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In Session's Final Days, the Human Element Emerges

After much effort, Ruth Jones McClendon was successful this session in passing legislation to create an innocence commission.

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, waits to lay out House Bill 48 on May 28, 2015.  The bill, which passed an...

It was an emotional scene in the House on Thursday as members concurred with Senate amendments on HB 48, setting up the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission.

The board will review all cases in which an innocent person was convicted and later exonerated. The commission is named for Tim Cole, who died in prison in 1999 while serving time on a rape conviction.

He was later determined to be wrongfully convicted.

Creation of an innocence commission has been the longtime goal of San Antonio Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon, who has pursued legislation this session despite being significantly slowed by illness.

Before the House passed HB 48 today, McClendon’s colleagues surrounded her at the front mic in support. Senate sponsor Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, described on Twitter “a wonderful scene” as the legislation received final approval.

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

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This was just one example of the human element at work in the final days of session. Last Friday, San Antonio Democrat Joe Farias used a personal privilege speech to launch an impassioned plea for his colleagues not to make changes to the Hazlewood program.

The program, which covers college tuition for veterans and their dependents, has been in the spotlight all session because of rising costs that are putting a significant burden on the state’s institutes of higher education.

That led to SB 1735, which would restrict program eligibility requirements for veterans’ dependents in an attempt to rein in costs.

But backers of the program have argued against any cutbacks.

In his speech, Farias summed up the argument when he said, “Why hurt the families we hold so dear? Why take from them when they have given so much?"

Two days later — on the day before Memorial Day — the House relented, significantly blunting the effect of the legislation.

SB 1735 is currently in conference committee.

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And in what is surely one of the most unexpected turn of events to occur this session, the House parliamentarian reversed course late on Thursday on a point of order ruling from the day before.

The reversal revived the hopes of a groundwater bill by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, designed to provide protection to water well owners in western Hays County.

The area bore the brunt of the flooding from the Memorial Day weekend, lending urgency to Isaac’s efforts.

After the new ruling overturning the points of order laid on his bill was announced close to adjournment on Thursday, the emotion was too much for Isaac. He started crying at his desk.

He told the Tribune’s Matthew Watkins: "It has just been a really rough day because of what happened yesterday. I have been in a bad mood all day thinking that the one issue that people sent me here to do for them, I couldn't get done."

He added: "I'm going to go visit with the speaker's team and the parliamentarian, but I'm probably not going to ask why. I'm just going to say thanks."

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