Dispatches from the Dome: the waning days

>While House and Senate members get to work early on the session's most important business, such as the state budget, it is not unheard of to see other legislation speed through the chambers at the 11th hour.

This session was distinguished in that regard, with every last one of the major state issues being sent to the governor with just hours to go before the regular 140-day session came to a close.

What did they manage to get done on the final day?

Everything—a $198 billion 2014–15 budget; sweeping changes to the way high school students are tested, their graduation tracks and school accountability ratings; major legislation expanding access to charter schools; a constitutional amendment to ask voters about spending rainy day funds for water-related projects; a massive permanent business tax cut for small businesses.

And much more.

Why do they wait? Because while it is really easy for each chamber to come to agreement on its own version of solutions to major state problems, it is not always as easy for the House and Senate, with their own political ideologies and approaches, to compromise.

Hence, the breakneck pace final days of the session, all of which lead up to:

Sine Die!

The Latin phrase loosely translates to, "Without a day," and it signals that the 140-day regular session is coming to a close for another two years. Special session or not, the constitutionally mandated biennial meeting is over.

In spite of the fact that every session comes with its winners and losers, Sine Die Monday is marked by a light-hearted air of celebration by all members—most of whom have been away from their families every day for five months, toiling at 16-hour committee meetings or listening to people yelling into the microphone for 12 hours a day in the recent weeks.

This time, senators spent much time memorializing family members who had passed since they last convened in 2011, sharing an emotional moment in which they described their oft-divided chamber as a family of its own.

State representative and Senate offices bring in karaoke machines and set up margarita bars. Much time is spent on the floor thanking staff and family and promising to come back and get reintroduced to the kids.

And there is much hugging and signing of commemorative posters. It is like the end of summer camp—joyous because a great time was had by most, yet sad because nobody really knows for sure who among them will return next time.

In this case, just as it happened in 2011, the governor called them all right back on Tuesday morning to start wrangling over redistricting—nobody had to say good-bye for very long.

A one-drink interim

Lawmakers were adjourned for less than an hour on Monday before they were called back in to a special session to deal with redistricting.

A special session can last up to 30 days—though it does not have to—and can include anything Gov. Rick Perry sets his heart on: redistricting, guns, abortion and wind insurance were a few topics that had been floated as possible special session topics.

For now, the special session that began Tuesday morning only includes redistricting, a task given to lawmakers to help reaffirm Texas' current district maps as they face legal challenges.

The House and Senate declined to address redistricting during the regular session—most likely because they were too focused on the business of the state, like water needs and testing reform.

Political observers are divided on whether Perry will actually expand the session beyond that to include some of the more divisive issues.

Some say that if Perry does not add any other topics, it is likely because he will not run for president again. On the other hand, Perry has had no problem moving through a divisive social agenda in the past—aspirations for higher office notwithstanding—and he has not said he will not run again.

So for now, what lawmakers will deal with in June is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, this less-than-relaxing 12-hour break between sessions earned this description from one lawmaker:

"It's a one-drink interim!"

By the numbers

Members of the Texas House and Senate filed 10,630 bills, resolutions and constitutional amendments for the 83rd Texas Legislature—about par for the course for a typical session. They passed 5,899, including 705 Senate bills and 732 House bills.

They are impressive numbers when you consider logistics: 31 senators, 150 House members and a public hearing for every bill that passed—and many more that did not—not to mention plenty of hearings for resolutions and amendments as well.

Now consider this: More than 1,500 new laws will go into effect over the next six months. Do you know what your lawmakers did?

Quote of the week

"Are there any objections? There'd better not be." —House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, when raising the motion to adjourn Sine Die (There were no objections.)


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