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Session's End Creates Graveyard of Failed Legislation

The system is meant to kill legislation: That’s the old line often heard around the Capitol. As the session's end slams the coffin door on a slew of bills, more than a few lawmakers are taking solace in the fact that their dead bills have lots of company.

Texas Capitol

The system is meant kill legislation: That’s the old line often heard around the Capitol. And now, as the session's end slams the coffin door on a slew of bills, more than a few lawmakers are taking solace in the fact that their dead legislation has plenty of company.

Top on the list of bills that didn’t make it across the finish line is, of course, Senate Bill 1811, a broad fiscal matters proposal that had public school financing tacked on to it. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, killed it with a filibuster, but school financing has to be addressed and will be taken up in a special session.

In the waning hours of the session, a major Medicaid efficiency bill needed to balance the state budget also ran out of time. So did SB 8, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's big health reform bill that also includes a controversial effort to take control of Medicare and Medicaid from the federal government. (Both could be added to the call in a special session.)  

But what happened to other legislation that grabbed headlines throughout the session and had lawmakers working hard for weeks?

Top among those would be Rep. Burt SolomonsHB 12, the sanctuary cities legislation, which would have prohibited communities from adopting policies preventing law enforcement officers from asking the immigration status of people who are detained or arrested. Gov. Rick Perry made the bill an emergency item, and the measure made it out of the House after lengthy and emotional debate. But it crashed and burned in the Senate and never came up for debate.

“It’s disappointing, especially when you put that much work into a bill,” Solomons says. The bill was important, he says, because whether any sanctuary city exists in Texas, plenty of people think they do. He says the bill would have dispelled that perception.  

Plenty of other immigration-related bills never made it out of the gate. Just before the session began, Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, made headlines when she camped out in the Capitol for 36 hours to be the first in line to file a stack of immigration-related legislation, including a bill creating a criminal trespassing offense for being in the state illegally. Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, was not far behind with his own Arizona-style bill, among other pieces of legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration.

Berman says the lack of movement on those bills is due to the fact that no one in the Texas Legislature has the stomach to deal with the issue.

“From the top on down, there is no will in the state to deal with the tough question of illegal aliens in Texas,” Berman says, vowing that won't deter him from bringing the legislation back up next session.

“I’ve tried for six years — no reason why I should stop trying,” he says.

On the Senate side, one of the most talked-about pieces of legislation was Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s bill to allow concealed handguns to be carried on college campuses. Although the measure is popular with many conservatives, Wentworth, R-San Antonio, did not have the votes to pass it on its own. Instead he tried tacking it onto a fiscal matters bill that made it out of the Senate, only to have the House strip out the handgun amendment.

Wentworth harshly criticized House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, saying Straus never liked the handgun legislation and that he used his influence to kill it.

“I’m very disappointed and frustrated,” Wentworth says. Straus suggested Wentworth knew he was taking a risk with the rules when he tried the amendment. Two years ago, Wentworth was able to pass the same measure out of the Senate only to see time run out in the House. He says he is not giving up: “We’ll be back in 2013.”

Plenty of other bills failed. Legislation dealing with health care reform, allowing brewpubs to distribute their beers, expanding gambling and pushing constitutional amendments to rein in unfunded mandates for local governments all failed to make it to the governor’s desk.

But Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, says that is just how things work in Texas.

“The system is designed to make it hard to pass new laws. It’s a limited government paradigm that we have here in Texas,” he says. But even though this year’s session featured a tough and often bitter budget fight, it was still a “very good policy session,” Branch says.

That's small comfort for Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, who has been pushing a statewide smoking ban for three sessions. Seeing her legislation fail again to become law stings.

“It will literally save thousands of lives and millions of dollars,” Crownover says. But she still was unable to find enough support to pass the measure. Members opposed it because they “haven’t gotten beyond the talk-radio mentality,” she says.

Crownover, too, says she’ll keep fighting for what she thinks is a good piece of legislation.

“You do it because you have to,” she says. “Ten years from now, when we talk about this debate, it will seem silly and absurd.”

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