The Legislative Cocktail Hour
While you were kayaking on Lady Bird Lake or blissfully relaxing under a Zilker Park tree in a barbecue coma over Memorial Day Weekend, our Texas lawmakers were shutting down the 83rd Legislative Session… for a little less than 10 minutes.
Just before 6 p.m. on Sine Die, the name for the last day of each session, our representatives threw in the towel and headed off to congratulate themselves with some Coors Lights. At exactly 6 p.m. Governor Rick Perry called them all back in prompting one person in Capitol to exclaim, “Damn, that was only a one-drink interim!” according to the Quorum Report.
So now they are back and first on the agenda is that pesky redistricting map which I told you about in April. You know, the one where the federal government was all, “Um, this looks a little bit racist.” Perry wants to get those maps pushed through. The maps re-draw district lines so that minority-heavy (read: Democratic) districts have more “Republican-friendly” folks. Hence the “racist” description everyone keeps throwing around.
But getting these maps on the docket is a bit of a gamble for Perry and his GOP friends. On one hand, they could bang it out during the special session and get a map that all but guarantees a GOP stronghold in elections for the foreseeable future. Or they could end up embattled in months — some have even threatened years — of litigation.
The governor is keeping his cards close to his chest in regards to what other legislation he may put on the agenda. Political columnists from El Paso to Houston are speculating, but the same things keep popping up as potential items. They include abortion legislation, campus carry gun laws and immigration reform. If they’re right, then the fun starts now! Unless you're a Democrat, in which case, you might want to just assume the position.
What just happened?
Before we start spinning off into the fun-filled special session, let's take a quick look back at what the lawmakers did manage to accomplish in the final three days before the 140-day session adjourned Monday. In short, everything.
They passed a $198 billion state budget for 2014-15. They passed sweeping reforms to school testing, high school graduation and district accountability. They expanded access to charter schools. They approved a constitutional amendment for voters to decide whether to use the state's Rainy Day Fund for water projects. They passed more than $1 billion in tax relief for small businesses and sent to Perry a limited ban on photos and images taken by unmanned drone vehicles of private property without owner permission.
And they got all of this done, once and for all, with less than 24 hours to go before the gavel came down for the last time. Better late, I suppose, than never.
As for this column, it will continue to bring you the happenings of the 83rd Legislature’s special session. After that, keep your fingers crossed that Perry decides to throw his hat in the ring for 2016. Nothing, I repeat nothing, makes for a better column than Rick Perry running for office.