From Sine Die to Special Session, in 15 Hours!

For those legislators and staff who were planning on leaving the tumult in the capitol behind them, 5 p.m. Monday shocked many back to reality. The 82nd Session had ended just as prescribed after 140 days of deliberations and debate.

But with major bills caught up in the time limit rules in the House and Senate, both houses adjourned without completing their state business.  SB 1811, which outlines the fiscal matters that make the state budget a working document, remained unresolved.  And, key legislative matters related to cost savings in Medicaid that are critical to the budget were also sidetracked by time and dispute.

Gov. Rick Perry’s proclamation issued Monday afternoon called for “an extraordinary session of the 82nd Legislature” to start at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, May 31, to consider:

1.       “legislation relating to fiscal matters necessary for the implementation of House Bill 1 as passed by the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session, including measures that will allow school districts to operate more efficiently”

2.      “legislation relating to healthcare cost containment, access to services through managed care, and the creation of economic and structural incentives to improve the quality of Medicaid services”

The announcement, though expected by almost everyone, still came as a shock and dampened the usual festive celebration accompanying the last day of the session. Tomorrow would be yet another day, just like the previous 140 days. The making of the sausage was not over.  There would be no vacations, no time off for staff, and no time to focus on other pursuits.

Legislators are paid a whopping $600 a month in salary, so those of more modest means are quite eager to return to their primary livelihood.   Extending their time in Austin, away from home, family, friends and job places an extraordinary burden on them, a major stimulus for them to get to work quickly and return home!

A special session can deal with only the subjects designated by the Governor.  And, each house can decide what is germane to that call. Special sessions can last no longer than 30 days. Traditionally, they move at a much faster pace than a regular session, obviously because the scope is much more focused.  Both houses still must refer bills to committees, have hearings, and follow other rules and procedures.   The Calendars Committee also still has to post the bills to be heard in the House. The Senate, however, may operate in a more relaxed fashion.

Bills introduced in a special session usually are bills that already have been heard but failed to get final approval.  The proposals receive new bill numbers and undergo additional alterations but remain aligned with the Governor’s instruction.

This is only the seventh special session to begin the day after sine die, and only the fifth in 50 years to be held in the 20-day post-session veto period. This is the 115th special session since 1850.

The Governor also can add additional topics to this special session, or wait for the work on these issues to be completed and then call another special session. The news media already are reporting that the Governor is receiving pressure to add Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency , sanctuary cities, immigration issues, congressional redistricting and myriad other issues to his present call; on  Tuesday he added redistricting.

The Senate began the first day promptly, with eight bills in hand (someone worked throughout the night before) and referred them for consideration to the Senate Finance Committee and to the Education Committee.

Senate Finance began hearing the following this morning:

  • SB 1 by Duncan. This was formerly SB 1811 and relates to fiscal matters/non-tax revenue bills containing a hybrid school finance allocation method.
  • SB 2 by Ogden. This restores $34 billion to the budget bill that was contingent on the passage of SB 1811, which includes Foundation School Program payments to school districts.
  • SB 5 by Huffman and Nelson. This bill will establish an Interstate Health Compact (which in turn could allow Texas to opt out of traditional Medicaid and set up its own program).
  • SB 7 by Nelson. This is a Health and Human Services efficiencies bill that creates cost savings in CHIP and Medicaid.

The Education Committee took up the following:

  • SB 6 by Shapiro which deals with curriculum, instructional materials allotments, and textbooks.
  • SB 7 by Shapiro which is the former SB 12.  This bill provides school districts with management flexibility to save money.

In addition, there is a growing number of bills that are deemed by their authors to be relevant to the Governor’s call,  including SB 27 by Zaffirini, which calls for tuition revenue funding for university campus buildings. Of special importance to UTMB is HB 26 by Madden; this replaces HB 3459, providing for operating efficiencies in the correctional health care arena and for an offender premium charge estimated to produce about $13.5 million in revenue.

How long will the special session last? The simple answer is “until all the business is done.”  That could be a couple of weeks or more. There is a time limit of 30 days, so if the business is not finished, the Governor can call a second special session. 

Aren’t you enjoying Texas History and Government 101?

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