Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 131: The Senate's Intent Calendar can be a Good Thing, Resource Centers Threatened in the House

Today is the 131st day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes and the Senate returns from recess at 10 am.

In the Senate, HB 1942, the anti-bullying "super" bill crafted by the House Public Education Committee, is on the fast-track "intent calendar." Senate rules require bills to be considered in the order they are voted out of committee, but the Senate hardly ever follows that rule. Instead the Senate takes a vote to "set aside" their own rules and take up the bill "out of order." Senate Rule 22.02 says that the vote to set aside the rules requires a 2/3 majority of the members present. Effectively this requires 2/3 of the Senate to support a bill before it ever comes up for a vote. The "intent calendar" is a list of bills that Senators intend to bring up out of order.

Since we need 21 Senators to support HB 1942 in order for it to be brought up it is vital that Senators hear from constituents. Equality Texas has set up an easy to use e-mail generator here, it takes less than 30 seconds. If you have a full minute to spare to help kids you can call your Senator, their phone number can be found here.

Speaking of the Senate... midnight today is the deadline for Senate bills to be voted out of House committees. SB 723, the anti-trans marriage bill, is still stuck in the Senate, it is extremely unlikely that it would pass from the Senate's regular order of business, be referred to committee, and voted out of committee, by the time the deadline passes. At this point the bill is 99.9% dead.

Last night the House passed SB 1811, one of a series of "fiscal matters" bills that complement the State's budget. Wayne Christian (R-Center) prefiled two amendments to the bill designed to defund LGBT resource centers from Texas universities and prevent them from being housed on campus. As I posted today on the Dallas Voice's Instant Tea Blog:
"Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sponsored SB 1811 in the House. Before bringing the bill to the floor Pitts met with both the Republican and Democratic caucuses and explained that he would only support amendments that he deemed to be “perfecting” amendments. The sponsor of a bill can “accept” amendments, which usually means that they pass without a vote. The sponsor cannot block amendments, but other members often vote against amendments a sponsor opposes out of respect.

Pitts stuck by his guns, opposing all but eleven “perfecting” amendments. Although the House did pass some, mostly Republican sponsored, amendments over his objections for the most part they respected his opposition. Toward the end of the evening Pitts’ resolve began to fade and several amendments were allowed with the assumption that they would be removed later in the process.

While the House was considering SB 1811 the Senate passed Senate Bill 1581, another of the “fiscal matters” bills - this one dealing exclusively with education. Considering the late hour several of the members, including Christian, removed their proposed amendments to SB 1811 that dealt with education, assuming that the amendments could be offered to SB 1581, which is scheduled to be brought up in the House tomorrow."

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