AUSTIN -- Racing to meet a critical deadline for filing bills, lawmakers on Friday submitted hundreds of last-minute measures that include money-saving proposals to consolidate state agencies and a bill aimed at curbing the powers of the State Board of Education.
More than 800 bills poured into the offices of the secretary of the senate and the clerk of the House as staffers rushed to process legislation before the close of business Friday, the 60th day of the 82nd Legislature.
House and Senate members can still file noncontroversial local bills, but Friday's 6 p.m. deadline was the last chance to introduce substantial bills and resolutions that lawmakers hope will have a shot at consideration before the session ends May 30.
"Even though it seems like we just started the session yesterday, we're almost to the halfway point," said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. "Every day the clock ticks, and every day that passes, that's another bill that dies."
By the end of the day, more than 7,200 bills and resolutions had been filed; the whole 2009 Legislature had 12,238 bills. The drop was widely attributed to a budget crisis that has left lawmakers facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall, discouraging proposals for new programs and added expenditures.
The budget pressures will be on display today when up to 10,000 school teachers from across the state, including hundreds from North Texas, rally at the Capitol to protest nearly $10 billion in education cuts that threaten layoffs of teachers and other school employees.
Most of Tarrant County's 10 representatives and two of its three senators participated in Friday's deadline drill. Some legislators were particularly prolific. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filed 10 bills. Reps. Bill Zedler and Diane Patrick, Republicans from Arlington, each filed seven.
One of Davis' bills addresses a prolonged controversy centered on social conservatives on the State Board of Education, who have been accused of using their political views in shaping curriculum and content in textbooks. Davis' bill would transfer the authority for curriculum and textbooks to the state's education commissioner.
Zedler filed legislation incorporating Gov. Rick Perry's proposal to create a Department of Health Professions from several existing health-related agencies. Perry, who unveiled the proposal in his State of the State Address in February, has said consolidation would save up to $11 million over the next two years.
Zedler, who last year was elected to the seat he had held for six years before being defeated in 2008, also filed a bill that resurrected memories of a legislative uproar in 2003, when Democrats left the state to break a quorum in a redistricting battle. The bill would impose a misdemeanor penalty on anyone who attempted to coerce a member into participating in preventing a quorum or offered the member an incentive to do so.
Also this year, lawmakers will draw new congressional and state legislative boundaries to conform with new population figures. "I know for a fact there were Democrats who did not desire to leave town" but were coerced with the threat of drawing a political challenger, Zedler said.
He said his bill was also inspired by the political standoff in Wisconsin, in which Democrats left the state in a dispute with the Republican governor.
Patrick, a former teacher and a member of the House Education Committee, filed several school-related bills as well as one to create uniform ethics requirements for governing officials on major state investment funds.
Other Republicans filing bills Friday included Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, and Reps. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Mark Shelton of Fort Worth and Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, who chairs the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee. Freshman Rep. Barbara Nash, R-Arlington, is one author of a bill to outlaw corporal punishment.
Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed several bills in the pre-deadline rush this week, including one that would impose a $100 surcharge on fuel-inefficient vehicles. Veasey filed a bill that would require producers in the Barnett Shale to post a sign on the affected property when they plan to drill a natural gas well in the neighborhood.
Among the bills filed Friday was one by state Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, that would let former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach sue his former employer for wrongful termination.
Staff writers Anna M. Tinsley and Aman Batheja contributed to this report.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief. 512-476-4294