Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 2: Down to Business

Today is the second day of the 82nd regular legislative session.

The Senate will reconvene at 11 am and will likely begin the process of adopting their rules. The rules in the Senate are very similar to the House's with a few noted exceptions. Chief among these is that the House can consider bills on the floor in any order it deems fit. The Senate, however, has a rule that bills must be considered in the order they were filed. So SB1 should be first, then SB2 and so forth.

Of course the Senate never follows this rule. A two thirds majority of Senators can set aside their rules and take up a bill out of order. So each session what's known as a blocker bill is filed first. The blocker bill sits at the front of the line and never gets voted on, this requires every other bill to get two thirds of the Senators to agree to set aside the rules and consider it out of order.

The blocker bill is generally credited with creating a more civil tone in the Senate since every bill must garner at least two-thirds of the senators favor to pass. Last session Sen. Dan Patrick engineered a loophole into the Senate Rules to allow voter suppression legislation to bypass the blocker bill without the two-thirds support. That loophole resulted in a backlash that nearly brought the entire session to a halt. The Senate rule making process will be watched closely this session to see if any similar shenanigans are attempted.

Also this morning the Sunset Advisory Committee is meeting at 8 am. Texas law requires that every state agency undergo a "Sunset Review" every 7 years. The legislature must re-approve the existence of the agency or it will automatically be dissolved. The Sunset process began at the end of the previous session and involved hearings held around the State on each agency under review.

The House will convene briefly today but don't expect much beyond some minor congratulations and ceremony. The real action will be in the Legislative Conference Center which is underground behind the capitol building. House members will be meeting in heated sessions to hash out the specifics of this session's House rules.

Arch conservatives in the House are likely still stinging from yesterday's relatively smooth reelection of Joe Straus as Speaker. Rep. Ken Paxton, the teabagger favorite for speaker, withdrew from the Speaker's race just before the vote was to begin.

A motion was made to elect Straus by acclamation, when Rep. Leo Berman requested a record vote. Only 15 members voted against Straus: Berman, Burkett, Christian, Cain, Flynn, P. King, Landtroop, Laubenberg, C. Perry, Paxton, Parker, Simpson, V. Taylor, White and Zedler. There are a few extreme old timer right-wing hardliners in that list but almost half (7) of those voting 'no' are serving their first term in the House. Which would seem a foretaste of things to come in a House of 34 freshmen, most of whom were sent to Austin by teabaggers who demand only obstinance and pig-headedness.

The discussions should be interesting. The House Rules are extremely complicated, some members who have served for years still to not have a full understanding of them. If the freshmen recalcitrance brigade tries to muck up the works with their default rejection of order and civility they will likely get taken to task by even the most conservative of the senior members. The House has 150 members, each of whom is answerable first to their constituents, not to a party, and not to a hissy fit disguised as a national populist uprising.

Today the grown-ups get to work and if the wet-behind-the-ears whipper snappers don't behave they may find themselves spending the rest of the session sitting in the corner.

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UPDATE: The Senate voted to delay adoption of rules until next week (via Quorum Report)

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