Dispatches from the Dome

There are about two weeks left to go before the 83rd Legislature adjourns its regular session, and the Texas House just passed a most important deadline—the last day to pass its own bills.

Legislation originating in the House had to win preliminary approval by midnight May 9, which means that when the clock struck midnight, any bill that had not passed the House is likely dead.

The only way to revive such a bill is as an amendment to a Senate bill, or if the Senate companion passes. The House can still pass Senate bills for another week.

The Thursday deadline in a legendary night in the session, and it always has lawmakers punchy with the euphoria of getting their bills passed under the wire—or with the anxiety that accompanies the uncertainty of whether the clock will run out.

A bill by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Beford, would have prohibited cities from instituting knife bans, but as it was last on the calendar it died Thursday.

Rep. Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell, got his bill out with less than half an hour to spare—a piece of legislation dealing with behavioral programs for some students. It had already gotten out of the Senate and, thanks to his last-minute passage, is on the way to the governor.

When he was introducing it, Ratliff sped through the description like an auctioneer, earning himself a round of applause from the House members.

Chubbing and other legislative love songs

Unlike Congress, state lawmakers are not allowed to "filibuster" in the classic sense of the term. They are no allowed to even threaten such an action, which is all it takes to kill a bill on Capitol Hill.

But they have their own versions of it, and the legislative session, which adjourns on May 27, has entered the time when such tactics start being used.

The most popular maneuver is known as "chubbing," when lawmakers simply drag their feet to delay an agenda until a deadline. On Thursday night, the Texas House faced a midnight deadline to pass its own bills, with some lawmakers hoping to kill various legislation on the last half of the day's debate calendar.

Chubbing frequently involves random, inane questions on tiny bills, and hijinks on the floor that include flying a little helicopter around lawmakers' heads during debate on a bill regulating the use of drones on private property.

One lawmaker, a staid Republican chairman, leapt into the air at the back mic to show that "dead men can't jump" during debate on a bill dealing with removing deceased voters off the rolls. He did it, he said, to prove that he is alive and well—even though his home county registrar thinks otherwise.

During one delay tactic, lawmakers spent a long time hazing freshman Rep. Scott Turner of Frisco, a former NFL cornerback. Leading the charge on that was Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, an obvious fan, who wanted to know the fastest time in which Turner had ever run the 40.

"4.18," Turner replied. After a moment of surprised quiet, the football-crazy House erupted into cheers.

"That," Creighton said, "is fast! We almost had to have a moment of silence for that one."

In the Senate, the chubbing can last through the night, and the action is a lot closer to the classic filibuster of talking a bill off the calendar.

Senators who want to talk a bill off the deadline on the last week will often spend hours reading from a phone book or bantering with another lawmaker to run out the clock. The rules, however, make this a physically demanding tactic because the senator is not allowed to sit down, and must always be within reach of his or her desk.

Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston is famous for placing a pair of sneakers on his desk and hooking himself up to a catheter as an implied threat to a bill.

V for 'victory'—almost

Southlake Republican Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a freshman House member, was the target of some serious criticism by more powerful members (and friends of the incumbent he beat in the last primary) for his bill requiring lawmakers to disclose any government contracts in which they or any family members own a majority stake.

The bill was finally let out of committee, but then it was bottled up in the Calendars committee (which schedules floor debates) before it could reach the floor.

But Capriglione's bill is not dead yet, as Senate legislation dealing with ethics is expected to be slated for House debate and would offer an opportunity for him to add his bill on as an amendment.

This gives him the advantage of forcing a vote on the issue, making it a lot harder for reticent lawmakers to vote no.

And the bag ban ban? Banned.

It looks like the Legislature chose local control over grocery bag freedom, because a bill that would have outlawed Austin's ban on plastic bags appears dead for the session.

The bill by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, never made it to the floor for debate before the May 9 deadline on House bills.

Springer said he believes he got his message across to cities anyway, putting them on notice that lawmakers will be watching for ways they overreach and meddle in citizens' personal freedoms.

Springer said he has not decided yet whether to reintroduce it next session, but he will not be spending his time trying to tack it onto an amendment this time.

It takes a lot of work to do that, he said, and he will be spending his time trying to revive another Austin-centric bill that died this session—a ban on school districts offering benefits to same-sex domestic partnerships.

That bill did not make it, either, but it has strong support by some key senators and could yet live on.

Quote of the week

"I think that I was very effective in killing a lot of legislation, and that lead to a lot of people being upset about it." —Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, on why his bill was scheduled dead last on the last night the House could pass its own bills


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