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The Brief: May 28, 2013

The end of a tame regular session has given way to a special session that could prove much more volatile.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delivers a stack of bills to the secretary of the Senate on May 27, 2013.

The Big Conversation

The end of a tame regular session has given way to a special session that could prove much more volatile.

On Monday, about an hour after the Legislature adjourned for the year, Gov. Rick Perry summoned lawmakers back for an immediate special session on redistricting. Lawmakers had previously been told they'd likely be called back so they could approve court-drawn maps currently in place for the Legislature and members of the U.S. House.

As the Senate reconvened on Monday, a debate quickly erupted over the chamber's two-thirds rule, which Democrats — who hold 12 of the chamber's 31 seats — used during the regular session to block controversial legislation. After Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the chamber would do away with the rule during the special session, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, fiercely objected.

"We need to be doing the business of the state and not wasting taxpayer dollars trying to carry out a political agenda just because they didn’t get it achieved during the regular session," Watson said.

The debate offered a preview of the more contentious tone the special session could take on if Perry decides lawmakers have left other unfinished business. Though the governor has so far only called on lawmakers to address redistricting, Dewhurst and several other Republicans have urged him to add to the list a raft of conservative-backed bills — on issues like abortion and school choice — that were derailed during the regular session.

"What [Perry] puts on the special session call will go a long way in telling us whether he’s running for re-election or for president," Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford told The Dallas Morning News.

Democrats on Monday also said they were holding out for a few issues of their own, including a bill by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, to create a statewide district to manage low-performing schools and another by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, to give driver's permits to undocumented immigrants.

The Senate will return to work Thursday. The House gavels back in today at 11 a.m.

Culled

•    Perry Names Rathgeber Insurance Commissioner (The Texas Tribune): "Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Julia Rathgeber to be the state's commissioner of insurance, replacing Eleanor Kitzman, who couldn't win Senate confirmation this session."

•    Exclusive: Texas insurance commissioner withheld annual profit numbers to boost confirmation case, sources say (The Dallas Morning News): "Profits for Texas home insurers jumped sharply in 2012 as two of the largest companies, State Farm and Allstate, beat the industry average in a year in which they raised rates. The profits were so favorable that outgoing Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman — who declined to block any big premium hikes during her tenure — kept the numbers confidential while she was still trying to win confirmation from the Senate."

•    El Paso loses money for UTEP, Texas Tech campus projects (El Paso Times): "Billions in construction funding for Texas universities died Monday in a dispute between the two chambers of the Texas Legislature. If the House version of the bill had prevailed, El Paso would have gotten between $88 million and $166 million for a new building at the University of Texas at El Paso and $78 million for a new building for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center."

•    Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says he’ll back marriage-equality resolution (The Dallas Morning News): "After weeks of sidestepping the question, Mayor Mike Rawlings says he will vote next month in favor of a Dallas City Council resolution supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry."

Quote of the Day: "How did you spend your interim?" — State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to reporters on Monday 

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