As session nears end, a fight to the death for bills yet to pass


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on May 20, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Updated Monday, May 20 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- As the session nears its end, which bills live or die can be a fight to the death. 
State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) authored a bill that would create a statewide innocence commission named after Texas' first posthumous exoneree, Timothy Cole. After the bill cleared the lower chamber, McClendon says HB 166 came under attack.
"We sent it over to the Senate and there's a member over there who said that she's going to kill the bill," McClendon told media Friday. As a result, McClendon vowed to block state Sen. Joan Huffman's (R-Houston) bills in the House. 
"It was Mrs. McClendon's intention to kill this bill with speaking for ten minutes so the bill is gone," state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), the House Speaker Pro Tempore, announced Monday afternoon as McClendon successfully derailed two bills by Huffman. 
Most bills die a less spectacular death, with some left pending in a committee or waiting on a calendar and others voted down with minor fanfare. Some of those bills started out this session with high hopes on the part of their authors, such as fetal pain legislation that would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks. 
State laws aimed to challenge any potential new federal gun regulations also failed to get traction, as did bills that would have established term limits for state officials and legislation that would have provided an affirmative legal defense to medical marijuana users.
On education, lawmakers have agreed to reduce the number of final exams and to raise the cap on charter schools, but efforts to create tax incentives for private school scholarships have largely fizzled out. The initiative was part of a broad "school choice" package laid out before the session by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas) and state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston).
"Success is never final on anything, but we've taken many steps forward," Patrick told KVUE Monday. "We want more parents to have more say and more choice in where their children go to school."
As the session wanes, signs of strain between the two chambers have begun to surface. Upon learning that the House has passed nearly twice as many Senate bills as the Senate had passed House bills, state Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) volunteered Monday to carry a printout of the bill statistics to the upper chamber.
Yet death in the Texas Legislature isn't always permanent.
"I had a bill that would simply have allowed people who have a state issued drivers license or ID card to register to vote online using that plus the last four digits of their social security number, an authentication protocol that's more secure than the current way of registering to vote," state Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) said Monday.
Like countless others, Strama's bill missed a key deadline over the weekend. 
"That bill is dead, but that legislative initiative is not dead yet. It's on life support, but we are still looking for other bills that are still moving," said Strama. "If it's within the rules of germaneness for me to attach that bill as an amendment to a bill that still has life, then I might still be able to accomplish what I was trying to accomplish with that bill."
Meanwhile, time is running out and the rush is on for everyone to get bills passed--or sine die trying.