Updated: Democrats Say Bring on the Special Session

Group of Texas Senate Democrats huddle on Senate floor during break on May 30th, 2011
Group of Texas Senate Democrats huddle on Senate floor during break on May 30th, 2011

Update, 3 p.m.:

House and Senate Democrats said today a special session would bring transparency to the school finance process and a greater awareness of how the deep funding cuts to government services will affect Texans' daily lives.

They held out hope that an extra 30 days would bring increased pressure on the Republican leadership to back off what they called a draconian budget and provide greater public insight into how school finance rules are being written. The Democratic legislators spoke at a press conference before the House and Senate were to reconvene this afternoon.

"Texas families expect us to be leaders for them, in spite of what the consequences may be for us personally," said Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who successfully filibustered legislation critical to the budget last night and essentially guaranteed a special session to address school finance if the Senate cannot muster the four-fifths vote needed to suspend the rules to take up the bill again today.

Davis blasted the Republican majority who she said was too afraid to ask Gov. Rick Perry to use Rainy Day Fund, too afraid to close corporate loopholes and too afraid to address the structural deficit to avoid eliminating government services that would hurt the state's most vulnerable populations.

 

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have warned that a special session — when the two-thirds majority needed to bring up bills for consideration in the Senate no longer applies — could hurt Democrats, who thus far have successfully defeated controversial issues like sanctuary cities legislation. Today Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said she thought the governor's greater political ambitions would keep him from doing that.

"On a national level," she said, "that wouldn't be as attractive." 

Update, 12:18 p.m.:

The House and Senate are both at ease right now, and the Democrats from both chambers are preparing for a press conference to discuss "the real emergency of fully funding public education."

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said the lower chamber right now is waiting to see what the Senate does with SB 1811. "There's a saying over here in the House we use a lot: We're waiting on the Senate," he said. Straus said the House has done everything it needs to and will consider bringing up other legislation if the Senate passes the critical budget measure. "First things first," he said. "Do we have a budget and school finance formula? And then we'll see where we go."

Over in the Senate, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said she has "full confidence" Perry will call a special session, because schools need finance formulas to set their budgets for next year by July 1. She said a special session would allow people the opportunity to come back and have a fuller discussion about the impacts of a school finance plan. "This is all on the backs of school children and our neighborhood schools," she said. "Right now, I think the onus is back on the people of the state of Texas. Are you going to go back and force your lawmakers to put money back into the school system?"

But Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said he was not yet resigned to coming back tomorrow for a special session. "I never give up," he said. "In this place, things can change on a dime."

He said he hoped his colleagues "reflect on what a decision means and the benefits that might or might not come out of a special session."

Update, 11:45 a.m.:

 

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, leader of the House Democrats, said Gov. Rick Perry should be the one concerned about the implications of a special session since he's the one who is on the national political stage. "We're not in Kansas anymore," she said.

Today, the House will make corrections on committee reports and do the final clean-up measures they usually do on the last day of the legislative session, Farrar said. She said Comptroller Susan Combs told legislators they don't have to pass SB 23 to make the budget balance, so the House has already accomplished all it needs to do.

As for a special session and whether the Democrats are concerned about how they will fare, Farrar said, at least in a second go-round there should be an opportunity to have public hearings on the school finance measure that was in SB 1811, allowing more transparency and debate.

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The hunt is on, Perry said this morning, for the four-fifths vote the Senate needs to prevent a special legislative session beginning bright and early at 8 a.m. tomorrow. "There's still some hours in front of us to get some work done," Perry said.

At a press conference where he signed the so-called "loser pays" bill, Perry indirectly chided state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, whose late-night filibuster led to the stalling of SB 1811, a critical piece of the budget puzzle that also contains a funding plan for the public school system. "We come here to work," Perry said. "We don't come here to be show horses."

If lawmakers in the Senate aren't able to marshal the four-fifths vote they need to bring up SB 1811 again today and pass it, then the budget unravels — and Perry said a special session would start at 8 a.m. tomorrow. He said he hasn't decided yet which issues he would put on the agenda for a special session. But he noted that the governor is free to put any issue he or she sees fit on the list. Many expect that Perry would put the controversial sanctuary cities measure, which most Democrats despise, on the agenda for a special session.

"We work with a different set of rules during a special session, so that may be on Ms. Davis' mind," Perry said.

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