Legislating in Texas is not all fun and glory

Posted Thursday, May. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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norman In 10 days, the 2013 regular session of the Texas Legislature will be history.

Some of the most important work of the session is yet to be done. Complex end-of-session deadlines will mix with sleepless nights, but most of it will get done before the end of the day on Memorial Day, May 27.

There’s some sort of natural law at play that says the work expands to fit the time available.

Legislative records show that by Thursday House and Senate members had introduced 5,867 bills since pre-filing began on Nov. 12. The session began on Jan. 8, and by Thursday the two chambers had passed 307 bills.

That’s 71 more bills than were introduced in the regular session two years ago but more than 1,000 fewer than were passed in that session.

High-profile bills are exciting, like putting together a two-year state budget, deciding how much to pay for education, finding ways to pay for transportation projects and, this session at least, figuring out how to provide water for a thirsty and growing state.

Those bills are like candy for a politician’s sweet tooth.

But much of the rest of the work is like chewing rocks. It’s very important, and thank goodness some people are willing to do it, but it’s tedious and can’t be much fun.

Take House Bill 2388, for example. Rep. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, filed it as a one-page bill on March 5, two months after the session started and three days before the deadline for filing most bills.

The purpose of House Bill 2388 is to help communities with military bases closed during a Defense Base Closure and Realignment process to turn around those former local economic engines and make them into productive, job-producing properties once again.

When a base is closed and abandoned by the military, the property can be turned over to a locally appointed Defense Base Development Authority, which takes charge of redevelopment.

There are three such authorities in Texas, two in San Antonio and one in Beeville, southeast of San Antonio.

Menéndez and the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, want to help their hometown redevelop 1,200 acres from the former Brooks Air Force Base (designated for closure in 2005) and 1,880 acres of the former Kelly Air Force Base (designated for closure in 1995).

The Kelly property, now Port San Antonio, is an industrial complex and logistics center similar to Fort Worth Alliance Airport. Brooks City-Base is a younger development (the base wasn’t fully closed until 2011) planned for retail, hospitality, office and industrial users.

HB 2388 would do one thing, but it’s a big one. It would exempt those facilities from state laws that require public, competitive bidding on projects they undertake.

Whoa! Sounds like hiding information from the public.

No, say the bill’s supporters, Port San Antonio and Brooks City-Base don’t spend public money because they don’t have any. What gets built there is built by private tenants spending private money.

They shouldn’t be subject to public disclosure of their plans and spending, supporters said. They wouldn’t be at Alliance.

The city of San Antonio might spend public money there, but those projects would still be subject to competitive bidding and public disclosure, the supporters said. But that wasn’t clear in HB2388.

Even supporters said they expected clarifying language to be added in the House. It wasn’t, and the bill passed the House without debate on May 2.

But at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, Sen Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, couldn’t stand the fuzziness. After the committee discussed House Bill 2388 for 30 minutes, Van de Putte promised to bring back a clearer version.

That’s the stuff of lawmaking, even as time grows short.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830 Twitter: @mnorman9

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