The Legislative Cocktail Hour

The perks of being a lawmaker: $22,000 meal at III Forks

The perks of being a lawmaker: $22,000 meal at III Forks

Texas Capitol building
Budget still not passed in 83rd Texas Legislature. Photo courtesy of Texas Legislature Online

The Texas Tribune is reporting that lobbyists and supporters took the House Calendars Committee — the group of 15 people that decide which bills actually make it on to the House floor for a vote — out for a $22,000 dinner at Austin’s III Forks Restaurant. So basically all of the people who get paid to make sure their interests are secure at the Capitol took all of the people who make our laws out for a ridiculously expensive, boozy dinner.

After looking at the receipt, which you can see here, I have some questions. First, a $7.25 up charge on a Fat Tire is ridiculous. You can buy a whole six-pack for that! Plus, and perhaps more importantly for some of us, if you’re at a steakhouse, why are drinking Coors Light? Gross.

Also, who is this Shane waiter guy? Is he single? 'Cause he just made more than $3,000 in a single night, and that seems like the kind of guy I’d like to know.

As Ross Ramsey points out in his piece, this is all legal. Priceless.

The budget continues to limp along
Texas lawmakers were behaving a bit dramatically the past few days, pulling a Ross-and-Rachel “Will they? Won’t they?” as they crept up to Wednesday’s deadline for making progress on the state budget. Finally, around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, the Texas House and Senate passed important budget bills that seemed to pave the way for the final budget later in the week — including a $2 billion dollar water resolution that will head down to us voters, and more money for schools.

The budget still needs to pass, but these two measures were key in getting the chambers to agree on what will ultimately be a nearly $200 billion state budget. On Wednesday, they appeared to overcome a testy impasse that occurred when the House refused to budge on $200 million in education aid, and the Senate wouldn't do that until the House passed a resolution allowing voters to decide whether to spend rainy day funds (a measure that gets under the skin of tea party Republicans everywhere).

Both chambers passed the bills Wednesday night, only to have another fight break out Thursday morning when a House budget writer noticed that the Senate had tied that $200 million to a tax-relief bill that drains money from a fund set up to help poor people pay their electric bills. That wasn't part of the deal, Democrats said, so it's back to the drawing board — this time, with even less trust between the two chambers than before. And let me tell you, there's no love lost there already. 

So, the budget has yet to be adopted. The good news is that lawmakers are already having to do a special session on redistricting after this session is over. Hey, it's not like they were going anywhere in June anyway. 

Texas craft beer bills 
Five major craft beer bills, which were written about back in March, have passed. The laws would make it legal for craft breweries to sell their product on-site, increase production and open tasting rooms.  All of this has been touted as a major win for a rapidly growing industry that has been subjected to some pretty tight regulations.

Craft brewers are able to enter into partnerships with distributors in Texas, and that hasn't been changed by the current legislation, as some have suggested. The package of legislation was agreed upon by all parties involved, from the craft beers to the distributors to the stakeholders. Cheers! 

Scoliosis test in grade school may be no more
In January, I wrote about the mandatory scoliosis test possibly being removed from Texas grade schools. It passed on Tuesday. Texas schools may now opt out of the formerly mandatory spinal curvature screenings. In place of the screenings, schools may now send educational materials to parents instead.

Coming on Monday, the 83rd Texas Legislature adjourns Sine Die — Latin for "without a day," which means it's over! At least, for now.