If we do in fact have a special session on school finance reform, the blocker bill and its 2/3 majority requirement for bringing a bill to the Senate floor for debate will be in effect, according to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Dewhurst said the Senate would require a two-thirds vote to debate all legislation. As presiding officer, he set that requirement aside during the highly charged partisan debate over redistricting last summer, prompting 11 Democratic senators to shut down Senate business by fleeing to New Mexico.
Some major education initiatives, including part of Perry's property tax limitation plan, would require constitutional amendments and two-thirds votes in the House and the Senate regardless of the procedural change.
But a blanket two-thirds vote hurdle in the Senate would potentially give the Democratic minority more influence over changes in public school funding and legislation affecting teachers and classrooms. It could block any effort to allow tax dollars to be spent on private school vouchers, an idea that Perry and many Republican lawmakers support but most Democratic legislators oppose.
Dewhurst has been working privately with senators on revisions to a school finance plan approved unanimously by the Senate last year.
"It's my intention to continue its use as long as our senators continue to come together and work for what's best here in Texas," he said of the two-thirds tradition.
Dewhurst, a Republican, drew a distinction between a special session on school finance -- which Perry has said he will call if lawmakers can agree on a new funding plan -- and last summer's sessions on redistricting.
Redistricting is partisan and public education shouldn't be, he said.
"The blocker bill and the resulting two-thirds tradition have historically been a legislative tool of the lieutenant governor. It historically has not been used in special sessions involving redistricting because redistricting is obviously not a bipartisan issue," Dewhurst added, repeating his explanation for bypassing the tradition last summer.
Given that any major change would require a 2/3 vote of each chamber plus a statewide vote on a Constitutional amendment, this is a lesser thing than it appears in terms of legislative advantage, at least for this special session. I'd guess it's more of a signal that Dewhurst the Good Cop will be back in the house after last year's unpleasantness. It's a smart move on his part, since now any grudge-carrying by the Dems can be characterized as bad manners on their part. And hey, who knows, maybe he's actually sincere. Stranger things have happened.
A further signal that there may not be anything worth going to the mat over comes from State Rep. David Swinford (R, Dumas), who was there the last time we went through all this.
"Somebody needs to do something, and everybody knows it," Swinford said. "But I've been meeting on the select committee in the House, and we had over 200 hours of testimony on this. To tell you I had a clear vision of where we're going, I'd be lying."
Swinford said he doesn't foresee a massive overhaul of the tax and school finance systems. Instead, the likely outcome will be a series of bandages that will keep the system limping along.
"I don't see the political will to trash this tax system," Swinford said. "Instead, we'll probably jick here and jack there and come up with 20 different things all wrapped together."
One thing Swinford sees as a certainty is the impending demise of Robin Hood, the state's effort to find equality between rich and poor districts.
The courts have ruled (and will rule again and again) that all children must have a public education that is supported by substantially equal funding. The only way for this to happen is to have money transferred from rich places to poor.
It really doesn't matter that the money is washed through the state. After all, if the property tax was collected by the state instead of the local districts and then redistributed you could SAY Robin Hood was dead. But the money would be taken from the same people and given to the same people as before. No difference.
And that's the way it's going to be. Changing to a sales tax won't make a difference (or much of a difference). Rich districts will still subsidize the poor. As it should be. Robin Hood was a good guy, right?