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May 25th, 2007:

Is this finally it?

Well, something is going on in the House. It all started about an hour ago.

A short while ago, Rep. Jim Dunnam made a simple parliamentary inquiry. Would the speaker recognize someone for a privileged motion to vacate the chair? Speaker Craddick said no. Would that ruling be open to a vote to appeal it? Craddick said no.

Then all hell broke loose.

The House now stands at recess until 11 p.m. The parliamentarian Denise Davis has allegedly threatened to quit. The mood is very ugly here. And Tom Craddick may be witnessing his final hours as speaker of the Texas House.

The AP has a report.

After an evening of simmering discord, House members exploded with shouts of rage when Craddick announced that the chamber would stand in recess until 11 p.m. Friday.

He’d earlier called another recess to escape pointed questions about his handling of parliamentary issues. When he emerged from his office 40 minutes later, he ignored further interrogating from a man who has filed his candidacy to replace Craddick and quickly called for the two-hour break to a chorus of boos.

Angry House members stormed Craddick’s podium as he hustled back to his office suite, refusing to answer questions from reporters.

Democrats trying to overtake the speakers podium were physically restrained by House sergeants-at-arms as they tried to grab the microphone.

[…]

To oust Craddick before his term is up, a lawmaker must make a parliamentary maneuver known as a motion to vacate and a majority of the House must vote in favor of it.

It’s called a privileged motion, and Craddick must recognize a lawmaker before they’re allowed to speak to the House to make such a motion.

The meltdown Friday started when Democratic Rep. Jim Dunnam questioned Craddick about the parliamentary procedure. Craddick made it clear that he would not necessarily recognize someone to make that request and he was adamant that his ruling could not be appealed.

A short time later, Republican Rep. Todd Smith of Bedford asked Craddick if he ignored the advice of parliamentarian Denise Davis when he made the ruling.

“I looked over and asked her and I don’t know if she agreed or didn’t agree,” Craddick responded.

“Did you or did you not ignore the advice of Denise Davis?” Smith asked.

“It’s a privileged conversation between the two of us,” Craddick said.

The “further interrogation” was by Jim Pitts, and one of the Democrats trying to get to the dais was Rick Noriega. BOR reports that parliamentarian Davis has resigned, and that Craddick supporters are attempting to break quorum. The assistant parliamentarian may also resign.

Crazy, just crazy. Brandi Grissom, Quorum Report, and Capitol Letters are also following this, which is sure to go well into the night.

One thing to keep in mind: While the joint conferees have approved the budget, it will likely be Sunday before any members get it. With sine die on Tuesday Monday and a lot more business still to be conducted, the budget could wind up getting filibustered, which would force a special session. Who might do such a thing? Here’s one possibility. Keep an eye open for this.

Oh, and we have one more candidate for Speaker. Hey, by now, the more, the merrier. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Too much going on. Here’s more coverage from the DMN and the Chron. And lookie at the new parliamentarians. Nice to know the Speaker believes in recycling. For the insomniacs out there, check with BOR, QR, PinkDome, and In the Pink. Good night.

Senfronia for Speaker!

She did it before, and she’s doing it again.

Throw Democrat Senfronia Thompson of Houston’s stylish hat into the ring.

She was the first state rep to start the rumbling last summer when she filed her candidacy for speaker for this session – touching off the race that wound up captivating the entire Pink Dome on opening day, even though she was no longer a candidate by then. She started the momentum.

Ms. Thompson filed for speaker for the 81st session this morning, declining to join the army of male Republicans vying for a spot that may or may not open up this session.

And in a perfect world, a new Democratic majority in the House will carry her to the Speaker’s podium. While any of the current alternatives to Tom Craddick would represent a step up, Speaker Thompson by far would be the best option.

The CHIP endgame

Capitol Letters says the recently-passed CHIP bill HB109 is still being monkeyed with by the Senate and David Dewhurst.

After collecting kudos Tuesday from the Texas Network of IAF Organizations (Dallas Area Interfaith, Valley Interfaith and so on), Mr. Dewhurst named Senate negotiators who are expected to strongly defend his pet idea of electronic eligibility verification.

Senate conferees include the only two senators who voted against the House’s partial CHIP restoration bill: Republicans Steve Ogden, who voted “nay” in committee, and Jane Nelson, who opposed the bill on the floor. The team’s leader is Waco Republican Kip Averitt, who favors a bigger CHIP but is unlikely to betray Mr. Dewhurst, even though the lieutenant governor dumped him as a budget negotiator this session to appease the right wing of the Senate’s GOP caucus.

Most CHIP advocates, physician groups and hospitals who love the House-passed version believe Mr. Dewhurst has made income verification almost a fetish — and is going to give us another Accenture-like fiasco, albeit much smaller in scope than the call centers that do eligibility screening for the major social programs.

If the Dewhurst plan passes, state social services czar Albert Hawkins will get a strong nudge to hire a private firm that does data mining to check on some families’ incomes every six months — even though parents would submit paperwork annually. Mr. Dewhurst says he’s heard of three or four such vendors, though CHIP advocates are skeptical the techniques are proven — and the expenditures would be worth it.

Clearly, the lesson we learned with Accenture wasn’t expensive enough to leave a lasting impression.

Prediction: Mr. Turner could blow up the bill but won’t. He’s a Craddick D, which means he knows a thing or two about incremental gains. Mr. Dewhurst gets his way.

Oh, yes, conferees probably will narrow the range of families who undergo the electronic checking. Under the Senate version, families would be scrutinized every six months if their incomes exceed 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that is $30,975 a year. But Mr. Dewhurst probably signaled his true intentions on May 10, when he told reporters he was looking at three possible thresholds – 165, 170 or 175 percent of the poverty level. The next week, he reduced that to 150 percent, and all but admitted he was leaving Senate negotiators room to compromise. So “compromise” they will.

Watch for it. The CPPP has more on where things now stand.

Weakened toll road moratorium finally passes

This is definitely not what we thought we were going to get out of a toll road moratorium. It may be the best we could have done, but if so that’s pretty sad.

Texas lawmakers struck a deal Thursday on transportation legislation that includes a two-year moratorium on private company toll roads, although the agreement does not satisfy anti-toll road groups.

House and Senate leaders reached agreement on a compromise plan that likely will reach both chambers for a vote on Saturday.

“What we’ve got is pretty good but maybe not perfect,” said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, who led the House negotiators.

The compromise legislation, Senate Bill 792, does not affect six road construction projects for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, and it also allows the Dallas-Fort Worth region to proceed with highways already in the pipeline. The moratorium prohibits two private toll road projects in San Antonio.

The bill also would avoid a veto override effort of another transportation bill, HB 1892. Gov. Rick Perry rejected that measure and helped develop the alternative plan.

[…]

Senate Bill 792 “is not only full of loopholes, but it makes things worse. (It) allows local authorities the same powers we were trying to take away from” state transportation officials, said Sal Costello, leader of People for Efficient Transportation.

The main problem with SB792 is the removal of the Kolhorst Amendment. I’ll refer you to Eye on Williamson, who’s been exhaustively following this, for the details – see here, here, here, and here. As he notes, Governor Perry could still veto this, and we could still have a special session on transportation. Scary thoughts, but there you have them.

Another reprieve for the Astrodome

Last week, I noted that State Sen. Kyle Janek had amended HB3694 to qualify the Astrodome hotel redevelopment project for some tax rebates, for the purpose of helping it to get financing, which has proven elusive so far. The amended bill has now passed the Senate and will go back to the House.

The legislation comes just in time for Astrodome Redevelopment Corp., the private entity seeking to transform the dome, which is counting on the future rebates to help it secure financing for the $450 million project.

The Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which manages the county-owned Reliant Park, set a June 1 deadline for Astrodome Redevelopment to prove it has lined up financing.

As I said in the previous post, these rebates would essentially serve as a form of collateral for the loans. Given how soon the deadline is for proof of financing, I wonder if Astrodome Redevelopment has a deal contingent on this, or if they’ll beg for an extension. If they don’t get it, whoever comes after them will presumably have an easier time of it if this bill does pass. We’ll see.

Is HB13 going down?

I’d almost forgotten about HB13 since it passed out of the House nearly three weeks ago. A much-amended version was passed by the Senate early this week, and apparently those amendments have left it open to attack.

Yesterday afternoon the ever-resourceful Fort Worth Democrat Rep. Lon Burnam unleashed three points of order on the governor’s homeland security bill, HB 13.

[…]

Burnam hit the bill with two points on germaneness and one point on the fact it violated the two-subject rule. There is so much in the bill that has nothing to do with homeland security that it seems likely the points will be sustained. The bill’s author Rep. David Swinford could try to get it sent back to the Senate to strip off their amendments but it seems a little late in the game. The Homeland Security Bill might be dead.

This would mean that the status quo remains and it would be up to the next legislature to wrest TDEx from the governor’s hands. But it also gives folks more of an opportunity to have a real debate about how homeland security should be handled in Texas and what the appropriate role is for the governor in the mix.

There was some good work done on HB13 in the House, and it will be a shame not to see those things get implemented. But on balance, HB13 is a net negative, and its death will not be a shame. We’ll see if this really is it.

(Unhappy thought: Would Governor Perry call a special session for this? HB13 was a priority for him. Ugh.)

UPDATE: Brandi Grissom has more.

RIP, statewide smoking ban

It’s a goner.

Although Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, may be holding out hope for her statewide smoking ban proposal until the Senate and House adjourn sine die, the Smoke-Free Texas coalition is admitting defeat.

The organization, which includes the American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Texas PTA, this afternoon issued a press release saying that the smoking ban they’d been pushing has died in the Senate.

“Even as time expires this session for HB 9, Smoke-Free Texas already is planning to bring forward in 2009 another bill that would provide strong secondhand smoke protections for Texas workers by banning smoking in indoor public and work places,” Kirsten Voinis, the group’s spokeswoman, said in the statement.

Given that HB9 had been gutted in the House, it’s not clear that a worthwhile bill would have made it out of the conference committee, or that it would have been passed if it had. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Anti-rail lawsuit details

After being denied the opportunity to break out the thumbscrews depose Metro executives without having to file a lawsuit, rail opponents went ahead and filed their lawsuit, as everyone and their dog knew they were going to do. Much of what’s in this story is a rehash of what we already know, but there are a few pieces of new information:

The lawsuit, assigned to state District Judge Tad Halbach‘s court, was filed after state District Judge Levi Benton denied permission Tuesday for Scarborough’s lawyers to take oral testimony from Metro officials to determine if there was basis for a lawsuit. Metro called that request a “fishing expedition.”

The lawsuit says Taylor wants to question David Wolff, Metro board chairman; Frank Wilson, Metro president and CEO; and six high-level staffers of the agency.

[…]

Former Houston city attorney Gene Locke, representing Metro, said he also expects a “legal battle” but added that “the first round goes to Metro.”

Although the suit says repeatedly that Metro should abide by 2003 resolution or “seek voter approval” of its current plans, Taylor also has said the resolution bars another such vote until November 2009.

Locke said that date applies only to a new bond referendum to fund the plan and not to the plan itself.

The lawsuit does not ask that the projects be halted until the matter is decided.

Locke said Metro is going “full steam ahead” on them.

The insistence on having another vote is both typical for this crowd, in the sense that they always want to have another vote because maybe the next one will finally go their way, and weird – if you follow their logic, what they’re really demanding is a two-year moratorium on pretty much all current Metro activity. Given that, it’s interesting that they haven’t requested a temporary restraining order. I mean, by the time this sucker makes it to the Supreme Court, the entire 2012 plan could be built out. I’d guess they’ll file for that once Metro makes its plans known for the Universities line. We’ll see.

Get ready to say Good-bye to the River Oaks Shopping Center

The end is near for the River Oaks Shopping Center.

Preservationists gathered at a city hall trying to block the renovation of the historic River Oaks Shopping Center.

The shopping center is 70 years-old and for generations it has been a fixture on the edge of the posh River Oaks neighborhood.

Now Weingarten Realty has unveiled plans to renovate at least one section of the center. Preservationists suspect it is the first step toward rebuilding the entire center, including the historic River Oaks Theater.

“It would not prevent their demolition, but once again it would be a statement as to the value of these properties and reinforce it before city council, and that’s really who we’re playing to at this point,” said David Bush, one of those working to preserve the shopping center.

Shoppers visiting the center today see many empty storefronts left behind by businesses that have moved out a section of the center.

And people who work in the Black-Eyed Pea, which has been located here for a quarter century, told 11 News they are closing their doors on Friday.

That would be today. I’ll try to get some demolition pictures when it happens. Speaking of which, whatever was on the small lot immediately north of the center on Shepherd was bulldozed in the last week or so. Looking at the schematic of the new center here, I don’t think that has anything to do with the upcoming renovation, but it’s an interesting coincidence.

On happier preservation news, Matt Stiles gives an update on the effort to protect the Old Sixth Ward. It’s still a ways off, but it’s in progress and headed in the right direction.

Tron!

Awesome!

Gearing up for our 12th anniversary, Technology Bytes Radio is teaming up with The Petrol Station and St. Arnold Brewery to bring you Tron, the original geek movie, projected in all it’s gigantic glory outdoors and on the back wall.

The event will be Friday, July 1st. and admission is FREE!

The movie should fire up around 9 PM but feel free to come on out anytime after 7:30 and join the crew of Technology Bytes for some brews and a very geeky evening.

If there’s such a thing as geek heaven, then all in attendance will be in danger of being raptured immediately following the closing credits. Oh, and did I mention that one of the stars of “Tron” is the actress who played Lacey Underall in Caddyshack? What more could you want? I’ve gotta go to this.