In a last-minute legislative meltdown, the Texas Senate adjourned Monday night without passing key measures to avert a shutdown of the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies, raising the specter of a special session this summer.
The sticking point was $2 billion in transportation bond funding that the House failed to pass before gaveling out the 2009 regular session a few hours before the Senate.
Angry Republican senators said it was preferable to quit and let Gov. Rick Perry call the Legislature back into a 30-day special session to continue the agencies and pass the bonds. Several Democrats argued against the move, saying it was dangerous to begin the shutdown process of major agencies.
Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, blamed the House for the 11th-hour unraveling of the session -- saying the chamber acted irresponsibly by adjourning sine die -- the Latin phrase used to describe the final day of the session.
"The House had the ability to act," he said. "They went sine die after destroying the bulk of four and a half months of work that passed through this body."
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said it was foolish to allow tension between the two chambers to derail the session. Both the transportation agency and the Texas Department of Insurance would face a shutdown by September 2010 unless Perry calls the Legislature back into session to reauthorize their existence.
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"I don't think the people of the state of Texas care if the Legislature is doing a ping-pong across the rotunda of blame of, 'No, you did it. No, you did it,' " she said. "I'm afraid that we are shirking our responsibility."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made it clear senators wanted the transportation bonds passed.
"We're all upset about it," Dewhurst said. "That came as a little bit of a surprise."
Legislators embarked on the last day of the 2009 session with big unfinished business: approval of a hurricane insurance compromise and the lingering dispute over the future of the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies.
The House used a desperation tactic Monday to try to get out of a procedural stalemate and possibly avoid a special session to keep several state agencies operating, including the transportation agency. The measure would have allowed key state agencies to stay alive until the next regularly scheduled session in 2011. But the Senate did not approve the same measure.
One serious matter lawmakers did address at the last minute was an overhaul of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the only wind insurer for property owners in 14 coastal counties and part of Harris County. The state-chartered fund filled a gap when private insurers pulled away from the coast. It was depleted last year by hurricanes Ike and Dolly.
The Senate unanimously approved a compromise plan for TWIA on Monday -- the first day of hurricane season. The House had done so Sunday night.
"We will be ready to enter another hurricane season with the passage of this bill," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Brownsville Democrat. "We're going to see the governor sign it, hopefully soon."
Other major items were passed -- or killed -- before Monday.
What at first looked like rough waters for budget writers this year turned relatively benign with the influx of billions of dollars in federal economic stimulus money. Well before the session's final day, lawmakers approved a $182 billion two-year spending plan that contained $12.1 billion in stimulus money.
The state budget is the only bill lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass.
Partisan fighting broke out early this session when the Senate passed a Republican-backed bill to require Texas voters to show more identification when casting a ballot. Democrats said that would suppress voter turnout by creating more barriers to participation.
House Democrats killed the measure by talking and talking and preventing it from coming up for debate.