This was make-or-break week for lawmakers in the Texas House. After months of campaigning on issues, and a few more months of debating and lobbying for those issues (now bills), the clock ran out on thousands of pieces of legislation. House lawmakers ran up again a constitutional deadline to pass House bills Thursday night. It was a slaughter — it was … bill kill.
Among the items killed off were perennial deadline favorites like the elimination of the death penalty and the legalization of medicinal marijuana. Also killed: an attempt to block the city of Austin’s single-use shopping bag ban. On a more serious note, any chance of a House plan to fund water infrastructure projects ended, as did any hope of a House plan for a major increase in transportation dollars.
And even after picking up steam in March, and having the backing of Gov. Rick Perry, bills attempting to restrict abortions also ran out of time.
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, authored the so-called fetal pain bill that would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks. Why did her bill not make it to a vote on the House floor? “You ask me to explain what 150 megalomaniacs think? Myself included," Laubenberg said.
She actually wasn’t mad about it. Sure, she felt like it deserved a chance to get to the House floor for a vote. She passed it out of committee in plenty of time to get that vote. But once the bill went to the House Calendars Committee, which sets the daily agenda for the House, it never came out.
“Do sometimes folks say, let’s not have quite so controversial of a session? Maybe they were thinking, let’s try and have Kumbaya. But you never do, you can see that, we’re all still going at each other," Laubenberg said, referencing a debate on the House floor. "So sonogram took a few sessions. This is obviously take more than one.”
While Laubenberg seems resigned to trying again in 2015, others, like Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, aren’t ready to end the fight.
“The people that sent us here, the voters back home, our constituents care deeply about these things ,and we run on these things and so it’s important to us," Hughes said. "We’re disappointed that nothing has happened yet, but we’re not giving up."
So what does not giving up mean? Basically that no bill is really dead until the gavel drops on the final day of the legislative session.
“The session’s not over, and we’re looking for vehicles," Hughes said.
No, he doesn’t mean he lost his car in the parking lot. He means an amendment vehicle. Constitutionally, the House can’t take up House bills anymore. But the chamber will spend the next several days passing Senate bills. And a Senate bill on health care could be a landing spot for an abortion amendment.
It’s the same for Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, and his bill that would have penalized school districts that offer same-sex partner benefits to employees, like they do at the Pflugerville Independent School District.
“There’s plenty of other opportunities that’ll be coming up in the remaining few weeks here that we should be able to have a chance to see that amendment, or that bill as an amendment get to the floor," Springer said.
Springer does have one other thing in his favor. He’s got an attorney general’s opinion that says it’s unconstitutional for any city, county or school district in Texas to provide those benefits — which he believes will help him win a majority of votes, if he can get his bill attached as an amendment.
“We’re excited about having the opportunity to figure out. Do we believe that dollars should be going to the classroom for kids?" Springer said. "Or do we think dollars should be skimmed away from that to go to expanding benefits that’s outside the Constitution?"
So to quote Yogi Berra, it ain’t over till it’s over. And any bill killed off this week has a chance for resurrection over the next two weeks.
Before we wrap up the 83rd: Do you have any questions about the way the state makes its laws?