August 10, 2005
As the Lege turns

I'm trying to make sense of what happened in the Legislature yesterday. Let's start with the stuff that's easy to figure out, like the Senate approval of the judicial pay raise that had caused such tumult in the last days of the regular session.

A bill sent to Gov. Rick Perry would increase state district judges' salaries, plus legislative pensions, tied to judicial pay.

By raising judicial salaries, a lawmaker with 12 years in office would get nearly a $6,000 retirement pay increase, jumping to $34,500 a year from $28,068.

"This will be the first meaningful pay raise in seven years (for Texas judges)," Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said.


Senators voted 23-5 for the raise, without discussion. The House approved it earlier.

House Bill 11 would increase a district judge's pay from $101,700 a year to $125,000 if Perry signs it. The bill also would increase Texas Supreme court justices' pay from $113,000 to $150,000 and appellate court justices from $107,000 to $137,500.

Before I move on, I love this quote from David Dewhurst, who's apparently feeling a little touchy these days:

When asked what Texans might think of the Legislature approving pay raises without completing work on school finance, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said, "I don't think there's anybody in Texas ... that doesn't understand how hard we worked."

Yes, well, hard work with little to show for it isn't exactly virtuous, is it?

Moving on. As noted last night, the Senate has approved Senate Bill 5, which is the current version of the telecom bill.

It took the Senate less than 10 minutes to pass Senate Bill 5 by an overwhelming majority Tuesday night.

The House is expected to take up the measure today.


With hope that the Legislature will pass some version of school finance legislation in this special session, legislative leaders have moved ahead with telecom changes as well.

It's not certain whether Gov. Rick Perry would sign telecom measures if there's no deal on school finance.

"There are issues out there that are not resolved that the governor would like to see resolved," Perry spokesman Robert Black said. "Telecom is one of them."

But he added, "The situation is so fluid on a number of issues. It's best if we take a wait-and-see" attitude, and see what happens "in the next 24 to 48 hours."

That's a bit of an unexpected twist, but I'll be surprised if Perry actually winds up vetoing this bill. Lobbyists' influence aside, if he really cared about other issues being resolved before stuff like this got approved, he could have not added this to the special session call until he'd gotten the resolution he wanted. To bring it up and then shoot it down on that basis makes no sense.

Next, we have eminent domain.

Responding to a wave of anger over a recent U.S. Supreme Court private property decision, the Texas Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill limiting the government's ability in Texas to seize land for purely economic development.

"We made the language tougher," said a jubilant Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who authored Senate Bill 7. "It's clearly better than the law we have."

Legislators from both houses, along with Gov. Rick Perry, have vowed to limit the effects of a June Supreme Court ruling stipulating that the city of New London, Conn., was within its rights to seize property from private individuals and give it to other private individuals as long as the city could show it was in the public interest. Perry on Tuesday called the issue of protecting property rights "a very important one to Texans" and has said before that he hoped lawmakers would send him legislation to sign.

The two chambers did pass different versions of an eminent domain legislation during the first special session, but that session concluded before a final bill could be hashed out.


Janek's bill, which passed the Senate 25-4 just after Perry allowed it to be considered during this year's second special session, would bar governmental entities from taking land for strictly economic development purposes.


Among the bill's detractors was Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who argued that the bill would actually weaken eminent domain laws in Texas; virtually all a governmental entity had to do, he said, was prove that property to be seized would be turned into public infrastructure.

"What we've done is make it easier for the government to come and condemn property," Shapleigh said.

Janek's bill now is headed to the House.

It was philosophical differences between Janek's bill and that of House sponsor Frank Corte which led to its demise during the last special session. There's no indication in the stories I've read that those differences have been worked out (and if so, in which direction), but Aaron Pena posts the following:

Today, SB 7, will be presented in the House of Representatives by the joint sponsers of the bill: Wooley, Corte, Pena, Kolkhorst and Edwards and should pass though easily.

This leads me to believe that the differences have been resolved, at least if what's being put up for a vote in the House really is SB7. We'll find out today, I guess.

Finally, there's the school finance stuff. I'll put that in a separate post to keep my categories in order.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 10, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

The Judicial Payraise/Legislative Retirement Nest feathering Bill (let's call it what it really is) was a real opportunity for Democrats and they blew it.

They could have voted the Judges a pay raise by trying to amend the bill and decouple legislative retirement from judicial salaries, but they didn't.

This is an issue that cuts both way against incumbents of both parties. There will be Republicans who will pay at the polls for this, but there will be Democrats as well.

It's issues like this that prevent Democrat comebacks and gains.

Posted by: Dan on August 10, 2005 11:49 AM

Seems like everything but TRBs are moving ahead.

Posted by: Dos Centavosforu on August 10, 2005 12:11 PM