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The Brief: May 31, 2011

And just like that, as if it never left (it didn't), the Legislature's back in town.

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The Big Conversation:

And just like that, as if it never left (it didn't), the Legislature's back in town.

If it seems as if it was just yesterday that the 2011 legislative session adjourned, that's because it did. Texas legislators concluded their 82nd biennial lawmaking meeting Monday after 140 days of discussion and debate.

But it the end, Sen. Wendy Davis' last-minute filibuster of a key school finance reform bill Sunday night dashed any hopes that lawmakers would avert a special session. Republicans on Monday failed to muster the four-fifths vote in the Senate it would take to resurrect the bill, without which the budget — the only piece of legislation lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass — wouldn't balance.

Gov. Rick Perry then made it official: back here, special session, 8 a.m. today.

But speculation soon turned to how the Perry and the Republicans might try to wield the summer overtime to their advantage. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in a letter to Perry, said he'd lift the Senate rule requiring a two-thirds vote to bring a bill up for debate. "Given that a small number of Senate Democrats have demonstrated their unwillingness to find consensus on these important legislative items," Dewhurst wrote, "I can see no other alternative than to operate under a simple majority vote in the special session."

In his letter, Dewhurst also included a list of priorities he'd like addressed, including congressional redistricting, Republican-backed health care legislation and even the so-called airport "groping" bill. The governor will likely add issues as lawmakers go, but they'll start by dealing with the budget measures and a bill that cut costs in the federal Medicaid programs managed by the state. It's unclear how long they'll have to stay.

Republicans might also use the opportunity to try to pass the session's most controversial piece of immigration-related legislation, the "sanctuary cities" bill, which Senate Democrats had successfully derailed by way of the two-thirds rule. "Negotiating will be a lot harder for them," said Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.

Democrats, meanwhile, said they were ready, insisting that a special session would draw attention to Republicans' plans for the budget. "We're hoping that the supporters of awful legislation will hear from their constituents," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, "and they'll prioritize education and health and human services before their politics."

Culled:

  • Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster of a key school finance bill Sunday night has put the Fort Worth Democrat, who stands to lose her seat under new Senate redistricting maps, at the center of the budget debate set to begin anew today. Now the most visible face of Democratic opposition to the Republican-driven cuts, Davis, as the Star-Telegram puts it, by Monday had become one of the most revered — and reviled — figures in the Capitol, with some wondering whether her filibuster would ultimately help or hurt Democrats.
  • In a dig at Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, several House Democrats circulated a letter Monday urging members of their party to hold off on pledging support for speaker of the House for the 2013 session. The speaker traditionally begins collecting "pledge cards" right after the session ends, but Democrats — who helped Straus oust Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, in 2009 — have expressed dissatisfaction with how Straus ran business in the lower chamber this session.
  • Remember Rep. Debbie Riddle's pre-session Capitol camp-out? The Tomball Republican hoped to be the first in line to file a number of strict immigration-related bills, but her legislation ultimately went nowhere. The Tribune's Christopher Smith Gonzalez takes a look at the rest of the session's major bills that ended up in the legislation graveyard.

"We come here to work. We don't come here to be show horses." — Gov. Rick Perry on Monday as Republicans searched for votes to bring up the school finance bill that Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered Sunday

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