AUSTIN -- Overcoming a brief mutiny in the House, Texas lawmakers completed their most important task of the special session Tuesday by clearing a must-pass measure to implement a reduced package of education funding that cuts state aid to public schools by $4 billion over the next two years.
The bill, SB1, breezed through the Senate on a vote of 21-9 but hit a surprise stumbling block in the House, where lawmakers at first rejected the measure before reconsidering and approving the legislation.
Approval by the two chambers sent the compromise bill to Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to sign it.
With their work behind them, senators then called it quits for the special session, leaving one day ahead of today's scheduled adjournment.
House members, many of them clearly annoyed by the Senate's early departure, continued to grapple with unfinished business and scheduled a final day of work today to consider a judiciary bill and a high-profile bill to ban intrusive pat-downs at airports.
"They were in an anxious mood, ironically, I suppose, to hurry to the airport," quipped House Speaker Joe Straus.
The special session began a month ago after a filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, on the final day of the regular session killed an earlier version of the measure containing the school finance package. Perry later added other items to the agenda, and weary lawmakers, many of them worried about jobs and businesses, were clearly ready to go home days before the session's end.
Both chambers on Tuesday also sent Perry another priority bill he'd demanded: a bill to transform the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which provides coverage for Gulf Coast residents. Perry wanted lawmakers to pass the bill before the hurricane season and warned that he would call another special session if they failed to finish the job before today.
The biggest casualty, from the governor's perspective, was the death of a bill to prohibit "sanctuary cities." The bill, which has come under fierce attack from Hispanics, would have barred state aid to Texas cities that prevent law enforcement officers from asking about a person's immigration status.
Perry issued a sharply worded statement Tuesday criticizing Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the chief architect of SB1, for failing to include the sanctuary cities provisions in the must-pass bill after they appeared destined to die in the Senate.
"Unfortunately, SB1 Conference Committee Chairman Robert Duncan ultimately refused to allow language related to the ban of sanctuary cities into the final version of Senate Bill 1," Perry said. "Because of this action, the special session will not provide our peace officers with the discretion they need to keep Texans safe from those that would do them harm."
Duncan did not respond immediately to the governor's statements. Straus, without mentioning Duncan, said the Senate "failed to fulfill its commitment" to include sanctuary cities in a broad government funding bill and predicted that the compromise would have withstood both a constitutional challenge and a Senate filibuster.
The bill passed in the Senate on a vote of 21-9, with little discussion, and was widely expected to reach the same outcome in the House. Many members appeared stunned when House members voted 79-64 to defeat the bill, in a setback for the House leadership and chief budget writers.
After weeks of negotiation and involvement by Perry's office and legislative leaders, SB1 had appeared destined for relatively smooth trip in the final hours of the special session. Davis said earlier this week that neither she nor other Senate Democrats planned another filibuster against it.
Chaos breaks out
The bill's initial rejection raised immediate fears of another special session.
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said the rejection was apparently "just a conglomeration of lot of issues," including concern among representatives of smaller school districts that their schools would get "the short end" of funding.
"As the day went on, I got the feeling it was going to go down," said Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who voted against the bill.
Thirty-two Republicans, many of them representing rural and suburban districts, joined 47 Democrats in opposing the bill. Among Tarrant County's eight Republicans, only Zedler voted no. Democrats Lon Burnam and Marc Veasey, both of Fort Worth, also opposed the bill.
House leaders quickly regrouped and summoned Republicans into a closed session to reverse the vote. Afterward, King appeared at the front of the chamber, telling lawmakers that he and other rural members had been misinformed about the effect on smaller counties and announcing that he planned to vote in favor of the measure.
The bill was then revived and sent to Perry on a vote of 80-57.
SB1 would generate nearly $3.6 billion in nontax revenue -- primarily through deferrals, regulatory changes and other measures -- to balance the $172.3 billion two-year budget that lawmakers passed during the closing days of the regular session that ended May 30.
The bill's most controversial feature is a school-finance component needed to carry out the $4 billion in education cuts mandated by the 2012-13 budget. School districts in Tarrant County would lose $260 million over the next two years.
The Fort Worth district would lose nearly $40 million. Arlington and Keller would lose about $28.9 million each.
The biggest chunk of revenue in the fiscal matters bill -- $2.3 billion -- would come from a one-month deferral of Foundation School Program payments in 2013. The bill also requires online retailers with a physical presence in Texas to collect sales tax, a provision similar to legislation Perry vetoed during the regular session.
It would also continue the Texas Department of Information Resources and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs until 2013. Perry vetoed two so-called sunset bills to continue the agencies but asked lawmakers to include similar legislation in the special session.