In 1990, a Democratic member of the U.S. House named Al Swift was quoted in D.C.-area media reports as saying “Republicans are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy.”
That line remains a shrewd observation today.
Though partisanship is a considerable factor in any legislative body, nothing unites a legislative body like the disdain it has for its counterpart.
There are about 70 days left in the 2017 biennial legislative session. Tomorrow, we will be at the exact midpoint of the 140-day legislature. Let’s take stock of where Gov. Greg Abbott’s four emergency items stand:
• Child Protective Services reform: It has passed both the House and the Senate.
• Ethics reform: It was authored by State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, passed the Senate unanimously and now rests in the hands of State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. It appears that ethics reform will happen this session, with the leadership of Taylor, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
• Sanctuary cities: Legislation to crack down on jurisdictions that ignore federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers authored by State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, passed the Senate on a party line vote. The House heard its own bill in the State Affairs Committee last Wednesday. I expect the House to also move its own version of the bill and a conference committee to resolve the differences.
• Convention of States: Abbott’s final emergency item, passing a resolution that would endorse a Constitutional Convention, has also passed the Senate. I suspect the House will also pass it.
The Senate passed these four emergency items early — in some cases before the House even appointed committees.
But many important issues remain:
•The budget: The House and the Senate are quite far apart in their respective biennial budgets, with the initial Senate budget of $103.6 billion in state general revenue and the House budget at $108.9 billion.
One fundamental difference: The House relies more heavily on tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund, while the Senate budget, House allies say, makes deep cuts in state spending that universities argue would cripple many regional universities and reduce funding for some facilities.
• School choice: The Education Savings Account bill, SB 3, authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, was heard in committee last Thursday. I expect that it will pass the Senate, although House Education chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said he does not believe it has the support to pass the House.
•School finance: On March 6, Huberty unveiled a $1.6 billion plan as a “first step” to fix the state’s school funding system. The Texas Tribune reported that the bill “would boost per-student funding for nearly every public and charter school in the state while reducing the amount of money wealthier school districts are required to give up to buoy poorer ones.”
•Ride-hailing: Last week the House and Senate held committee hearings on bills that would overrule city ordinances regulating ride-hailing.
• Texas Privacy Act: The Senate passed SB 6, which requires all Texans to use the bathroom of their biological sex in government buildings, universities and schools. House leaders have expressed serious concerns about the legislation and its potential effect on the state’s economy.
• Paycheck protection: Senate State Affairs chairwoman Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, both have bills to require labor unions in Texas to collect their own dues instead of the state collecting for them.
In the end, the House will hold back Senate bills and the Senate will hold back House bills — and both sides will need to cut a deal to avoid a special session.
The governor has been crystal clear on his four emergency items. At least publicly, he has been less clear on the remaining hot button issues.
What gets done? What is left undone? Will there be a special session? How does this play in primary and general elections next year? Stay tuned.