You reap what you sow, so we'll see what happens next." 

Update (4:10 p.m.):

It appears Senate lawmakers are on the verge of adjourning sine die without a school finance deal.

In the Senate, members of both parties have buckled down. The Democrats have made it clear they are ready for a special session. In response to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's warning that special sessions don't usually yield higher budgets, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said, "It's unreasonable to ask us to vote for something that's awful simply because of threats that the budget might get worse. They might get better. I've never responded well to threats."

Echoing other Democratic lawmakers who've said they are prepared for the governor to call a special session as early as Tuesday, Zaffirini says she hopes the summer season means teachers, families and students will have the time to come out to the Capitol and sway lawmakers. 

"We're hoping that the supports of awful legislation will hear from their constituents — and they'll prioritize education and health and human services before their politics," she said. 

Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden tells the Tribune they can try to galvanize the public all they want, but "there's no chance we'll increase [the budget] because there's no money left." 

Ogden said there is no desire by "the majority of the GOP to draw down the Rainy Day Fund," either. The Bryan Republican said the approximately $6 billion left in the account after this session will be needed in 2013 because the state is already under-funding Medicaid by at least $4.5 billion

Asked whether he is ready to stay in Austin for another month or so to resolve the budget, Ogden responded without hesitation: "I will answer the bell." 

Update (3:07 p.m.):

Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat whose Sunday night filibuster of SB 1811, the school finance bill, is threatening a special session, said Democrats have finished caucusing, and there aren’t the votes in the chamber to bring the bill back up for debate.

Shortly after her comments, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst addressed the press corps, saying if the chamber doesn’t “miraculously” make a deal on SB 1811 by 4:30, a self-imposed deadline, “we’ll be back tomorrow morning” for a special session.

“The senators don’t want to sit around until midnight,” he said.

Dewhurst said he intends to speak with Gov. Rick Perry or his staff later today, and will make his recommendations for the special session call.

Dewhurst said if Perry puts sanctuary cities on the call, “I believe we’ll have at least 16 of 19 Republicans vote to pass it.”

He didn’t say whether he'll ask Perry to put on the call SB 8, his health reform bill that now includes a provision to ask Washington for control of Medicare and Medicaid. But he insinuated he would.

If SB 1811 does somehow come back up in the Senate this afternoon, Dewhurst said, don’t expect a repeat filibuster performance. He said there can only be one filibuster per bill. Nor should Senate Democrats expect to see a far richer school finance plan in a special session.

"In a special session, numbers don't go up, they go down,” he said.

Earlier story 

The big questions under the Pink Dome today: What’s the strategy? And does it matter?

—Will the Senate, recessed until 2:30, collect the 4/5ths vote necessary to bring SB 1811 — the fiscal matters bill with a big school finance plan — up for a vote, and if they do, will Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, try to filibuster again?

—Will House Republicans have the 2/3rds vote it needs to bring up high priority measures like SB 8 — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s health reform bill that includes Texas’ request to seize control of Medicare and Medicaid from the feds — or SB 23, a Medicaid efficiency bill that saves the state more than $400 million, and is written into the state budget?

—And if SB 1811 doesn’t pass today, and Gov. Rick Perry does what he’s threatened and calls a special session for Tuesday, what, if anything, would he add to it — and how quickly would lawmakers be able to get their work done?

Most of these questions — whether the House and Senate have the votes they need, and what Perry would add to a special session call — are a big wait and see.

The budget questions are less pressing. The comptroller’s office has indicated the budget will certify without SB 1811 or SB 23 — but the reality is, it’s not a workable one. That means at a minimum, SB 1811, which accounts for billions of dollars in savings, would need to be swept into a special session for final approval.

And while there are a number of different parliamentary rat holes lawmakers could head down in both chambers, the lingering question is: So what?

If there is a special session for SB 1811, will lawmakers revise school finance numbers in a way that changes any outcomes — or will they just go into overtime and get the same results?

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said that largely depends on voters — and others have speculated summer is a far easier time for schoolteachers to get involved. 

"Right now, I think the onus is back on the people of the state of Texas," Van de Putte said. "Are you going to go back and force your lawmakers to put money back into the school system?" 

There's already almost certain to be a special session later this summer for legislation on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association — though there's little speculation on Perry adding to that call.

But Perry’s office has threatened that a special session for SB 1811, starting as soon as tomorrow, could open the door for anything, including the only one of his emergency items that hasn’t passed: sanctuary cities. There are also cries from his allies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation for him to add the health care compact — Texas’ request of Washington to take control of Medicaid and Medicare — to the call.

But whether the governor has true presidential aspirations could play into what makes a call. Sources close to the governor say he’s more likely to narrow his scope for a special session for SB 1811 and finish it out within days, as opposed to dragging it out with high-drama measures.

If the call does include sanctuary cities, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, the only Senate Democrat to vote for the budget, said all bets are off: "During a special session the governor is the one that controls the agenda and different rules apply, the two-thirds rule does not apply, so it will be very simple to pass any kind of legislation that the governor wants or that the Republicans want," he said. 

There are also questions over whether the health care compact could be a political liability long-term, as voters across the country gather at town hall meetings to decry GOP efforts in Washington to overhaul Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly. 

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Health care Public education State government Budget David Dewhurst Federal health reform Medicaid School finance Texas Legislature Wendy Davis