The Legislature finished on Monday and came back on Tuesday to do in a few days what they could not accomplish in 140, finishing up a package of budget bills and knocking off a few political/policy priorities, like congressional redistricting and reforms to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
When you do your autopsy of the regular legislative session, blame Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Her filibuster killed the fiscal bill with the school finance sidecar, and the budget won't work without those bills. Gov. Rick Perry was already talking about special sessions on two other issues — congressional redistricting and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association — but those were optional. The budget's not.
But think on where she got the weapon. Republicans ended the 2009 session cursing the Democratic chubbers who talked issues to death at the end of that session. They said, "Nevermore" and then fell down the same rat hole. The fiscal matters bill wasn't even eligible for consideration in the Senate until the Sunday night with the looming midnight deadline.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, joked near the press table in the Senate that the length of Davis' filibuster — about an hour and 15 minutes — was barely a warmup on his radio show.
Democrats in the House and in the Senate are super-minorities (is that the opposite of a super-majority?) whose limited armory consists mostly of the parliamentary rulebooks. They have the power of delay, and the only way to wire around that is to get the work done before the deadlines make the power of delay a meaningful tactic.
Davis pulled the trigger, but the people in charge of the process loaded the gun for her.
The congressional redistricting maps rolled out on the second day of the special session would solidify the GOP's hold on two tenuous districts, whack a central Texas Democrat and put two of the state's four new seats in GOP hands, giving the Republicans 26 of the state's 36 seats in Congress and leaving ten for the Democrats.
Within 48 hours, the sponsors were talking about changes, but the opening map is interesting. In a state where about 55 percent of the public voted for John McCain in 2008 and about the same percentage voted for Rick Perry in 2010 — two races where the political maps don't matter — the starting map would put 72 percent of the delegation in Republican territory.
The new open seats are west of the DFW Metroplex in Parker and Wise counties, in Central Texas stretching south from Austin to San Antonio, in South Texas in a district that stretches from the Rio Grande north to Lavaca County, and in Houston and East Texas in a district shaped like a jumbo shrimp that starts in Houston and loops to the north and then east and then south into Jefferson County on the Louisiana border.
It's being panned by Democrats and by minority groups. State Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat who has submitted his own congressional map, said the Solomons/Seliger map effectively cuts the number of minority opportunity districts at a time when the growth of the state was almost entirely attributed to growth in the black and Hispanic population. He was especially unhappy with their version of what the districts in Dallas-Fort Worth should look like. "A plan that splits and packs the 2.1 million African Americans and Latinos in Dallas and Tarrant Counties to provide us only one effective voice in Congress is not just illegal, it's wrong," he said.
A coalition of Latino groups that submitted partial state maps for congressional districts blasted the Republican plan. "The Solomons-Seliger map does not increase the number of Latino opportunity congressional districts despite the fact that 65% of the State’s growth over the past decade was comprised of Latinos," said Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Instead, the map gerrymanders more than nine million Latinos in Texas to make sure that we have no more electoral opportunity than we did in 1991."
If you average the ballot-top Republican vote percentages for McCain in 2008 and Perry in 2010, 21 of the current districts are Republican and 11 of them are Democratic. Republicans actually hold 23 seats after upset wins by Francisco "Quico" Canseco of San Antonio and Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christ in the November 2010 election. On paper, the current configuration is 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats; in reality, it's 23-9.
In the proposed map, redistricting chairmen, Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would shore up the districts of those two Republican freshmen, making both Republican on paper. They transform Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett's district from a Democratic to a Republican one. It would have a higher Republican content that districts represented by five Republicans, including Lamar Smith of San Antonio and Pete Sessions of Dallas.
And they draw two of the four new districts for Republicans and two for minorities in districts where Democrats prevailed, on average, in the last two elections.
That means the Democrats would, on paper, lose a seat — Doggett's — while the Republicans gain five — Doggett's, the two new ones, and the two where Republicans prevailed last year in Democratic territory.
Anglos are in the minority of the voting age population in thirteen districts in the proposed congressional map and in the minority in the total population in two more. That compares with a dozen districts in the current map where voting age populations are less than 50 percent Anglo, and two more where they're in the minority in the total population but the majority among adults. A statewide map prepared by Veasey creates 14 minority-majority districts and one more where Anglos make up the majority of adults but not the majority of the population.
Charting the New Maps
To get a bead on how the proposed congressional maps work, we averaged John McCain and Rick Perry results from the 2008 and 2010 elections for the districts as they now stand and as they would be in the proposed map. To pull out an example, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, is currently in CD-12, which turned in a McCain/Perry average of 62.1 percent. The new CD-12 proposed for her has a McCain/Perry average of 56.7 percent, meaning her district got more Democratic by 5.4 percentage points. It would remain Republican, but a little less so than it is now.
The Texas Senate maps, done with the same McCain/Perry, the most significant change is in the numbers for Wendy Davis' Fort Worth district. It was 52.4 percent Republican, according to the McCain/Perry average; under the map approved by the Legislature, it would become a 56 percent district.
The House maps flip nine districts from the Democratic column on the McCain/Perry numbers into the Republican column. Here's how they changed from one map to the next.
Mistakes Were Made
Texas politicians with mistakes on their campaign finance reports will be able to correct them without penalties if the governor signs a bill approved during the regular legislative session.
The aim was to protect members from nitpicking enforcement of campaign finance laws, according to the sponsor, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. The legislation doesn't make any distinction between small mistakes and large ones. A change meant to free candidates from big fines for small mistakes could also free candidates from suffering any consequences for big reporting glitches.
The amendment, added by Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, and approved in both the Senate and the House, gives filers 14 business days after a complaint has been made to fix their reports without being assessed a penalty so long as there was no "intent to mislead or to misrepresent the information contained in the report."
Proving intent isn't easy and the provision applies no matter what dollar amount is in question. Geren thinks it would be hard to get away with much.
"I don't think anybody can raise a million dollars and say it was a mistake and not be lying," he says. "I don't think you get off on the major stuff."
Still, he admits the legislation might need some cleanup; the amendment was added near the end of the session to a bill that was originally meant to crack down on personal expenses and reimbursements in campaign accounts.
As an example, Geren says the Texas Ethics Commission once proposed to fine him $2,700 for a $700 contribution that was accidentally left off of his report. The fine was eventually reduced to $500, but other candidates have similar horror stories. "We may find that the wording is not tight enough and we may find we have to tighten it up," Geren says.
A candidate who found a mistake and filed a corrected report would still face the penalties that are in current law; the 14-business-day grace period for fixing mistakes without penalty only applies after a complaint has been filed.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry says the bill is under review, like other legislation that's gone to the governor, but didn't indicate what he might do. Geren suggested that if the bill needs fixing, it can be done in special session this summer.
David Reisman, director of the Texas Ethics Commission, says the measure could take away most of the agency's revenue from fines — about $300,000 over the two-year budget cycle. During the last fiscal year, he says, the agency received 374 complaints about reports. The agency assesses about $200,000 in fines each year. The agency doesn't have a position on the issue, but said it could remove the incentives to accurately report campaign contributions and expenditures.
The legislation, HB 1616, requires lawmakers to report proceeds from the sales of assets purchased with campaign money and requires them to report reimbursements and refunds of any money spent from their campaign accounts. State Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, told the Associated Press during last year's campaign that he had reimbursed expenses from both his campaign and state account; he attributed that double-billing to an accounting mistake. This legislation would require candidates to report whether they've been reimbursed elsewhere for campaign spending.
Forget school finance — the most contentious topic of the special session may be mandate relief. The defeat of legislation allowing school districts to furlough teachers, reduce salaries and increase class sizes was the biggest victory of the session for teachers associations. Now, all bills taking aim at state requirements for school districts will likely be fair game because Gov. Rick Perry has included "measures that will allow school districts to operate more efficiently" in his call — code words for mandate relief.
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, have already filed bills on the subject.
In the event that districts receive less funding per student than the previous year, Shapiro's Senate Bill 8 allows schools to furlough teachers and modifies minimum salary and notification of termination requirements. Eissler's requires the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to the requirement upon a school district's request, as long as that wouldn't result in more than 25 students in a classroom, a district-wide average of more than 22 students per class or "negatively affect the education of students."
As the law stands now, the Texas Education Agency denies few waivers, which districts can request if they have shortage of facilities or teachers — an argument often made by opponents of lifting the class-size ratio for cost-based reasons.
On Thursday, the Senate Public Education Committee slogged through almost five hours of testimony on Shapiro's bill. Superintendents said the bill would let them keep the best teachers. Democrats on the committee said the measures were pointless because districts have already signed contracts for the upcoming year, and they would not take effect until the spring of 2012.
The committee will listen to the remaining of the 70 witnesses on Friday morning.
Eissler's class-size bill is also scheduled for a public hearing then. This time around, opponents of mandate relief will encounter another hurdle. The Senate will no longer require a two-thirds vote to bring legislation to the floor. During the regular session, that effectively stonewalled Shapiro's original proposal. During Thursday's hearing, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, began to argue with Shapiro about making her measures temporary, but he quickly relented, saying it was "a exercise in futility."
"You have the votes to do what you want," he told her.
Sanctuary cities legislation is back for an encore, sort of.
Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, filed HB 9, the latest version of the contentious “sanctuary cities” legislation, which never made it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk during the regular session. It passed the House but saw no floor action in the Senate.
And Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, filed SB 9, which includes language from HB 9 and additional provisions that would expand use of the Secure Communities program and create new requirements for citizens and immigrants who apply for IDs or driver’s licenses.
Perry hasn’t yet opened up the special session to include immigration matters, but some lawmakers think that will soon happen because supporters of statewide enforcement of immigration laws, specifically those in the Republican majority, say passing the legislation now would be a cakewalk. The two-thirds rule in the Senate no longer applies, and the House will have the same supermajority.
If immigration is placed on the call, look for lawmakers to file E-Verify legislation, too. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona statute that allows the state to revoke business licenses of employers who hire unauthorized workers. It could give lawmakers confidence that the high court will back them up.
But time is a factor. If Perry adds more controversial measures to the call, it’d make for a longer session.
Not on the Call
Just because Gov. Rick Perry hasn’t added a particular issue to the special session call doesn’t mean it cannot be filed as legislation, which is apparent in a review of the 60 bills filed thus far.
In fact, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, says bills that weren’t on the call used to pass during special session with some regularity, though she doubts that could happen in the modern environment (a simple point of order could halt such an effort). She has filed Senate Bill 16, which revives an effort that got nowhere during the regular session to get approval for bonds for campus construction projects.
Could this come back in the special? “Stay tuned,” said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who hopes the governor will add it.
Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier kept her poker face: "The governor certainly has the prerogative to add items during the special session, but what he’s put out so far is what’s official, and he hasn’t decided anything else past that at this point."
If he decides to add anything, more contentious bills are also eagerly awaiting a chance to move.
Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, has rolled three hot-button immigration and homeland security issues into one bill that includes “sanctuary city” legislation, policies relating to the use of the Secure Communities program, and new specifications for applications for driver’s licenses and state IDs. Williams told The Texas Tribune that he had not spoken to Perry about adding the issues to the call.
Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, has also re-filed the House’s version of the “sanctuary cities” bill, which was an emergency item during the regular session but failed to make it through the process.
Another bill that is back in the books but not on the call is the notorious “anti-groping” bill by Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, which creates a misdemeanor offense for government employees who get unnecessarily intrusive in their security searches. The bill’s failure to pass in the regular session sparked heated floor exchanges and noisy Capitol protests.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in a letter to Perry, requested that it be added, and Simpson is hopeful. “There’s a lot of people calling in, and it fits with the governor’s philosophy,” Simpson said.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would put new limits on doctors who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs, including requirements that they examine women before and after, document the gestational age of the fetus and give the patient the drug label and emergency contacts for potential complications.
It’s not exactly clear if that fits into the call for “legislation relating to health care cost containment, access to services through managed care, and the creation of economic and structural incentives to improve the quality of Medicaid services."
Michael Williams is out of the U.S. Senate race, saying he'll run for one of the four new seats in the Texas delegation to Congress. That saves him a grueling statewide run in a field that includes some people with more money and higher name ID. Williams left the Texas Railroad Commission in April to work on the race for Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat in the U.S. Senate. Others in that statewide race — declared or looking or presumed — include Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Sen. Dan Patrick, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, and Democrat Ricardo Sanchez, a retired U.S. Army general.
• Cruz got two important endorsements for his Senate run from the FreedomWorks PAC —that's former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey's operation — and from the Club for Growth PAC. Neither means much in terms of votes in Texas, but both are important to conservatives from whom the candidates are trying to extract campaign money.
• Put former U.S. Rep. (and state Rep.) Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in the 2012 race against U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio. That's a rematch and would be on new turf, depending on what lawmakers and the courts do with that congressional district.
• Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker is considering a run for the Texas Railroad Commission, and also submitted his name for consideration as Gov. Rick Perry decides who to appoint to an open seat on the three-member board.
Michael Williams resigned earlier this year to work on this run for the U.S. Senate, and the governor will appoint his successor, who'll then have to run for reelection. Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones is also running for U.S. Senate, and while she hasn't resigned her seat, she would otherwise be on the reelection ballot in 2012, so that could be an open statewide seat.
Parker has been a county commissioner since 2004, when he was the first black elected to that job in that county, and the youngest person to win a commissioner's race in the county's history.
He hasn't declared — that would forfeit his current job — but has been doing the groundwork for some time, visiting energy and oil and gas conferences, traveling the state and writing a book called "Global Warming… Really?"
He wouldn't be alone if he did run. Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is giving up his House seat to run for the commission and is also hoping to catch Perry's eye for the appointment. And through a spokesman, Christi Craddick, daughter of former Speaker Tom Craddick, acknowledges she is also pondering a run.
• Now that Dan Patrick is talking about the Hutchison seat, some Houston Republicans are mentioning former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt as a possible candidate for Patrick's current post.