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The Brief: May 22, 2013

More budget drama — including a delayed vote — has pushed the Legislature dangerously close to the brink of a special session.

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More budget drama — including a delayed vote — has pushed the Legislature dangerously close to the brink of a special session.

On Tuesday, after another day of wrangling between House and Senate lawmakers, the lower chamber again postponed a vote on a crucial component of a budget plan that the Legislature must pass before the end of the session, as the Tribune's Aman Batheja reports.

But in light of a looming midnight deadline to pass Senate bills, the House this time was forced to suspend its own rules to delay the vote until Wednesday.

The bill, Senate Joint Resolution 1, a key part of the budget deal leaders struck last week, would put a plan for a water infrastructure fund before Texas voters. But this week it has run into opposition from some members of both parties.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, the House's chief budget writer, said the vote was delayed because House members are waiting on the Senate to pass House Bill 1025, a supplemental budget bill that is also central to the budget deal. House Democrats in particular have sought assurances that senators will follow through on a promise to add $200 million in public education funding to the supplemental bill.

"That bill will not be ready until tomorrow morning, so we’d like to have the opportunity to review that bill," Pitts said. "Our members would like to see what’s in that bill, and then we’ll be ready to vote.”

Pitts' counterpart in the Senate, Tommy Williams of The Woodlands — who appeared disgruntled after the delay was announced — said in a statement that the House should "take their time." 

The ongoing rancor, which also includes a dispute over whether to use rebates of a fee on electric bills to help fund business tax relief, has underscored the stakes lawmakers face as the last day of the session, May 27, approaches: If they fail to pass any of the bills that make up the budget deal, a contentious special session could be headed their way.

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    Senate Ties Franchise Tax Relief to Budget Measures: "The Senate raised the bar Tuesday night in its standoff with the lower chamber by tying the provisions in a major franchise tax relief bill to key legislation being held up in the House."

•    Clock Runs Out on Bill Requiring Drug Testing for State Benefits: "The Texas House allowed the clock to run out Tuesday night on Senate Bill 11, an initiative that would have created a drug testing regimen for some welfare benefits."

•    Bill Reducing Testing for Lower Grades Clears Senate: "Elementary and middle school students will take fewer standardized exams under legislation approved by the state Senate on Tuesday — if Texas can get a waiver from the federal government."

•    House Derails Achievement School District Bill: "After Senate Bill 1718 died in the House, Sen. Royce West, the Dallas Democrat who carried it, amended the measure onto another piece of legislation that passed out of the upper chamber late Tuesday night."

•    Fixed-Tuition Bill Passes Senate With Regent Rules Added: "A bill requiring universities to offer fixed four-year tuition plans, as called for by Gov. Rick Perry, has passed both chambers but with language attached that might give the governor pause."

Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    Immigration Overhaul Wins Panel’s Backing in the Senate (The New York Times): "The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws on a bipartisan vote, sending the most significant immigration policy changes in decades to the full Senate, where the debate is expected to begin next month. The 13-to-5 vote came as the committee reached a deal on one of the final snags threatening the legislation — and agreed to hold off on a particularly politically charged amendment, which would have added protections for same-sex couples."

•    Lesbian couple in Allen says morality clause in divorce equals discrimination (The Dallas Morning News): "A lesbian couple in Allen say they are targets of discrimination after a Collin County judge ruled they could no longer live together because of a morality clause in the 2011 divorce papers one of the women signed."

•    Turf battle threatens safety investigation at West (Austin American-Statesman): "More than a month after the devastating explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, a turf battle between two federal agencies threatens to impede the safety investigation aimed at preventing such disasters in the future."

Quote of the Day: "I think this is going to have ramifications for any presidential run that she may be considering." — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, on the the political fallout for Hillary Clinton over the recent Benghazi controversy


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