Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 140: Sine Die

Today is the 140th and final day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House will reconvene at 10 am, the Senate at 10:30 am.

A wave of developments over the weekend make a special session all but guaranteed. Late Saturday night news broke that the closed-door negotiations on renewing the Texas Windstorm Insurance program had broken down. TWI is the insurer of last resort for people living in areas prone to hurricanes that are unable to obtain insurance through private companies. The program is set to expire this year. If TWI is not renewed many homeowners along the coast will not be able to obtain windstorm insurance.

The House approved the compromise version of HB 1, the state budget, on Saturday, the Senate on Sunday, but SB 1811, a fiscal matters bill that complements the budget went down in the most spectacular fashion Sunday night. SB 1811 became a vehicle for a number of other fiscal matters bills that died in the House, including one that determines funding formulas for public education, perhaps the single most controversial topic of the session. Republican lawmakers have pushed a school funding formula that cuts current public education spending by 4 billion, while preserving tax breaks for industry. Democratic lawmakers have fought hard to restore education funding but their reduced numbers in both chambers have proved impediments.

Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) filibustered SB 1811 until late Sunday night, effectively killing the bill. Davis is a first term Senator who won a historically Republican district on the strength of the "Obama Surge" in the 2008 election. Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years in response to the census, making 2011 a redistricting year. Senate Republicans have redrawn Davis' district to cut her out of her district, making her re-election unlikely. With nothing to lose Davis choose to spend what might be her last legislative session fighting for children, killing SB 1811 and ensuring a special session. (Technically a 4/5 majority of the Senate (or 25 Senators) could revive SB 1811 today, but that is unlikely.)

The Texas Constitution allows the Governor to call a special session to allow the Legislature to address emergent issues, or to consider business not completed during their regular 140 day session. Any special session is limited to the issues for which it was called, so if Governor Perry calls back the legislature to consider TWI and public education funding, those are the only things they will be able to consider.

While forcing school finance to be decided in a special session is a good thing for Texas' students in general, it puts queer students at public universities at risk. Wayne Christian (R-Center) has tried to amend multiple bills to prevent Texas universities from having GLBT resource centers. He was originally successful in amending HB 1, the state budget, but his amendment was removed by the Senate. If a special session is called to consider public education funding, which seems likely, he will have another opportunity to offer his amendments, and another opportunity to deprive queer college students of a much needed resource.

When the House and Senate Adjourn today they will do so "Sine Die," a Latin phrase meaning "without a day." In Texan it's pronounced "Sigh-nee Dye-ee," and means that the date for the 82nd legislature to reconvene is unknown. Perry can set the special session to begin pretty much whenever he wants, including tomorrow. It is likely that he will announce the official date today, shortly after the final adjournment of both Houses.

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