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Senfronia Thompson Expands Lawmakers' Legislative Lexicon

The Houston Democrat has been in the House since 1973 and has learned some parliamentary tricks along the way. This week, Ms. T taught many of her colleagues about one of those maneuvers.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson  D-Houston speaks with Rep. Sylvester Turner D-Houston on May 23rd, 2011

Senfronia Thompson has been in the House since 1973 and has learned some parliamentary tricks along the way. This week, the Houston Democrat taught many of her colleagues about one of those maneuvers.

After the House voted down her HB 187, which tweaks the statute of limitations for unlawful employment actions, Thompson asked that the bill be "spread on the journal."

That measure passed 93-41, even though it was clear afterward that many members didn't know what it meant. It was the first time anyone had successfully used the maneuver all session.

After several House members expressed confusion over what they had just approved, Thompson went to the front mic and explained that spreading a bill on the journal "means you give a one-hour notice to the House that you want to bring the bill back. It gives life back to the bill.”

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The Hazlewood Act was passed as a help to military veterans get a college degree after serving their country, exempting veterans from tuition and fees. Six years ago, lawmakers expanded the largesse, allowing unused benefits to be extended to veterans' dependents.

As a result, the cost of the program has increased in recent years, putting a financial burden on public colleges and universities.

The Senate passed legislation this week to put the brakes on the program’s growth. SB 1735 by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would do this by tightening requirements for military personnel to qualify for tuition and fee exemptions at public higher ed institutions.

Multiple senators took to the microphone to laud Birdwell for his hard work and commitment to the Hazlewood program and to veterans in the state. Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, reminded the Senate of the numerous accolades that Birdwell had himself earned, and emphasized his compassion for military families.

But several senators expressed concerns about the strict limitations imposed by the bill, including the requirement that veterans accumulate a combined six years in active or reserve duty in order to pass along the benefits of the program to their children.

"I don't think it's right to tell them that those three to four years is not enough time," said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. "They are putting their lives on the line."

Before announcing the final vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick paused to say that the Texas Senate had made him proud. The bill passed on a final vote of 24 to 7, at which time all senators stood and filed by Birdwell's desk to congratulate him on passage.

The House Higher Education Committee on Thursday substituted and passed its version of the legislation in a Thursday meeting. It now goes to House Calendars for possible floor debate.

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The Senate also approved SB 62, which would require the state comptroller to tally up the costs to the state from the presence of undocumented immigrants.

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, did not accept the sole amendment offered on the bill, which would have the comptroller tally up the economic benefits as well.

“My bill is about the cost — the first thing we need to figure out is the cost,” Huffines said.

A point of order raised over a supposed error in the fiscal note was sent up by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, in an attempt to snag the bill on second reading. But after a conversation at the dais, she withdrew her point of order.

The bill passed on a party-line vote on second reading on Wednesday. It received final approval on Thursday.

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