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The Brief: June 22, 2011

Seven days remain in the 82nd Legislature's 1st called special session. But is the end in sight?

The chamber of the Texas House

The Big Conversation: 

Seven days remain in the 82nd Legislature's 1st called special session. But is the end in sight?

Legislators entered the constitutionally limited 30 day special session with a limited, if significant agenda: pass fiscal legislation relating to the implementation of the budget — including non-tax revenue, school finance and efficiency measures — and Medicaid-related healthcare reform. 

Then the governor expanded the call to redistricting and Texas Windstorm Insurance Association reform. And then sanctuary cities. And on Monday, legislation on "official oppression on those seeking access to public buildings and transportation" — a.k.a. TSA groping — made it on the to-do list. 

No one wants to say whether lawmakers might need another month to get to some items on their bulky schedule. Most of the legislation is wending its way through conference committees. Congressional redistricting is already on its way to the governor's desk. The House floor is set to take up an anti-TSA groping bill on Friday. But as the Texas Tribune's Thanh Tan reports, there's "one major unresolved bill that threatens to push the House and Senate into yet another special session."

That would be TWIA. Gov. Rick Perry has said reforming the operations of the windstorm insurance association is a must before the hurricane season reaches the Gulf Coast. But the close involvement of powerful interest groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which wants steep legal requirements, and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which wants less tough ones, have stymied lawmakers' ability to agree on a bill. Legislation has passed the House but is now stalled in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, where an attempt to pass the bill on Monday failed. Negotiations continue.

(Read more from our rundown here.) 

 Culled: 

· One accounting trick lawmakers used to balance the budget was to defer payment on half the money nonprofit organizations like the University of Texas, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Special Olympics and the Girl Scouts receive from the purchase of specialty license plates. Those groups aren't pleased, the Austin American Statesman  reports. "Nobody's taking much comfort in that we're supposed to get that money in two years," said one advocate. "The longer it sits there, the more attractive it becomes for the state to want to keep it for some other purpose."

· The University of Texas' affirmative action admissions policy has held up one more time in court. The federal 5th Circuit already upheld the policy being challenged by two white students expected to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Yesterday, by a 9-to-7 vote, it declined their request to have a full judge panel review it.

· An attempt to keep a 32-year-old man with suspected mental disabilities from the death chamber failed yesterday afternoon when the state executed Milton Mathis, who fatally shot two people and paralyzed a third when he opened fire on a Houston home. He was sentenced to death in 1999, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for inmates with mental disabilities. 

"It’s hard to entertain a serious discussion of this bill. It is hard to contemplate that 112 members of the House would sign on to this bill as co-sponsors. I’m almost at a loss for words, except that by now we ought to be used to the idea that this is the worst legislature that the Capitol has seen in forty years and there is no end to the silliness (not to mention the harm) it is willing to perpetrate." — Veteran Texas Monthly political reporter Paul Burka 

Must Read:  

Rick Perry's Populist Attack on TSA Frisks — The Atlantic

New Laws Push Government Transparency, Protect Privacy — The Texas Tribune

GOP Women Defend Party Against 'Anti-Women' Charge — The Associated Press



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