Dispatches from the Dome

Fellow lawmakers congratulate Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, May 17 on her 50,000th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate. Fellow lawmakers congratulate Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, May 17 on her 50,000th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate.[/caption]

Fellow lawmakers congratulate Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, May 17 on her 50,000th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate.

Some call her an overachiever, but Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, takes pride in being known as one of the hardest-working lawmakers in the state Capitol.

The longest-serving woman in the Texas Senate (and first Hispanic woman elected there) gets to her Capitol office every day before sunrise, and she has never missed a day on the floor since she served her first term in 1987—with one exception.

In summer 2003, she and 10 other Senate Democrats fled to Albuquerque, NM, to prevent mid-decade redistricting that the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled violated the Voting Rights Act.

But she did not miss any votes, because the lack of a quorum prevented the Senate from going into session for three months.

To that end, "Z," as she is called by fellow lawmakers, cast her 50,000th vote May 17 and was honored with a resolution in her honor.

"Senator Zaffirini's 50,000th vote is a milestone in an illustrious career distinguished by exemplary decision-making and statesmanship," the resolution read. "Her earnest support of causes for the betterment of our state and her highly effective work as a lawmaker are testaments to her high standards, her strong leadership and her dedication to public service."

Governor signs ban on gas chambers at shelters

A bill banning gas chambers as method of euthanizing homeless pets in animal shelters not only won unanimous approval by the House and Senate, but was signed late last week by Gov. Rick Perry.

While it did not need his signature to become a law, the bill gets a boost—in awareness, if nothing else—with Perry's signature on it, much like a personal endorsement.

A Perry spokesman said gassing animals has been recognized as "cruel, expensive and unsafe" and said the governor agreed with advocates that it should be replaced. The new law still allows for lethal injections, which advocates say are more humane.

"By signing the bill into law, Gov. Perry was proud to add Texas to a growing list of states that outlaw gas chamber euthanasia for shelter dogs and cats," said Perry spokesman Josh Havens.

Those who know Perry said they were not surprised that he would add the extra endorsement, as the governor is well known as a lover of animals, dogs in particular.

The widely reported episode in which he killed a coyote in February 2010 while on a morning run was touched off, he said, when the coyote appeared ready to attack Perry's Labrador puppy.

Retaliation is the name of the game

Houston Sen. Joan Huffman, chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus, has seen four of her local or widely popular bills shot down or seriously delayed as a direct result of her opposition to legislation creating an exoneration commission in Texas.

The legislation would allow for the study of false convictions and determine how the state can fix its criminal justice system to avoid incarcerating people for years for crimes they did not commit.

Huffman has lead the charge against the bill, calling it unnecessary, and effectively killed its chances of passing this session. But the legislation is supported by a community of people who have lost much of their lives because of wrongful convictions.

In return for stepping on legislation already passed by the House with bipartisan support, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon of San Antonio, has been methodically killing Huffman's bills off the fast-track calendar reserved for noncontroversial measures—raising the ire of the bill's House sponsors and prompting McClendon to go on a tirade against the Fort Bend County senator's actions.

At this point in the session, with a week before lawmakers adjourn, any delay in a bill is giant step toward its death.

One of the bills would have strengthened laws against K2, also known as Spice, a synthetic cannabinoid. The bill's House sponsor urged McClendon to reconsider killing the bill, saying she cared about the victims of K2 who get poisoned by it.

"I care about the people who are poisoned, too," McClendon replied. "Just like I care about the people who are sitting in prison for crimes they did not commit."

Budget deal reached, special session (maybe) averted

Lawmakers reached a deal on a $195 billion state budget for the next biennium, staving off the one problem that would have forced them into a special session over the summer.

That is not to say they could not still come back, as bills dealing with water and transportation funding have yet to hit the governor's desk. And the bill falls a little short of Gov. Rick Perry's desire to include $1.8 billion in tax cuts, as it has only about $1 billion in cuts for businesses.

But as passing a balanced budget is the only thing the lawmakers are constitutionally required to do during their regular legislative session, shirking that responsibility guarantees a costly and time-consuming special session.

Sometimes the lawmakers pass a budget but then the state comptroller determines that it is not balanced—and then refuses to certify it, forcing them to come back for a special anyway.

The last time this happened was in 2003, when the comptroller was Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the House was ruled by Republicans for the first time in 130 years, and the Legislature had made drastic cuts to the budget.

Not surprisingly—and by some accounts, not coincidentally—Strayhorn filed to run against Perry for governor just a couple years later.

Quote of the week

"We've written a good budget for the people of Texas. It's a conservative budget that reflects our values. I don't see how any member of the House or Senate could vote against it." —Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee


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