Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda
Texas legislators might eventually get the transportation funding bill the governor asked them for, but it's not the stuff parades are made of: They've already blown two chances.
The governor's transportation funding legislation died once in the Senate and once in the House. Lawmakers who have been in session since January — convinced by now the governor will keep calling them back — are hoping they can get it right this time.
The bill that failed in the House in the second special session was all but done a month ago, approved by the House and all teed up in the Senate on the last day of the first special session.
The Senate never got to vote, however, because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst decided to put transportation and a teen capital murder bill behind — instead of in front of — the abortion legislation that he and everyone else knew was going to be filibustered by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
Blaming the protesters is one out — they did protest, the Senate did fall to pieces, the bills did die — but that’s like blaming the stove for burning the beans. The cooks knew the burner was on; the folks in the Senate knew the filibuster was on.
You can argue about the strategery all you want, but the rearview mirror version of this is a head-slapper. Here’s what lawmakers knew at the time.
1. Davis was going to filibuster.
2. There was only half a day left and any senator in reasonably good physical condition can talk for 12 hours without keeling over.
3. The other two issues — transportation funding and penalties for teen capital murderers — were ready to go.
4. It was reasonable to think that the abortion filibuster would go to midnight and plain that, if that was going to happen, everything behind it in the batting order was doomed.
There was some conversation at the time that Gov. Rick Perry might be more willing to call lawmakers back for a second special session if abortion wasn’t the only issue. Dewhurst advisors figured transportation was the only thing sure to force another special session and that determined the sequence of bills. Transportation and teen murder legislation became the hostages.
Now, thanks in large part to that decision in the Senate and to the fruitless efforts to get a road bill through the House in the second special session, the lawmakers are the hostages.
The governor called them back into their third session while the smell of that second session was still in the air. And he, too, missed a narrow, but probably low-percentage shot to get things done without more overtime pay for lawmakers.
The House voted 84-40 on Monday in favor of the constitutional amendment required for transportation funding. Parse it: That is 16 votes short of the required 100 votes, and 25 members didn’t vote (Rep. Mark Strama’s seat is empty after his resignation earlier this summer). The splits weren’t particularly partisan, either: Democrats voted 26-13 in favor of the bill and Republicans voted 58-27 in favor. The split on the absents/excused was 15 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
Flip one “no” vote to get a motion to reconsider the earlier vote, get 15 members to join the majority and you have the 100 you need. But nobody, from the governor on down, tried to turn the thing around — at least in the remaining time during the special session. Blame House Speaker Joe Straus for that one: He didn’t encourage House members to come back on the final day of the session, leaving the governor little to work with. Without enough people there to pass a constitutional amendment, he didn't have any reason to work the vote sheet. Perry called lawmakers back before sundown and had that same list to work with.
At the end of the week, people from all three leaders’ offices had reached a tentative deal and were entertaining the idea that the House and Senate could finish everything up early next week.
The caveat? Last week ended with the same people entertaining the same idea, and it got away from them.
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