Highlights from the Texas Legislature, 5-26-09

AUSTIN, Texas - House Democrats fought again Tuesday to derail a Republican-pushed voter identification bill as a midnight deadline approached.

It looked as though the Democrats would score that victory, and Republicans seemed to agree, in a day filled with partisan bickering.

Rep. Richard Raymond, a Laredo Democrat, took rare "personal privilege" time to passionately tell fellow House members he opposes putting up barriers to voting. He said he would use all the time available to question non-controversial bills throughout the day, preventing voter ID from coming up.

The voter ID bill would require Texans to show photo identification or two non-photo forms of identification before casting a ballot.

"I grew up watching people's rights being suppressed, people's rights being taken away from them," Raymond said. "I will do everything within the rules that I'm allowed to do to oppose something that I believe is so fundamentally wrong."

Republican Rep. Larry Taylor, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, called it a "team filibuster." He said hundreds of other important bills scheduled to be debated are getting killed by the Democrats' delays.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Dunnam, the House Democratic Caucus leader, tried to kill the voter ID on technical points as he butted heads with Republican Speaker Joe Straus, who was elected with the help of Democratic lawmakers.



Senators and lobby groups continued working to save legislation Tuesday as House Democrats made it clear they would hold firm on their efforts to block a voter identification bill and delay major legislation until a midnight deadline.

As senators considered a House bill by Houston Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman, one senator pointedly mentioned that Coleman was one of many Democratic representatives stalling in the House and preventing legislation from passing.

"I just want to make the point that we are going to move forward with business even from representatives who are killing Senate bills," said Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. "I support you on this bill, but let's make the point that the Senate is doing their business as we should be."

The Senate is facing its own deadline Wednesday, and senators are scrambling to attach their proposals on to other legislation.

Parts of a wide-ranging Medicaid reform bill were successfully added to another piece of legislation. A proposed needle exchange bill - allowing programs to stop the spread of disease among drug users - that was previously passed in the Senate did not find a place on another measure Tuesday.



The House gave its final approval Tuesday to scaling back the law allowing automatic college admissions for high school students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class, a limit sought by the University of Texas at Austin.

Under the compromise bill, approved 123-20, the university could cap the number of Texas students admitted under the program to 75 percent of the entering resident freshman class. The bill would take effect in 2011, meaning it would cover students who are sophomores in high school this year.

"It's focused almost exclusively on UT-Austin," said Republican Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, sponsor of the bill. Officials with the university have been pressing for such a change all session. They say they have lost control over who is admitted to the school because of the automatic admissions provided for in the existing law.

Most of the freshman class each year at the university is automatically occupied by students who graduated in the top 10 percent.

Differences will now have to be worked out between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate provided for a cap at all state universities.



A House-Senate team of negotiators has signed off on the 2010-2011 state budget. The massive document, officially adopted by the committee Tuesday, spends more than $182 billion on state agencies and programs over the next two years.

The budget next goes to each chamber for approval before it can be sent to the governor for final adoption.

The spending plan depends on $12.1 billion from the federal economic stimulus money.

Most of the money is dedicated to education and health care.



The head of the Senate Finance Committee said the panel will not approve another bill aimed at increasing enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program - leaving the fate of the legislation largely to the House.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said Tuesday that senators have already approved a similar CHIP expansion bill that is caught in a logjam of bills as House Democrats stall to prevent a vote on a controversial voter identification proposal.

Both CHIP expansion proposals would allow some Texas families making too much money to qualify to buy-in to the joint state and federal health care program.

The session ends Monday. Several deadlines in the final week will put bills in jeopardy.



The Senate approved a ban on using hand-held cell phones when driving in a school zone. Fines for violations could be up to $50.

Several cities across Texas already impose bans on cell phone use in school zones - Highland Park was the first in 2007 - and the bill would create a statewide policy.

The bill now goes to the House for final approval.



The Senate approved legislation allowing judges to place household pets under protective orders in domestic violence cases.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, said pets are often used to lure domestic violence victims back into abusive situations.

"Perpetrators will use that pet to lure their girlfriend or wife back to the house. We've seen it happen," Uresti said.

Although judges can award custody of a pet to someone who has been abused, current law deems the pets as property, meaning a judge cannot order a person not to kill, injure or threaten them.

The bill goes back to the House for final approval.



"I think it's time, especially for you Republicans, that if we're to remain a viable party, we need to start looking at medical facts and dealing with reality and not dealing with black helicopters and other myths that are out there by the right wing extremists." - Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, after he failed to tack his needle exchange proposal delayed in the House to another bill.