Members of the Texas House milled around the chamber’s floor well into the night Thursday, many hoping they would have a chance to pass their bills before the clock ran out.
Procedural maneuvering frustrated members whose measures resided near the bottom of the 16-page list of bills that were eligible to be debated on the final day for the House to pass its own legislation.
Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, saw a couple of his bills fail to get a debate. The one he worried about the most — House Bill 1796 — would have helped the growing city of Kyle keep its flow of water.
“Sadly, I’m hoping for a special session that deals with water,” Isaac said.
In the rush to push measures out of the House, some significant debate did take place.
Transportation, the subject of much discussion in the session’s early stages but dormant since, failed to get a funding boost.
State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, citing “forces outside this building” that had made defeat inevitable, pulled down House Bill 3664 after am hour’s debate. Gov. Rick Perry made it clear this week that he had no interest in signing a bill with a fee increase for transportation funding.
Darby’s bill would have raised the vehicle registration fee from $50 a year to $65, and redirected $1 billion a year of the state vehicle sales tax from the state’s general fund to the Texas Department of Transportation. Beyond that, if the bill became law, it would have triggered a separate provision in the pending budget bill sending another $200 million a year into TxDOT coffers.
Neither a registration fee increase nor a change in the vehicle sales tax has gained traction this session in the Senate.
Also Thursday, House Bill 912 by Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, was preliminarily passed. It creates criminal and civil penalties for using drone aircraft to conduct surveillance on private property, excluding military exercises, public safety emergencies, police work done with a search warrant and property within 25 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
But for the most part, the last day for the House to pass bills is a celebratory event, said Harvey Kronberg, owner of the Capitol newsletter The Quorum Report.
“Most of the major stuff has already happened,” said Kronberg, who has been part of every session since 1989. The budget passed weeks ago. Most of the House’s sunset bills, which allow state agencies to continue operations, cleared the chamber a long time ago. And the bill to fund water projects is well in the rear-view, he noted.
Kronberg said that most of the bills on Thursday’s calendars were drafted for special interests, or represented members’ pet projects.
One bill sent to the Senate would make voyeurism a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, if sexual gratification is sought by observing another person through a window or with a telescope or binoculars. Current law treats the offense as disorderly conduct, making it difficult to track repeat offenders who may be emerging sex offenders, said the author, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.
Also Thursday, Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, saw his favorite bill of the session achieve final passage.
House Bill 792 creates a grant-funded program at the Texas Education Agency to dispense 10 grants to school districts for summer learning programs for low-income students, taught by the district’s best teachers for extra pay.
“Basically, it addresses three of the biggest problems in education,” said Strama, who announced weeks ago his retirement from the House at the end of the session.
For the members who didn’t get a chance to debate their bills, there is still hope.
Even before the everyone went home Thursday night, many legislators had already begun trying to find other ways to turn their proposals into policy.
With a little more than two weeks left in the session, bills can find their way onto Senate measures or get tacked onto other pieces of legislation as amendments.