Dewhurst calls for quick special session on failed GOP measures

Posted Thursday, May. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Angered by the demise of key bills considered priorities by conservatives, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared in an interview Thursday that Gov. Rick Perry should quickly force lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session after adjournment Monday.

Dewhurst wants to revive a bill that would require drug tests for welfare recipients, one that would permit students with concealed-handgun licenses to carry guns inside campus buildings and a package of bills that would further restrict abortions.

His request also includes political redistricting; school vouchers, also known as school choice; an end to the state’s windstorm insurance program “without a rate shock”; and a more restrictive constitutional cap on state spending.

The state’s second-highest officeholder said he made the request to Perry on Wednesday. He said he told Perry “that there were a number of bills blocked by Democrats and we need to come back in a special session and pass them.”

“I think he’s seriously considering doing that,” Dewhurst said. “I obviously don’t speak for Gov. Perry. I’ll let him best speak for himself.”

Josh Havens, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said he was unaware of Dewhurst’s request but indicated that the governor will not announce any intentions until after the regular session ends Monday.

“We’re still in regular session,” Havens said. “It’s too early to be talking about the probability of a special session.”

Perry, who threatened to call lawmakers back to work if they fail to meet his demands on water, transportation and tax relief, has not indicated whether the budget proposals moving through the Legislature would satisfy his demands.

Dewhurst said he would prefer that a special session be held quickly after Monday’s adjournment rather than later in the summer.

“That’s a call by Gov. Perry,” he said. “If I were asked, I’d rather go ahead and get it taken care of and put behind us.

“I’m mad at the partisanship that blocked these bills, and I’m particularly mad at some of the things that happened over in the House,” Dewhurst said. “But at the end of the day, I think that everybody’s here trying to do the best they can.”

Seeking re-election

During the interview, Dewhurst said he will formally announce plans to run for re-election shortly after the end of the regular session.

Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor since 2003, has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate if Perry chooses not to run again. But he told the Star-Telegram that his plans are firm, regardless of what Perry decides.

Dewhurst made a bid for the U.S. Senate last year and entered as a heavy favorite. He was defeated by Tea Party-backed candidate Ted Cruz, who took office in January.

Asked to assess Cruz’s performance as senator, Dewhurst said: “It’s still early. I am very hopeful and supportive for Texas that Sen. Cruz will do a great job because it’s clearly in the best interest of the state of Texas.”

Dewhurst said lawmakers are close to completing what he called “the most conservative session in decades.”

The Legislature’s achievements, he said, include blocking Medicaid expansion, moving toward enacting a “fiscally conservative budget” without raising taxes and forging $1.5 billion or $1.6 billion in tax relief.

But he blamed Democratic partisanship for killing other measures and said he is upset that Democrats blocked a bill by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, that would have required drug testing for welfare recipients.

Democrats effectively talked the measure to death Tuesday with the approach of a midnight deadline, dooming about 50 other bills waiting for action.

Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said Democrats united in a “team effort” to defeat the bill.

“It was bad public policy,” he said. “It was a solution in search of a problem.”

Angered by rhetoric

But Dewhurst said he was angered by the display of “partisan rhetoric” as he watched Democrats “chub” the bill Tuesday. “And, I was, for the life of me … I couldn’t understand. And I’m mad that we couldn’t get [a] drug-testing program for welfare recipients.”

He said Nelson’s bill protected children by enabling them to continue receiving benefits and would have provided incentives for drug addicts “to stay healthy, take care of their children and get their lives moving forward.”

Dewhurst said he was also “disappointed that Democrats fought against a campus-carry bill,” authored by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Birdwell said Wednesday that Democrats had blocked the bill and acknowledged that he had no hope of passing it before adjournment. The bill would have let licensed college students carry concealed guns in the classroom unless their schools opted out.

Dewhurst also wants a special session to include a package of failed abortion restrictions, including legislation banning the procedure after the 20th week, which the bill’s supporters say is when fetuses feel pain. Another measure would set minimum standards for abortion facilities.

The bills on Dewhurst’s list presumably would have a better shot at passage in a special session. Under the Senate’s two-thirds rule, a bill must have 21 votes to come up for debate on the Senate floor, meaning that the 12 Democrats have more than enough votes to block legislation.

But the rule doesn’t apply in special sessions, Dewhurst said. “That is correct, although, as is our style, we would prefer to work with as many members as we can to make sure the bill is good and we’re able to pass it.”

Dems fire back

Although Democrats were blamed for blocking the campus-carry bill, they said several Republicans weren’t for it, either.

“I know there are a number of Republicans who are glad to have the Democrats take the heat for blocking it,” said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, one of more than a dozen senators who have concealed-handgun licenses.

Even so, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus, acknowledged that Dewhurst’s continued lobbying is puzzling.

“He’s been told over and over again that that bill doesn’t have the votes to come to the floor,” he said, echoing comments Wednesday from other senators — both Democrats and Republicans. “Yet he continues working on it.”

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, the Senate sponsor of another pro-gun bill that was blocked from a vote — one mandating that local and state law officers cannot enforce new federal gun regulations — said campus carry and federal enforcement are big issues.

“We got them to the 1-yard line, but we couldn’t get them across the goal this time,” he said.

In all, though, the Senate had passed at least 17 pro-gun bills by Wednesday — likely a record, according to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Second Amendment icon in Texas who intends to challenge Dewhurst for lieutenant governor.

While a state senator in the 1990s, Patterson wrote the state’s concealed-handgun law.

This report includes material from the Austin American-Statesman.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin Bureau chief. 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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