Final days of Texas Legislature flush with high-stakes gamesmanship

Posted Thursday, May. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The final days of a Texas legislative session can just as easily produce Cinderella endings as it can the brutality of a gunfight at the OK Corral.

Maneuvering skill is key: Do everything possible to get your bills passed. Do whatever it takes to kill those you don’t like.

That could mean talking until a piece of legislation dies at midnight on the session’s last Tuesday. going head to head with a colleague on the Senate or House floor, or issuing threats and calling bluffs to get the best horse-trading results with other lawmakers.

Texas Democrats, though clearly a minority in the Capitol, put on a display this week. They derailed Senate Bill 11, which would have required drug testing for applicants seeking welfare benefits, formally known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. SB11 passed the Senate without opposition after its author, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, amended it to make sure aid wasn’t cut off for children who needed it.

But House Democrats still opposed the measure. They kept debate going past midnight Tuesday, the deadline for a vote.

Defending his use of the process, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said SB11 was “bad public policy” and “a solution in search of a problem.”

Dozens of other bills died because of the extended discussion, though most weren’t likely to pass.

That was a group effort. Individual legislators also get after each other, even across houses, which happened between Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

McClendon was lead author of HB166, the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission Act, which would set up a panel to examine all the cases of wrongful convictions in Texas. Huffman, a former judge and prosecutor, stifled the bill last week while acting chairwoman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.McClendon retaliated by killing several of Huffman’s bills in the House through parliamentary procedures.

Sometimes good legislation dies with the bad. Until the final gavel Monday, bills that didn’t receive final approval still can be resurrected as amendments to other measures. Even after the session adjourns, the governor could breathe new life into bills he favors by including them in calling for a special session.

Vampires have nothing on Texas politics.

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