The swirling force of Texas politics

GOP Agenda Rolls Through TX Legislature

View Comments ()
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Republicans in the Texas Legislature haven't let rules, traditions or complaints from Democrats get in their way.

    From the cut-and-slash state budget to abortion rules requiring some women to have an invasive sonogram, Republicans have pushed through conservative priorities using any means necessary, steamrolling the minority party in the process. As the legislative session goes into its final two weeks, the political drama will only intensify.

    House and Senate negotiators still must come up with a compromise version of the budget. If major sticking points over spending aren't smoothed over soon, it could force a special session during the summer. School-funding legislation, including a measure to give schools relief from some state mandates, also has stalled.

    A Senate showdown over immigration legislation cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities will likely come up before the May 30 session close.

    "What you're going to see in the Senate, with Hispanics, is that it's personal," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democrats. "My prayer for the next two weeks is that I continue to have restraint and do not lose it because of immigration stuff."

    Capping a tense week filled with late nights, the House GOP met a major deadline late Thursday, and by Friday had sent most of the priority legislation on the path to becoming law. Some major pieces of legislation have yet to be completed, including a House-Senate compromise on the budget and a school finance measure, but they haven't given up.
     

    For Democrats, the only recourse has been parliamentary objections, to stop or stall major legislation.

    Democrats are so outnumbered in the chamber, Republicans could conduct business without a single Democrat even showing up. The GOP has 101 members in the 150-chamber after sweeping victories last year. It's a far cry from 2003, when Democrats lost control of the chamber but could still stop House business by leaving the state.

    This year, the best they can do is run out the clock to minimize the number of bills that pass in the 140-day session.

    Republican Speaker Joe Straus used a rules smack-down last week to allow the majority to force a vote on a tort reform bill, and again two days later, to pass a tough-on-immigrants law enforcement measure.

    "For the big ticket items, we're getting those done," said Rep. Larry Taylor, leader of the House Republicans. "We have the numbers to get things done when we have to pull the trigger. It's unfortunate that (Democrats) make us get in that position, when we have to do things that they consider drastic."

    For other legislation, the GOP has relied on its raw voting strength to pass stricter voter identification requirements, abortion restrictions and Republican-friendly redistricting maps.

    In the Senate, partisan tensions simmer as well.

    They came to a head over the passage of the budget.

    Democrats have generally advocated filling a massive budget shortfall by using more money from the so-called Rainy Day Fund, a reserve account that has billions of dollars in it. Most Democrats also say they want to raise more revenue, either by fees or through various tax reforms, to soften the budgetary blows.

    But to pass a draft state budget that accommodates conservatives' demands not to spend the Rainy Day Fund, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst quashed Democrats by overriding a longstanding Senate tradition intended to encourage bipartisan harmony.

    Normally a two-thirds majority is necessary in the Senate just to take up a bill, a supermajority that Republicans couldn't muster for the budget plan. So Dewhurst bypassed the tradition and Democratic opposition by using a special rule that allows House bills, such as the budget, to be considered on certain days without a two-thirds approval.Senators have hailed the two-thirds tradition as a mechanism that nurtures compromise and bipartisanship in the Senate and questioned Dewhurst's new precedent.

    "No longer will any minority party in the Senate have a say in the budget bill," Van de Putte said. "She said the maneuvering "damages the very concept of representative democracy."