Friday, 15 July 2011
With the state budget fully designed and its funding plans passed on to the governor, Williamson County’s delegation in the Texas House of Representatives said this June’s special session has been an overall success.
But what caught the most attention were two prominent Republican priorities—arguments that became more fueled as deadline after deadline continued to pass.
The highest priority of the special session, said freshman Rep. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, was to balance the state budget without raising taxes. The legislature did that, but it took longer than expected; a spartan budget plan was passed in May along party lines, but it took an impromptu special session to solidify funding mechanisms determining how funding for health care and public education would be divided. Of special note is a bill granting more fiscal flexibility to local school districts, which will be allowed to reduce teacher and administrator pay, or require furloughs, instead of being limited to outright layoffs.
“I think we sent a message to the nation that Texas, at least, is going to live within its means,” said Schwertner, who was also a member of the House budget-writing committee. “We prioritized the spending of Texas and lived within our budget, without raising taxes, and that’s an important statement that the rest of the nation needs to hear.”
Bills addressing conservative initiatives on so-called “sanctuary cities”—or municipalities with lax enforcement policies concerning undocumented immigrants—as well as a bill banning invasive pat-downs by Transportation Security Administration officials at airports were left unpassed. Supporters called the pat-downs akin to groping. Both bills disintegrated in the special session’s final days and hours as Republican leaders in the House and Senate could not agree on dueling versions and conflicting amendments that had been added to each bill.
“The anti-groping bill really became a phenomenon in the last few days, especially since so many horror stories began coming out of airports,” said Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock.
Both bills were added midway through the special session by Gov. Rick Perry; originally, only the funding mechanisms had been mentioned. As the special session continued, lawmakers grew absent to the point that the House was unable to reach quorum on two occasions.
Most Democrats, meanwhile, considered both bills a distraction. A Democratic filibuster in the Senate forced a special session, and Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, had hoped to use the special session to secure additional funding for public schools and public education; instead, she said, the special session became awash with pet causes that had previously died in the regular session.
Gonzales, though, said that despite the lockdown over the TSA and sanctuary cities bill, the special session was worth the time.
“The days don’t matter so much to me. If it takes a little extra time to get it right, then so be it,” Gonzales said.