There's nothing quite like the end of a Texas legislative session. It’s almost like the end of an action movie: All hope is lost, disaster is just a moment away — but then a miracle saves the day.
The Ever-Changing Session
Friday at the Capitol was no different. It started with everyone waking up to the news that a budget agreement had been reached. That was quickly dismissed by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, the only Democrat on the House budget conference committee.
"I am not aware of an offer by the Senate," Turner said.
So for the second day in a row, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory — until a few hours later, when an agreement was announced.
Things move quickly around the Capitol. Here’s an example:
Around 10:30 a.m. Friday, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, came to the floor of the House and gave what’s called a personal privilege speech. He told lawmakers he felt the Senate was keeping House bills from passing for no good reason.
“You got to learn to respect the people and the process around here," Dutton said. "The Senate has been disrespectful both to the people and the process around here. And as I talked to other members they were complaining about the same thing I was complaining about. I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they were treating you that way, too.'"
His solution was to announce he was going to keep any and all local and consent Senate bills, which usually have no opposition, from passing the House. If the story had ended right there, we’d have a huge problem — the kind of disagreement that could cause negotiations on dozens, even hundreds, of bills to collapse and throw the session into chaos.
But after a lunch break, a deal was struck. Dutton’s bill appears to be on its way, and he is expected to release his hold on the Senate bills.
You can get whiplash just from following legislative Twitter feeds.
Keeping the Capitol Running
Between now and the end of the session, we want to introduce you to a couple of the people who make the Capitol tick.
For instance: The trappings of a legislative session might make it hard to remember, but the Texas Capitol isn’t just a workspace for the House, Senate and governor. If you break away from committee schedules and floor votes for just a moment, you’ll notice it’s also a historic depository.
And it’s Ali James’ job to keep the 3,700 artifacts there looking like new.
“Anything that looks historic in the building — a chair, a desk, the rostrum that you see in this room — probably are under my purview," James said.
But please, don’t call it a museum. Museums have the luxury of roping off antiques so that the general public can’t get them dirty.
“Unlike a museum, our historic furnishings are actually used by the people who come to the Capitol," James said. "You sit on a historic bench in the rotunda. If you’re a legislator and you office in the historic Capitol, chances are you might have a historic desk from the collection."
And everything needs to look especially nice this year.
“This is the 125th anniversary of the Capitol," James said. "This is our quasquicentennial this year. It’s hard to say but very important."
Yes, it is. The Texas Capitol is an amazing building, no matter what you think about the politics and politicians that inhabit it.