Thursday Highlights from the TX Legislature

AUSTIN (AP) - The Texas Legislature finished its first week of the 2009 session with little doubt that a partisan fight over voter identification is looming.

If a voter ID bill passes, Texans could be required to present a photo ID before casting an election ballot. The issue is a huge deal in the Legislature, where Republicans say it's crucial to stop ballot fraud and Democrats complain it's all about erecting hurdles to keep their base voters away from the polls.

This week Senate Republicans - who have a 19-12 majority in the chamber - forced a rules change removing procedural roadblocks on the bill. Their successful effort to exempt the voter ID legislation from filibuster rules all but ensures its passage in the Senate, whose presiding officer, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, could use a conservative victory as he eyes higher office.

But it could drop a volatile political bombshell onto the desk of new House Speaker Joe Straus, the San Antonio Republican who won office after promising that heavy-handed tactics and overt partisanship would exit the House along with the man he dethroned, Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland.

Straus spokeswoman Angela Hale repeated the new speaker's mantra - not unlike the old speaker's mantra - that he would let the members of the House decide what's important.


The House formally closed caucus meetings to the public by exempting them from Texas opens meetings laws. The House and Senate have traditionally considered those meetings, which may include several lawmakers but are not formal committees, to be private.

The measure was adopted in a lengthy "housekeeping resolution" passed every session that sets some of the parameters for conducting House business, such as expenses, travel and use of equipment.

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, compared the House action to how the Senate holds private caucuses, which sometimes include all 31 members of that chamber.

"When we have our caucus meetings, it's when we can holler at each other and y'all don't need to be there when we do," Geren told reporters. "The caucus meetings are a lot like making sausages and that's something you don't really want to watch anyway."


Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed legislation Thursday to promote construction of large-scale clean coal power generation plants capable of capturing most of the carbon they produce.

The plants called for in Seliger's proposal would be the first of their kind in the country. Each project could mean potential investments of more than $2 billion per facility. And Seliger says each project could create more than 2,000 new construction jobs beginning as early as 2010.

The proposal would provide incentives for eligible "clean energy projects" in Texas. Up to $100 million in franchise tax credits would be available for the first three qualifying projects.


The House and Senate have adjourned for several days because of the Martin Luther King holiday Monday and the presidential inauguration on Tuesday. The House will meet again on Thursday, and the Senate next convenes Monday, Jan. 26.