Where Are We?

May 19, 2015, 08:48 AM by Melissa Harman

The timer on my iPhone says there are 13 days left in the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature before adjournment, or sine die! At midnight on the 140th day (June 1), Cinderella’s coach turns back into a pumpkin, the horses are white mice again, and the excitement of the royal ball and the search for a wife for the prince all end abruptly. Such are the waning days of the legislative session. Some parts of the story end happily; others, sadly. As in the storybook, Cinderella always wins in the end, and the wicked stepsisters get their just deserts when all is said and done. In politics, history will anoint who’s a Cinderella and who’s a stepsister.

As we face that stroke of midnight on June 1, what would an observer say about the players in this legislative session? The orchestra is led by two very competent and powerful conductors, the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor. There are 31 Senate players and a cast of 150 in the House. No one is a bit player. There have been some top performances delivered by newcomers to the scene; there have been some less-than-stellar moments that will, no doubt, be chronicled in statewide media, such as Texas Monthly and Texas Tribune. But with respect to UTMB:

Senator Larry Taylor has taken a lead role on numerous issues of great importance to the Gulf Coast—in particular UTMB—and for the state as a whole.

Representative Wayne Faircloth has gone where few have gone before; he can never be accused of being timid. Take a peek at his 10-minute debate (scroll down to the 4/09/15 archive and the debate begins at the 2hr 50min mark) with seasoned House member and soon-to-be candidate for Houston’s Mayor, Sylvester Turner. In an effort to eliminate funding restrictions for UTMB and Galveston County, Rep. Faircloth stood his ground and delivered a vote in favor of his position. He did the same with a key funding issue related to the establishment of a state infectious diseases treatment center (again at UTMB). In fact, that amendment sailed through so fast that leadership was left scurrying around wondering what happened.

And, Rep. Greg Bonnen took on his own brother (Dennis Bonnen, the House Speaker Pro Tempore) in a debate over water rights for Galveston County.

At 125 days into the session, the numbers tell a story! Look for yourself:

Day-125 Statistics—84th vs. 83rd Legislature (Regular Sessions)

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The House has passed out more bills than in the previous session, but the Senate has moved quite a bit slower. Friends of the Senate likely feel that their work has been of greater priority to the state—quality versus quantity. The House might not agree with that interpretation, citing that it has been more focused and that its leadership has been very effective in moving bills along at an aggressive pace. The Senate might argue that the House was slow to take up its bills on the House side; the House might argue the same against the Senate. But no matter how they get there, at the end of the day, both chambers will have to find a way to work together if significant legislation will make it into the public domain.

While budget and policy issues have languished, there has been a spirited debate on any number of social issues that has diverted time and attention. To name a few:

  1. Immigration reform similar to Governor Perry’s executive order from last December continues to move forward in the Legislature. At the same time, new reports from demographers for the state note that immigration from Latin American counties is at an all-time low in Texas and that immigration from Asian counties has increased by 42 percent.
  2. Last week, members from both chambers continued to grapple with settling their differences on tax cuts, restraints on local property tax increases, state ethics cases, border security, and the right to carry handguns.
  3. HB 4105 opposing same sex marriage continued its fight to live in the House.
  4. House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock threw in the towel Thursday evening, giving up on his finely crafted education finance package of $3 billion after the Senate sent word that it would not act on the bill even if it passed in the House. The sentiment seems to be “let the courts decide.”
  5. The reintroduction of “deep fat fryers” and soda pop machines in public schools by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller touched off major controversy from proponents for healthier diets for kids. As you may recall, then-Agriculture Commissioner, later-Comptroller Susan Combs tossed those items out of schools a decade ago—in this pediatrician’s opinion, all the better for child nutrition!

And what about higher education?

Prospects look good for the passage of legislation to fund Tuition Revenue Bonds (UTMB’s TRB would help build a much-needed interprofessional education building) and for an increase in education formula funding. UTMB remains hopeful for an increase in base funding for the hospital and for TDCJ to receive increased funding for the Correctional Managed Care program that will include funding for employee salary increases. We continue to work with our agency partners to educate legislators about the importance of this funding.

All of those details have to be worked out in the next 13 days! If they aren’t, then I will become one of those grumpy pumpkins that terrorize the graveyards of dead bills.

Stay tuned!