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June 1st, 2009:

So what happens now?

Hell if I know.

In a last-minute legislative meltdown, the Texas Senate adjourned Monday night without passing key measures to avert a shutdown of the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies, raising the specter of a special session this summer.

The sticking point was $2 billion in transportation bond funding that the House failed to pass before gaveling out the 2009 regular session a few hours before the Senate.

Angry Republican senators said it was preferable to quit and let Gov. Rick Perry call the Legislature back into a 30-day special session to continue the agencies and pass the bonds. Several Democrats argued against the move, saying it was dangerous to begin the shutdown process of major agencies.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, blamed the House for the 11th-hour unraveling of the session — saying the chamber acted irresponsibly by adjourning sine die — the Latin phrase used to describe the final day of the session.

“The House had the ability to act,” he said. “They went sine die after destroying the bulk of four and a half months of work that passed through this body.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said it was foolish to allow tension between the two chambers to derail the session. Both the transportation agency and the Texas Department of Insurance would face a shutdown by September 2010 unless Perry calls the Legislature back into session to reauthorize their existence.

“I don’t think the people of the state of Texas care if the Legislature is doing a ping-pong across the rotunda of blame, of ‘no you did it, no you did it’ “ she said. “I’m afraid that we are shirking our responsibility.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made it clear senators wanted the transportation bonds passed.

“We’re all upset about it,” Dewhurst said. “That came as a little bit of a surprise.”

The only opinion that matters at this point is Rick Perry’s, and as of this posting he hasn’t said anything publicly yet. If he calls the Lege back, he can get them to take another crack at passing voter ID. But he can’t raise money while the Lege is in session, which one presumes might matter to him, and it’s not clear what he might want the Lege to achieve with some of this stuff, most notably the TDI. Like I say, hell if I know. BOR has more.

UPDATE: My bad, he can raise money during a special. But so far, at least, he’s not sounding like he wants to call one.

Said Perry spokesperson Allison Castle: “Tonight’s action in the Senate will not impact the business of state agencies. These agencies will continue to conduct business as usual and serve the people of Texas. This has been a successful legislative session and there is still important business to take care of during the next 20 days of evaluating legislation that has passed this session.”

I hope he stays true to that.

Time for a change

I think this sums it up, for the most part:

After nearly seven years with Movable Type, I’ve switched over to WordPress, which has proven to be quicker and more flexible. Thanks to the diligence of Greg Wythe, this should actually be more or less transparent to you. The blog feeds were swapped over first, so if you subscribe via an RSS reader, you have probably already noticed the switch. As of this evening, the MT index page as well as the root domain page are now redirected to this one:

http://offthekuff.com/wp

If you have bookmarks, or have me on your blogroll, I’d appreciate if you updated the links, if only so I can keep track of where the traffic is more accurately. All of the archived Movable Type links will continue to exist and work as they are, which is good because there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I could ever fix them in this lifetime.

I hope you like the new look. Some new features will get added as time permits between the end of the Lege session and the gearing up of the 2009 elections. The search feature on WordPress is a lot better than what I had in MT, so give that a try again if you had stopped using it before; I’ve made liberal use of it. Far as I can tell, your first comment requires approval, but after that it’ll get published without my intervention. That may change some day, but it’s how it is now. If you see any glitches or other weirdness, or just something you don’t like that could be improved, let me know. Thanks very much, and welcome to the new home of Off the Kuff. May it be at least another seven years before I feel the need to do this again.

TxDOT lives, Lege adjourns

The threat of a special session has been averted…we think.

The House just voted to work the Legislature out of a jam by keeping open the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies at risk of closing.

Members needed a little handiwork to make it happen, and some would say they flat ignored House rules to do it.

The problem began Sunday, when the Legislature failed to pass a bill keeping open the transportation agency, the Texas Department of Insurance and a handful of other agencies. Those agencies were up for review by the Legislature this year, and so they were scheduled to close if those reviews were not complete.

Today, the last day of the legislative session, is supposed to be only for technical corrections to bills. The House just made what sponsors called a technical correction to a bill authorizing state agencies to receive federal stimulus dollars.

Agencies have to be open in order to get stimulus dollars, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts. So the House corrected the stimulus bills to say that the departments at risk would stay open.

As with everything else, that was not without controversy.

Reps. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, protested that lawmakers were doing an end-run on traditions and rules that allow only minor tweaks to bills on the session’s final day. They said the concurrent resolution, passed by a vote of 111-29, made substantive changes in law. It would prevent closure of the transportation and insurance departments this fall. With Senate approval, they and three other small agencies would face “sunset” review by lawmakers next session.

One advantage of the resolution is it averted a need to get two-thirds of House members to suspend rules to bring back to life a “safety net” bill that would take the agencies off the chopping block. Since the voter ID meltdown in the House last month, Republicans have been loath to suspend rules, calling it a matter of principle.

Turner and Davis, however, said House leaders were playing fast and loose with rules, setting a very bad precedent.

Turner called it “a blatant and intentional attempt to circumvent the rules.”

Davis said, “It’s ironic that we’re here to make laws for people to abide by and we won’t even stand by our own rules.”

Speaker Joe Straus, though, rejected parliamentary objections by Davis and Turner.

I’ve kinda lost track of how many bad precedents have been set this session. What’s one more for the road?

Of course, if after all that the House still managed to screw things up

The Senate has just retired en masse into a closed-door meeting to discuss the resolution the Texas House passed about an hour ago to continue operations at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Word is there could be a problem with the House wording: It may not allow TxDOT to issue the $2 billion in bonds it needs to continue road-building projects.

Big problem that would be.

I’m going to go find a paper bag to breathe into. Talk amongst yourselves.

While I will cling stubbornly to the belief that no special session is in the offing – Governor Perry wasn’t too worked up about the possibility earlier today, I do wish something could have been done to salvage CHIP.

“CHIP is dead,” said State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, a supporter of expanding the program.

Dukes said she was disappointed that her colleagues didn’t make the effort to massage parliamentary rules for CHIP as they did today for a “sunset” safety-net bill that keeps agencies operating.

“They changed the rules for what they desired,” Dukes said. “But no rules were suspended for those children in great need.”

There were bigger obstacles than the rules, or the chubfest, in the way, as Rick Perry was vowing to veto any CHIP expansion legislation that crossed his desk. The only way forward for this is with someone else in the Governor’s mansion. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman about this is beneath the fold. May this be the last post of the 2009 legislative session.

UPDATE: It’s unclear what, if anything, the Senate is going to do about the un-authorized bonds. It’s also unclear if that’s a problem. At least windstorm is a done deal.

(more…)

One threat of a special session averted, another arises

Gah.

In a surprise ending to the second-to-last day of the legislative session, the House failed to pass the so-called sunset safety net bill, HB1959, before the midnight deadline tonight for the chamber to approve bills.

The bill would allow agencies like the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of Insurance and others that were supposed to be sunset this year to continue even though lawmakers failed to pass legislation renewing the agencies.

State Rep. David Liebowitz, D-San Antonio, first tagged the bill and then asked questions about the bill right up until the midnight deadline.

But it’s not like Texas can go without a state transportation agency. So without some sort of legislation to keep it going for the next two years, Gov. Rick Perry would likely have to call lawmakers back to get the job done in a special legislative session.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said he would work tonight to find some way to revive the bill Monday, the final day of the 140-day legislative session.

“We’ve got one more day,” Straus said.

Apparently, this was a deliberate decision to allow some other bills that had been lost in the last-minute stampede to get a second chance, though there were also some objections to the substance of the bill.

Several members said a group of Democrats decided to go through with the bold maneuver as a way to force other issues to get a vote tomorrow, most notably pushing for an expansion of the Childrens Health Insurance Program (even though Perry has already vowed to veto that measure).

Since the deadline was midnight tonight, members can only take up any bills Monday if 2/3s of the House agree to do so. It’s unclear whether the votes are there.

When asked if he was surprised by how the day ended, Straus said, “Nothing surprises me. What’s a little chaos before we go home.”

A vote came up for members to consider not adjourning and pushing back the deadline. The vote failed 86 to 56.

At this point, who knows what’s going to happen? All I can say is I sure hope HB1959, at least, gets a vote. One of the bills that this tactic was meant for was SB2080, which had become the vehicle to save the CHIP expansion provision. It passed the Senate unanimously last night but didn’t come to the House floor in time for a vote. I gather there’s optimism about the possibility of taking one last crack at these things today, and given how the entire session has gone, I’m loath to make predictions about one bill or another’s demise. I’m not even sure if I should be applauding or cringing. Elise and Floor Pass have more.

Burnam drops impeachment resolution

I had wondered what would happen with Rep. Lon Burnam’s resolution to impeach Sharon Keller, given that we were coming down to the wire and there was a lot of pressing business that needed to be taken care of in a very short period of time. Now I know.

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, today offered a “personal privilege” speech noting that his resolution calling for the impeachment of Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller is going nowhere this session (which ends Monday).

Burnam’s resolution has been pending since April 27 in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. In his speech today, Burnam said he chose not to try to use the procedure by which he could have tried to get the votes to bring the resolution to the floor despite the lack of committee action.

But he made it clear he still believes Keller should be removed from office for refusing to keep her court clerk’s office open on Sept. 25, 2007 to accept a late filing on behalf of Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard, who was executed later that day.

[…]

Burnam said if neither state agency causes Keller’s removal from office he’ll try again in two years if he is re-elected to the House.

Well, I certainly hope that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has taken some action by then. I know the wheels grind slowly and all, but surely that’s not too much to ask. Floor Pass has more.

You say “succeed”, I say “secede”

Bleah.

Lawmakers in the Texas House sent the U.S. Congress a message on Saturday to mind its own business.

But just so no one gets the wrong message, House Concurrent Resolution 50 now says that Texas is still proud to be part of the U.S. of A.

The resolution “is about succeeding in the union, not seceding from the union,” said Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the resolution’s author. “It is not a slap. It is a reminder.”

Creighton objects to Congress handing down unfunded mandates, exploding the federal deficit and the intruding into the state’s authority.

The measure, which passed 99 to 36, reaffirms the state’s sovereignty and its rights under the 10th Amendment.

[…]

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, cautioned that Texans need to be careful when talking about “state’s rights.”

“Growing up in the South, there are certain words that bring up certain emotions,” Coleman said, emotions connected to the denial of rights.

More here, here, and here. What a pointless waste of time. To all the Democrats who voted for this, I say way to hand Governor Perry a PR victory.

Annie’s List kicks off the 2010 elections

Even for me, it’s a little early to be thinking about most of the 2010 races, especially for the State House. But I’m glad it’s not too early for some folks, such as Annie’s List. Here’s an email they’ve sent out about their first endorsed candidate for the 2010 cycle:

We are proud to announce our endorsement of Loretta Haldenwang for State House District 105 in Irving. Loretta currently serves as the External Affairs Director of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is respected by community, business and political leaders alike.

Loretta spends each day working in her community to promote small business successes, better schools and scholarship opportunities, access to affordable healthcare, common sense transportation solutions and more. She is also no stranger to the proceedings of the Texas House of Representatives after working for two legislative sessions for Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) as a District Director and Legislative Analyst.

House District 105 sits in the Northwest corner of Dallas County and includes almost all of the City of Irving. It is currently represented by an eight-year incumbent Republican named Linda Harper Brown. However, after nearly losing to an underfunded perennial candidate in 2008, reliable Republican sources have leaked that Linda has been told by the Republican leadership that it is time to retire. The self-described anointed replacement is Irving Republican Councilwoman Beth Van Duyne, a well-known far-right extremist with a colorful record on the council.

Like many urban-suburban districts that we have won in the last 4 years, House District 105 has a rapidly evolving demographic composure. Now a majority-minority seat, Democrats have performed better on the ballot every election cycle. However, in a low-turnout mid-term election, we will need a well-funded, professionally run campaign with a candidate who can relate to all Irving residents.

We have no doubt Loretta is that candidate. And as the daughter of a neurologist and a microbiologist, she is no stranger to setting ambitious personal goals and working hard to make them a reality. She is an impressive and articulate woman who possesses the skill set, savvy and stamina to be our endorsed candidate in House District 105.

She sounds like a great candidate, for whom there is already an Act Blue page, if you feel moved to take action. She’s also apparently not the only candidate for that seat. All I can say is that I hope we get a candidate everyone can support for HD105 this time around. No repeats of 2008, please.

Glass recycling

Interesting story about recycling glass bottles from restaurants.

[Mark] Austin, 54, is the founder of We CAN Recycle, a Houston nonprofit that picks up empty bottles from local businesses and drops them at a glass recycling plant on the South Loop, where they’re sold to Longhorn Glass Corp. and melted to make bottles for Anheuser-Busch. A self-proclaimed old hippie, Austin loves the idea that pricey bottles of wine from Italy and France are transformed into frosty longnecks sweating on Houston bars.

“There’s just a huge need for recycled glass in this town,” he says.

[…]

t’s a smelly, dirty job, but he knows there’s a need for his service.

The city of Houston’s curbside recycling program doesn’t pick up glass, though residents can bring glass empties to neighborhood dropoff sites and depositories.

Waste Management will pick up glass from restaurants in roll-off containers, but customers typically have to pay a processing fee and a hauling charge.

Austin’s rates are reasonable. The most he charges to cart away bottles is $150 a month, and clients get tax credits for donating the glass.

I blogged about restaurants and recycling last year. I’m glad to see that Austin has as much business as he does, because the Houston Press cover story on which that post was based sure gave the impression that most eateries were unlikely to bother. I still think that it would make a lot of sense for the city to provide some kind of financial incentive for restaurants and other businesses to recycle, and I hope that as we continue to take steps to increase Houston’s participation in recycling programs that something like that gets a closer look.