With less than a month to go before the 84th Legislature’s 2015 regular session ends on June 1, the week ahead is the last before end-of-session deadlines arrive.
In other words, this is the last “normal” week of the session. In still other words, it’s time to scramble to get important work done.
May 11 is the last day for House committees to approve major House bills and report them out for floor debate. May 14 is the last day for the House to begin debate on those bills.
House committees have through May 23 to move major Senate bills. And so it goes through May 31, the last day for the House or Senate to adopt conference committee reports.
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The very last day of the session is reserved for corrections to bills previously passed. And hand-shaking and back-slapping and “job well done” congratulating.
What are the chances the end products of this session will amount to a job well done?
Gov. Greg Abbott was explicit about his goals at the beginning of the session, particularly by designating five “emergency” items:
▪ Early education. Abbott might be pleased with the results so far, but if so it’s because his sights were low.
The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 4, which passed the lower chamber on April 9. It dedicates $130 million over two years to offer grants to eligible school districts to deliver quality pre-kindergarten education.
The allocation is low, most of major districts already meet the standards and HB 4 does not require full-day pre-K or limit class sizes.
▪ Higher education. The House and Senate budgets, currently being studied by a conference committee, each would raise overall higher ed spending by more than 5 percent.
Approval of tuition revenue bonds to finance construction of new classroom and research buildings looks promising for the first time in a decade.
▪ Transportation. Again, a promising picture, although the House and Senate paint it in different ways.
On Friday, the House gave final approval to House Bill 13, which calls for spending more than $3 billion a year on transportation projects. The money would be allocated from general sales tax revenue.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 5 on March 4, devoting a portion of the motor vehicle sales tax to transportation.
▪ Border security. The big picture appears locked in: Texas will try to seal its border with Mexico at state expense.
What former Gov. Rick Perry started last summer as an emergency response to a flood of immigrants from Central America looks to have undergone irreversible mission creep.
House and Senate budget conferees are discussing the details of how hundreds of new Department of Public Safety troopers on the border will be paid and when and how Texas National Guard members are to be withdrawn.
▪ Ethics. Abbott felt so strongly that in his Feb. 17 State of the State address he urged lawmakers to “devote this session to ethics.”
The Senate approved Senate Bill 19 on Tuesday. After floor amendments were added, it turned out to be pretty strong.
It would require lawmakers to disclose all sources of income. Their financial statements would be published on the Internet. Former lawmakers would have to sit out one session before becoming lobbyists.
It even requires everyone elected to public office to take a drug test.
When it comes to having priorities, Abbott is just one Texan. And his list of “emergency” items is only part of what he has told lawmakers he wants.
At this point in the session, the greatest danger is that either the House or Senate will get sidetracked into long debate over bills that only highlight deep philosophical divides. There is not time for that.