Texas Politics

Texas lawmakers file flurry of bills as key deadline arrives

Cambrey Dent, a legislative aide for Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini, lines up in the Senate secretary’s office to file bills, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Austin. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrera)
Cambrey Dent, a legislative aide for Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini, lines up in the Senate secretary’s office to file bills, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Austin. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrera) AP

By the time the deadline for Texas lawmakers to freely file bills for the legislative session struck, more than 900 proposals were added to the agenda Friday, including multiple measures on hot-button issues including immigration, abortion, medical marijuana and political corruption.

The first 60 days of the session is open season, meaning anyone can file a bill without objection. After Friday, lawmakers have to get approval from their chambers to file a bill.

The last-minute rush to get proposals filed brought a frenzied atmosphere to some corners of the Capitol building Friday, with lawmakers posting signs on their doors warning off lobbyists with bills still in need of a sponsor.

State Rep. James White’s door warned visitors that official approval from Pancake Abbott, Gov. Greg Abbott’s golden retriever puppy, was required for all bills. A visit from Pancake, who made his debut on Twitter earlier in the session with much fanfare, was mandatory as well.

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, had several Internet memes posted on his door — including one featuring a Futurama character that read “If your bill is the best bill on the planet … why has no one filed it yet?”

More than 6,000 bills have been filed this session, the most since at least the 81st legislative session in 2009.

Among the ethics bills filed was Sen. Van Taylor’s Senate Bill 19, which aims to enhance personal financial disclosures for legislators, take pensions away from law-breaking politicians and slow down the revolving door between the Legislature and the special-interest lobby.

Taylor, a Plano Republican, has said the involvement of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick greatly increases the likelihood that lawmakers will finally pass long stalled reforms.

“Whatever I end up with, I’m going to wish I did more, but there’s no question that it will be the most comprehensive ethics reform package in a generation,” Taylor said.

Taylor had initially pushed for a provision that would require legislators to wait five years before becoming lobbyists. The version that was filed Friday is more generous to lawmakers. It would allow them to become lobbyists after sitting out one regular legislative session.

Taylor said he made the change after discussing the provision with fellow senators.

He added that he expected his ethics package, which includes several stand-alone bills, would undergo plenty of “tweaks and changes” before the session ends.

In the House, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, filed a proposal to tighten up the law on conflicts of interest among legislators. The measure would make it a crime for state lawmakers to vote on certain bills when a “reasonable person” would conclude, based on definitions provided in the bill, that the lawmaker or his or her spouse would benefit financially. The bill also adds disclosure requirements for lawmakers who have conflicts of interest on certain bills.

Last-minute bills

Among other bills filed Friday:

▪  House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, filed his long-awaited proposals to cut the rates for both the margins tax paid by businesses and the broader state sales tax. The margins tax bill, House Bill 32, is identical to one filed by Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The measures should draw the House more into the tax-cut debate this session, which until now has been focused more on the Senate, where Nelson has already held hearings on some high-profile measures.

▪  Several measures filed Friday aimed at allowing Texas to change its approach to immigration, even as broader proposals stall in Washington.

House Bill 3735 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, seeks to establish a partnership with the federal government to establish a guest-worker program to bring skilled and unskilled labor to Texas.

House Bill 3301 by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would recognize undocumented Texans as “citizens” of the state. It would allow them to apply for driver’s licenses, occupational licenses and state IDs if they meet certain residency criteria and are can verify their identity.

▪  The National Security Agency might have some trouble in Texas if Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, gets his way. House Bill 3916 would make it illegal for any public entities to provide water or electric utility services to NSA data collection centers in the state.

▪  Looking to add restrictions on abortion, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, filed House Bill 3765 to beef up the state’s informed consent laws when it comes to minors. Texas law already requires patients seeking an abortion to go through the informed consent process, but Laubenberg’s bill would require notarized consent from a minor and a minor’s parent before an abortion is performed.