I know, hard to believe, but there are two non-abortion items on the session agenda, and the Senate has already taken preliminary action on two of them.
Six hours before a marathon state House committee hearing on abortion, two Senate committees quickly kicked out less controversial bills on transportation funding and criminal justice reform to the full Senate on Tuesday morning.
The Senate could vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 2 as early as next week. The measures address two issues — transportation infrastructure funding and sentencing guidelines for 17-year-old murderers — that Gov. Rick Perry included in the second special session’s agenda. Similar pieces of legislation died on the last day of the first special session amid a dramatic fight over abortion legislation. Both Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, refiled their legislation soon after Perry announced a second special session.
In a nine-minute hearing, the Senate Finance Committee voted 11-0 Tuesday morning in favor of SJR 1, from Nichols, which matches the version of Senate Joint Resolution 2 that the Legislature nearly passed last week. The measure would ask voters to approve amending the state Constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund, raising nearly $1 billion a year in additional financing for road construction and maintenance. The Texas Department of Transportation has said it needs about $4 billion in additional funding each year to maintain current congestion.
About 40 minutes later, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-0 in favor of SB 2, from Huffman, which is similar to Senate Bill 23 from the first special session. The bill revises the sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated mandatory life without parole for capital murderers younger than 18.
Both measures could be debated on the Senate floor as early as next week.
Sen. Nichols incorporated changes that the House added to his ball in the first special session, while Sen. Huffman’s bill was the same one she’d filed before, without including the House changes. Had the House simply voted on these bill as they were they wouldn’t have needed to be re-voted on by the Senate and thus wouldn’t have been casualties of the Davis filibuster. Alternately, David Dewhurst could have put Nichols’ and Huffman’s bills on the agenda ahead of SB5 last time around, but I guess he didn’t expect Davis to be able to keep up her effort for that long. Silly man.
In theory, the Democrats have some leverage over the transportation bill, since it is a joint resolution and thus needs a two-thirds majority in each chamber. That possibility was raised in the previous session – basically, the Dems could refuse to vote for SJR1 unless the abortion legislation was altered in some fashion, which would mean it would not have enough votes to pass. As with a quorum break, the main problem with that gambit is that as long as Rick Perry is willing to keep calling special sessions – and by now we should all be clear on the fact that he is willing – such leverage is necessarily short-lived. Once the Dems hold up their end of the bargain and vote for SJR1, their influence vanishes. If we knew for a fact that the next time the Lege convened would be 2015, this tactic could work. In the world we live in, all it can do is prolong the agony.
Anyway. Yesterday was also the day for the House State Affairs Committee hearing on HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill. As before, BOR is liveblogging things, so check over there for the latest updates. I’ll report on it after the hearing is over. The Trib has more.