REGULAR SESSION ENDS, BUT SPECIAL LOOMS
(AUSTIN) — Legislators gaveled out on the 81st Regular Session Monday, but certain important issues left on the table could bring them back before the next session in 2011. Lawmakers passed several important measures in the waning days of the session. They sent to the governor a new school accountability measure, one that emphasizes college readiness, and a new school finance plan that would add nearly $2 billion to funds and allow for an $800 teacher pay raise. The Senate and House both approved a change to the franchise tax that would exempt businesses that make less than $1 million and another bill to fix the state's beleaguered windstorm insurance program. But it's what they didn't pass that has some Senators asking the Governor to call them back. "Now it's up to the governor to call us in to a short special session to address two issues: that would be the general obligation bonds at TxDOT and the other issue is the sunset schedule," said Senator Tommy Williams of the Woodlands. "And if he'll do that we can get in and get our work done."
Legislation that would have preserved the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Department of Insurance died in the House during the parliamentary stalling that took place in the final days of the session. The Senate later approved a "safety net" bill, one that would continue TxDOT and TDI for four more years, but the House couldn't push that measure through. Monday, the House amended a bill to continue those two agencies for two more years, in an effort to stave off a special session. When that measure came over to the Senate, many Senators, including the bill's sponsor Bryan Senator Steve Ogden, didn't agree with the parliamentary tricks the House used to extend agency deadlines. "It's preposterous to say that a technical correction to the funds consolidation bill, is the safety net bill for all these agencies to not go into sunset," said Ogden. "I thought it was kind of dishonest and I thought it was kind of an insult to the quality of work we've done over here."
Senators might still have accepted the measure, had the House passed a bill that would have given about $2 billion in bonding authority to TxDOT. The House, however, suddenly adjourned their session without approving the bonds, leaving some Senators scratching their heads and others condemning them as irresponsible. "The House's actions wreck the TxDOT budget," said Ogden. "Without passing the authorization issuing those bonds they basically wrecked their budget. It's not right."
The Senate adjourned their own session without approving the measure to extend the sunset dates on TxDOT and TDI. This, said some Senators, practically guarantees a special session to deal with these important issues.
Should the governor not call a special session, TxDOT and TDI would cease to exist on September 2, 2010. Until that time, both agencies can conduct business as usual, giving the governor plenty of time to mull if and when to call a special session.