This Week in the Legislature
May 9 – May 15, 2015
Days 117-123; 17 days to go
In May of a legislative session, the deadline season arrives, and everyone scrambles to keep bills moving, or hold them up. After each deadline, the search begins for “germane vehicles,” or bills of a similar subject on which to hitch a ride by amendment. This week, the big deadline was 11:59 pm, Thursday, May 7, the deadline for House bills to pass the House.
Top Story: Deadlines & Bill Affecting Minority Religious Traditions
It is not uncommon to have something controversial scheduled on the House Calendar a day or two before the deadline. Depending on the level of controversy, and how many controversial bills are scheduled, every bill behind a controversial item on the House Calendar can be put in jeopardy. That is precisely what happened this session with HB 4105, a bill pertaining to same-sex marriage. Democrats began slowing down the Calendar on Wednesday evening. Using the rules of legislative procedure, Democrats calculated how long must be spent on every bill between where they were at, and the bill they were trying to block, and slowed things down to prevent it from arising.
A developing story over recent weeks involves a murky group called the “American Phoenix Foundation” that has been conducting surveillance of legislators and lobbyists for the past six months. Recently, they began approaching legislators in the halls of the Capitol asking provocative “gotcha” questions with hidden cameras. It is worth mentioning in the weekly update only because such antics affect the content of legislation by creating a chilling effect as lawmakers become reticent to talk to people they do not know or recognize. As Austin becomes more polarized like Washington, D.C., such tactics add to the power of ideology over facts and reduce the information coming to lawmakers from affected stakeholders as lawmakers feel safest talking to an insular circle of trusted advisors.
The Texas Tribune sums up the 84th Legislature thus far using just 14 Emojis.
In other news, please pray for Rep. Sylvester Turner whose sister passed away, for Rep. Ron Reynolds who suffered an appendicitis, and for Rep. Phil Stephenson who was hospitalized this past week.
Other Updates Organized by Texas Impact’s Legislative Agenda
Not all issue areas see new action each week.
1. Financial Security
On Wednesday, May 13, HB 1628 by Rep. Eric Johnson, passed the House on the Local and Consent Calendar. HB 1628 would give credit unions and banks the option to do a raffle prize giveaway for people who make savings deposits as a way to encourage people to save money, especially in low income neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, May 13, HB 1267, which would end the permanent disqualification for drug felons for food stamps, passed the House 92 – 49.
After languishing in the Senate for six weeks, HB 11, the House’s border security bill, was set for public hearing next week. Whether there is agreement between House and Senate on border security, the Senate is simply moving the bill to be in position, or the Senate is preparing to load it up with sanctuary cities (SB 185) or repeal of in-state tuition (SB 1819), is still unknown. Read the Texas Tribune article for more information.
In other immigration-related news, the Republican party still shows itself to be greatly divided over the issue. As reported in Harvey Kronberg’s Quorum Report, a business leader in the Republican party called out Michael Quinn Sullivan for attacking Rep. Byron Cook, Chair of the House Committee on State Affairs. Sullivan has historically been a part of the libertarian wing of the party. Immigration tends to be a social conservative issue. Chairman Cook, one of the original “Cardinals” that were known as “ABC Republicans” (Anybody But Craddick) that elected Speaker Straus in 2009 has been a target of Mr. Sullivan. Click to read Mr. Sullivan’s blog and Mr. Adams’ response.
On Thursday, May 14, House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock laid out, but ultimately pulled down, his school finance bill, HB 1759. With Speaker Straus thanking the Chairman for his efforts, Chairman Aycock pulled the bill down saying, “we can kill all day with this bill…I don’t think it’s fair to leave this bill pending and kill everything when we know the Senate almost certainly will not consider the measure if it passes.” If Chairman Aycock had not pulled the bill, it would have almost certainly precipitated a school voucher fight as Representatives Dwayne Bohac and Matt Krause had prefiled voucher amendments.
On Friday, May 15, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez relating to community schools passed the House 69 to 52. However, HB 1892 by Rep. Rodriguez, which would have created a grant program for community schools, failed to pass 60 to 82. Community schools are an alternative to Texas Education Agency takeovers of low-performing schools or privatization, integrating many of the social service issues affecting low-income families into the local school.
6. Budget & Revenue
On Wednesday, May 13, news begin to break of a tax cut deal reached between House and Senate negotiators, but as soon as the story broke, both chambers began to minimize expectations. In question is the mixture of which kind of tax cuts—in other words, how much will be property tax, sales tax, or franchise tax reductions. At this point in a legislative session, deals routinely get cut between the chambers, and failure to reach agreements can mysteriously take down seemingly unrelated legislation.
7. Criminal Justice
On Friday, May 15, the House finally passed on 3rd reading HB 548, which would eliminate consideration of criminal history information on the initial application for state employment. The state would still check after the agency has determined that the applicant is otherwise qualified, and exceptions apply such as provision of services involving children. The bill passed 67-62.
On Thursday, May 14, the House version of the “denomination discrimination” bill, HB 3567, died on the House Calendar. However, its companion, SB 2065, is alive and moving rapidly. The Speaker referred SB 2065 to the State Affairs Committee before adjourning, and the next morning on Friday, May 15, it was voted out of committee and sent to the Calendars Committee. Under the House rules, it could be on the House floor as early as Wednesday of next week. Texas Impact’s employment law concerns could easily be addressed if the Protestant Bishops’ Amendment was added to clarify that a civil court will not be intruding into religious doctrinal issues and impeding our free exercise. For more on this bill, see the weekly updates from May 2-8, and Apr. 25 - May 1.
On Thursday, May 14, anti-Muslim legislation (HB 562 and HB 670) died on the House Calendar. However, the Senate Committee on State Affairs reported favorably to the full Senate SB 531 by Senator Donna Campbell. Readers of past updates will recall, this bill is the so-called “American Law for American Courts” (ALAC) that is aimed at stopping the creep of Sharia law into our court system. Texas Impact opposes such legislation as baseless and anti-Muslim. If Texas courts were actually ignoring state statutes or constitutional law, then a far more serious problem would exist. The appropriate response would be the formation of a legislative committee to conduct investigations and determine if impeachment was warranted.
Update on guns: The bills affecting the ability of houses of worship to prohibit guns on their properties all died in committee or in Calendars. However, nothing is truly dead until Sine Die, and the open carry and campus carry bills are still alive. HB 910 (open carry) that contains a bad provision that would reduce the penalty for carrying a weapon on a prohibited premises, has been scheduled for public hearing on Monday of next week. SB 11 (campus carry) was reported favorably from House Homeland Security, and is on its way to Calendars.
11. Civic Engagement
12. Good Government
On Wednesday, May 13, it was apparent how far apart the House and Senate are on ethics reform. Chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Rep. Byron Cook, called SB 19 “one of the most superficial efforts I have ever seen.” Chairman Cook made clear that “if the House is going to take this up, we’re going to do it in a meaningful way. We’re gonna have a real ethics bill otherwise there’s no reason to do it.” The House has sent several measures over to the Senate. In addition to Chairman Cook, Representatives Charlie Geren and Sarah Davis have led the House in those efforts and several bills have been sent over to the Senate.
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