‘Twas the session of the birds, dead ones: On January 8, 2007 some 63 birds were found dead in downtown Austin just as the freshly elected Legislature was gearing up for their biannual bill hunt. Travis County Health officials determined 11 days later that the omen was the product of “a parasitic infection that predisposed the birds to illness when temperatures dropped.” Sure thing, hoss. Indeed, if anything, the session was a high-pressure system mixing hot tempers and cold calculations.
Everyone knows that storks are the primary means of bill-transportation at the Capitol. Storks swoop down like winged chariots and grab bits of legislation by their committee-report swaddlings and whoosh them through the House and the Senate gauntlets. The swiftest storks maneuver their bills through the killing fields — where trigger-happy lawmakers wait in ambush, shotguns locked and loaded — and eventually deposit their bundles on the Governor’s desk.
Here’s a snapshot of the flight plan. Enjoy.
Where the storks must face the first perils of their heroic journeys, their initial committee assignment, where the intoxicating aroma of briefcase leather and the hypnotizing murmurings of legislative aides may lull them into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Anti-Bob Perry Bird
Rep Mike Villarreal’s HB 111 would’ve capped individual political contributions at $100,000.
Revolving Door Bird
Rep Donna Howard’s HB 602 would’ve forced former legislators to wait two years before hopping on the lobby gravy train.
Illegal Citizen Bird
HB 2 would’ve deprived American-born children of illegal immigrant parents access to all state services, including a public education. Rep Leo Berman’s bill made headlines from New Braunfels to New York but stayed put after it was assigned to the State Affairs Committee.
St. Arnold’s Bird
HB 2647 and HB 1926 were twin bills hatched in the blogosphere by St. Arnold’s Brewery to let Texas brewers sell their suds on their own premises. The duo were flown to Rep Kino Flores’s Licensing Committee and never heard from again. The same fate awaited Rep Corte’s HB 25, which would’ve assigned jail time to adults who get caught buying booze for minors twice.
The Office Diva Bird
Rep Jessica Farrar’s HB 307 would’ve illegalized workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. One would think that every anti-discrimination bill deserved a flutter in Rep Helen Gidding’s Business & Industry Committee, her being a black female Democrat and all, but Gidding sold her soul to Speaker Tom Craddick to get the chairmanship.
Pregnancy Billboard Bird
With HB 23, Rep Frank Corte Jr. would have forced pharmacists to post medically inaccurate information about emergency contraception on their shop walls. With HB 2223, Rep Villarreal would have forced so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to post factually accurate information on their walls. Both bills went to the same place as HB 224, Rep Ken Paxton’s proposal for a special “Choose Life” license plate: nowhere.
THE FIRING RANGE
Where legislators line up, take aim, and blow out of the sky anything they don’t like, anything by anyone they don’t like, or anything stealing the air occupied by things they do like.
Sen Van de Putte’s SB 92, an attempt to get anorexia and bulimia classified as “serious mental illnesses” for insurance purposes, died in subcommittee. The bird carrying HB 1919, a bill forcing insurance companies to cover brain injuries, picked it up for a little while only to drop it before cruising to the governor’s office.
Voter ID Bird
House Bill 218, a measure which would have required that Texans going to the polls present photo identification (or multiple other forms of ID) in addition to their voter-registration cards passed the House on a near party-line split, only to run smack-dab into Sen Mario Gallegos’ liver once it reached the other chamber. Gallegos, who underwent a liver transplant before the session started, returned to the Capitol to be the 11th vote to block the bill from consideration. But that wasn’t the end of it. Sen Carlos Uresti caught the stomach flu, and while he was momentarily incapacitated with erupto-gut, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst called the bill up knowing Democrats were a vote short of blocking it. San Antonio’s Sen Leticia Van de Putte threatened a filibuster, and Sen Whitmire allegedly started cursing because his vote hadn’t been counted, which prompted Dewhurst to threaten to expel him from the floor. The vote was reconsidered, Uresti arrived on the floor to cast his “no” vote, and the bill was not taken up again. But, just in case, Gallegos had a hospital bed set up in the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms office.
Intolerant Non-Smoker Bird
Despite the media play for Sen Rodney Ellis’s public-smoking ban — one of the strictest proposed in the nation — SB 368 never made it out of committee. Its cousin HB 9 cleared the House, but only after getting caught in a storm of amendments. It died while waiting for a vote on the Senate floor.
Bird Who Flies With Keno Tickets
After her pro-Indian-gambling bill died in a tied 66-66 vote in the House, Rep Norma Chavez began the next day by targeting the bills of those who spoke against it. Though she ultimately removed her objections and allowed the bills to be considered, it caused heartburn for reps like Jim Murphy, Linda Harper Brown, and Larry Taylor, whose bills she had temporarily blown off course.
We journalists had a lot of faith in SB 966, which would’ve allowed us to better protect our sources by avoiding subpoenas. The bill whooshed through the Senate, despite the traitorous meddlings of Sen Dan Patrick, himself a radio-show host, only to be gunned down on a point of order by Craddick thug Rep Debbie Riddle.
Public Information Bird
Sen Jeff Wentworth’s SB 889, an attempt to increase what government agencies can charge public-information requestors suffered in the House: Reps Farrar and Veasey winged it in committee, and the bill died on its way to a floor vote.
After SB 263, which would’ve created a special state agency to review wrongful convictions, died in Rep Aaron Pena’s Criminal Jurisprudence committee, the lefty blogosphere whistled for another bird, the one carrying SB 167, a bill designed to streamline compensation for wrongful-conviction victims. Unfortunately, unlike Lord of the Rings, the legislature is short on deus ex machina these days. But even if it had been rescued, SB 167 couldn’t get a vote scheduled on the House floor.
Fetal Paperwork Bird
Our pro-choice scouts had their eagle-eyes narrowed at SB 785, a bill requiring physicians to report confidential abortion data, and SB 920, an informed-consent bill that would force abortion-seekers to get an ultrasound and perhaps look at it first. The hunting party sent to bring the bird down included: Reps Villarreal, Farrar, and Gallego, with Dutton striking the blow against SB 785 with a point of order. Rep Jim Dunnam forced Corte to ground SB 920 with a threat to stall the last-minute passage of the House’s less-repugnant pending legislation.
Early Primary Bird
Texas has long been the ATM of presidential campaigns, with Republicans and Democrats flocking to Texas to cash in on wealthy oil tycoons and trial lawyers with money to burn. Texas ranked fourth among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for political contributions during the 2004 election cycle, but the hotly contested Democratic primary had already been decided by the time March rolled around, leaving Texans out in the cold. With contested presidential primaries on both sides of the aisle coming in 2008, some Republicans and most Democrats wanted to make Texas a major player in the primary-election process by moving the Texas primary up to February. However, the bill died shortly before the session ended, as 12 Republican state senators blocked it from being considered. With so many candidates in the ’08 field, though, the winners may not be decided by the time Texas’s March primaries roll around.
Rep McClendon and Sen Van de Putte’s proposal to add a $15 tax on top of the standard civil-case filing fees would’ve gone to renovating the Bexar County Courthouse (as opposed to actually updating the court’s technology, which still runs off computers from the 1970s). Their HB 2272 passed unanimously in the House, but was stalled from a floor vote by Senators Seliger and Brimer, who also had it in for HB 1631, which would’ve abolished the “Office of Inspector of Hides and Animals.“
THE LANDING STRIP
Where the swiftest birds attempt to drop their bounty on the desk of the Governor, who still has one chance to blow their little brains out.
Lobby Up Bird
HB 2489 requires lobbyists to publish accurate estimates of what they’re paid.
Biblical Scholar Bird
Not only were legislators willing to alter the Pledge to the Texas Flag (which hadn’t been changed since the 1930s) to add the words “under God,” but they also adopted a landmark Bible education: HB 1287 by State Rep Warren Chisum was the Religious Right’s coup de gras this session and a rallying point for Bible-in-schoolhouse activists. As proposed, the bill would have mandated every Texas high school teach “the history and literature of the Old Testament era and … the history and literature of the New Testament era.” But, the bill also had few safeguards to prevent the class from melding into a publicly subsidized Sunday School class. After much debate, the House approved a far less in-your-face version of the legislation. In its final form, it will require teachers to undergo training before leading the course and requires the attorney general confirm proposed state curriculum standards are not in violation of the First Amendment. Additionally, the class is not mandatory for high schools.
HCR 25 designates pandhandle town Friona as “the official Cheeseburger Capital of Texas.” Meanwhile, HCR 15 names Athens “the original home of the hamburger.” Before he uncaps his pen, Perry will have to consider that the bill is in direct conflict with a federal resolution authored by Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, designating a restaurant in New Haven as the burger’s true birth place.
Local Water Bird
SB 3, the big water bill, includes a contentious increase in the Edwards Aquifer pumping cap (aka “The 20-Gigaflush”). Rep Puente attempted to attach his proposal to revamp Bexar Met to SB 3, but the bill ended up flying fine on its own once he deleted the call to disband its board.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s pet: a series of constitutionally dubious measures to punish child rapists, including the death penalty for repeat offenders.
Border Security Bird
The only major legislation remotely addressing immigration that stood a chance of passage was a border-security bill, which died in the House but was revived when the Senate amended a homeland-security bill to include some of its less-controversial provisions. The bill created an advisory board to address border security but stopped short of requiring Texas cities to enforce federal-immigration laws.
Having survived the House civil war, the valiant stork carrying the state’s two-year $15-billion budget screeched in at the last minute, feathers flying, and carrying 127,000 new CHIP-insured children and a $35,000 raise for the governor (which surely won’t be the first thing he line-item vetoes).
Speedy Military Lovebird
Despite their political differences (especially on reproductive rights) Rep Corte and Sen Van de Putte teamed up to rush several veteran-related measures through the Lege, including a program to help military voters to cast their ballots while deployed overseas. It was signed by the governor in April.
Prison Rape Bird
Sometimes a stork is charged with a mission so delicate, so serious, that nothing can stop it. The session opened with a clear purpose: Legislators had to address the Texas Youth Commission sex scandal. While a special committee ironed out the details of the overhaul, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a federal agency created by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, organized its own hearing in Austin. With the atmosphere charged, Rep Garnet Coleman ushered through a bill to create an ombudsman to deal with adult prison rape, which was followed by Sen Juan Hinojosa’s TYC bill establishing a new oversight system.
Toll-Road Moratorium Bird
The Lege’s first attempt at declaring a moratorium on toll roads soared through the legislature on a wind of bipartisan support only to get obliterated by the governor’s vetozooka. The second version, SB 792, wasn’t the super-majority phoenix anti-toll activists were praying for. Instead, the bill’s being called a decoy, confusing and weak, although it will freeze SA’s own 281 toll project.
SB 247 requires certain state agencies divest from companies working in Sudan. It’ll take forever to implement, but the market reaction should be almost instantaneous.
SB 129 closes the campaign-finance loophole that allowed lobbyists to hand legislators envelopes of cash without reporting the amount.