It might not sound like it, but that noise coming from your state Capitol is a good noise. It’s the sound of deep thinking as we approach the first key deadline of the 83rd biennial gathering of Texas’ best and brightest.
Yes, it seems like they just got here (they didn’t, the 140-day session began Jan. 8), and, yes, it seems like they haven’t passed anything (they haven’t, other than congratulatory and memorial resolutions, but that’s because of constitutional restrictions on what can transpire during the first 60 days).
The cause of the deep thinking at the Capitol is the fact that next Friday is the deadline for turning great, and other, ideas into proposed legislation. After next Friday, bill filing is pretty much limited to emergency appropriations and measures carrying the gubernatorial emergency tag.
Because we’re better than most states, we have no current emergencies, or least none Gov. Rick Perry knows about. So far this session he has not tagged anything as an emergency. (Quick, uncalled-for, possibly disrespectful joke for which I may have to apologize: Perry, looking to upgrade to another lifetime job, enters the race for pope. All goes well until a debate at which, during a Trinity-related question, he can remember only the Father and the Son.)
So, reviewing here, next Friday is the last day bills can be filed. It’s a hard, cold deadline, except, of course, when legislators don’t want it to be.
It’s a fact of legislative life that, deadlines be damned, there’s almost always a way to get things done. The hurdles get higher, but all kinds of procedures are in place to override deadlines. And all kinds of lobbyists are in place to guarantee legislators know all about all those kinds of procedures.
With enough votes (four-fifths of legislators present and voting – and aren’t those the best kind of legislators?), bills can be filed after next Friday. In fact, there are procedural workarounds for most every rule, law, constitutional mandate and generally accepted standard of adult behavior. I don’t have the rulebook in front of me, but I believe it takes a seven-eighths vote of legislators present and not drinking to suspend the laws of gravity. That happens only periodically, but it’s great fun when it does.
In addition to rules suspension, there’s the amendment process that can miraculously raise bills from the dead by Velcroing them onto living, breathing measures. Praise the Lord, it’s something to behold.
Texas legislative sessions, by law, rule and tradition, are back-end heavy. (Does this process make our back end look fat?) The real action comes as the session’s end (May 27 this year) draws nigh.
Think of the Texas Legislature as a gas. Both fill their containers.
Through Wednesday, 4,050 pieces of legislation, including 1,034 of the memorial or congratulatory variety, had been filed. A total of 743 had won final approval, all of the glad-you-did-something or sorry-you-died variety.
The House churned through a long list of congratulatory and memorial resolutions Thursday. As a result, the House now officially has honored Notre Dame for beating Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl and Petra Valdez on her retirement after 60 years of owning downtown Robstown’s Ideal Beauty Shop. (“Whereas,” that resolution says, “for six decades Petra Valdez has helped to keep Robstown beautiful … .”)
Overall, it looks like we’re trending down in bill filing, which peaked in 2009 when 12,238 measures (including 4,629 memorial or congratulatory resolutions) were submitted and 5,910 were approved (including 4,442 memorial or congratulatory resolutions).
So please, for this next week, if at all possible, don’t bother your legislators as next Friday’s bill-filing deadline approaches. Shhh, they’re thinking.