Posted on May 8, 2013 at 6:47 PM
Wednesday, May 8 at 7:01 PM
AUSTIN -- With the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature winding down, the speed is picking up as lawmakers scramble to move bills along before time runs out.
"There are literally hundreds of bills that have yet to be heard. There are dozens of bills that are on the calendar," said State Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), who serves as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
So far both chambers have passed a budget and education reform bill that must each be reconciled through the conference committee process, but a bill aimed to finance water projects dried up in the state House.
Water funding was one of Gov. Rick Perry's top priorities this session, along with $1.8 billion in tax relief, of which the House initially approved $667 million Tuesday.
"They're a third of the way there," Perry said Wednesday, adding it's "a little early" to be drawing a line in the sand when it comes to passing the full balance requested or facing a special session. Then he went one step further:
"It should be no surprise that if folks want to go home at the end of this legislative session, send me $1.8 billion worth of tax relief. Send me a balanced budget that has no fee increases for transportation and $2 billion of infrastructure for water," said Perry. "And everybody can go home and enjoy their summer."
Wednesday afternoon House Democrats argued that the list of do or die priorities should also include addressing health care expansion. Seen by many as offering a path to compromise, State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) announced his bill to find a "Texas Solution" on Medicaid expansion was halted in the House Calendars Committee, effectively killing the bill.
"There was a strong majority of people who wanted to move forward with this legislation. We just weren't given the opportunity to do so," state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) told reporters gathered for an impromptu media conference outside the House chamber.
Turner, who led much of the fight against HB 500 Tuesday, says the tax cuts would take money that could have been used on schools or water. The bill passed on third reading Wednesday and is now headed to the state Senate.
"I'm not opposed to assisting businesses and providing jobs and opportunities," said Turner. "But in this session when there are big items like water, transportation, the restoration of funding for our public schools, I don't think this was the most responsible approach to take."
Meanwhile, Democrats are continuing their push for a complete restoration of the $5.4 billion in education cuts passed in 2011, a subject on which Turner says the other priorities could ultimately hinge.
The bill to transfer $2 billion from the rainy day fund to kick start a state bank for financing water projects stalled last week, in part after demands by Democrats that some of the state's savings account also be used to restore school funding.
"My hope is that we could still reach a resolution on water. But reaching a resolution on water is going to require more money for our public schools," said Turner. Yet as the calendar counts down, deadlines are passing, and each day lawmakers have fewer options to get through important legislation.
"The last day to hear a House bill, a bill filed by a member of the Texas House, is Thursday midnight," said Turner. "There will be some long nights on Wednesday night. We'll probably go to midnight on Thursday. but at the stroke of midnight any House bill that has not been heard is literally dead."
Even with the May 27th end of session date swiftly approaching, Perry says he's not concerned yet.
"There's a lot of time to maneuver between now and the 27th," said Perry.