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Agenda Texas: Bill Kill, Vol. 2

On the latest Agenda Texas, from KUT News and the Tribune: Another week, another series of legislative deadlines and another edition of Bill Kill.

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It all ends Monday for the 83rd Texas legislative session. The final round of deadlines hit the House and Senate this week, ending debate on some bills, leaving a trail of dead campaign promises, broken legislative dreams and a long line of disappointed advocates and lobbyists.

That’s right, folks: There was a singular goal — kill bills.

In the House on Wednesday, for instance, as the chamber took up several uncontested and noncontroversial bills, a couple of lawmakers started to pick off bills as a negotiation tactic.

"It's kind of a hostage-taking thing," said Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey. "If a House member is mad at a senator, or a senator is mad at a house member, or they're trying to bargain with each other or, more importantly, when the bargaining has failed, they start knocking each other's bills off the calendar."

And that charge was led by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball. She had a problem with changes Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, had made to a bill in the Senate — specifically how the senator had taken out her language that affected a low-cost housing project in Harris County.

"Instead of killing the bills outright, which ends the negotiation, she moved them to later in the day and made it clear that she could threaten to kill those bills and she would kill those bills if the negotiations didn't go her way," Ramsey said. "It's classic hostage taking."

Riddle got her way in the end. A couple of hours after she took the bills hostage, she released them, allowed Birdwell's bills to come up for a vote and let them pass.

But Wednesday's problems in the House were eclipsed by some bill killing earlier in the week by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.

"That was less a hostage-taking than a straight-up revenge thing," Ramsey said. "Sen. Joan Huffman decided she didn't want to move a bill on an innocence commission. McClendon really wanted that bill. Since the senator wasn't passing it, McClendon decided to pick the senator's bills off of the local calendar."

Most of the bills delayed in Wednesday's House hostage event were eventually released and passed. But Ramsey said it's the bill kills like the one orchestrated by McClendon that force lawmakers to negotiate when bills are taken hostage at the end of the session.

"When someone in March threatens your bill you go, 'Oh, we can work this out.' When someone in the last days of May threatens your bill, you have to sit down and negotiate," Ramsey said.

On Thursday we'll start answering the emails and tweets you’ve sent in about lawmakers and the legislative session. Drop us a line at AgendaTexas@kut.org, or on Twitter @AgendaTexas.

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