It’s really called a Special Session, but to most of us, it feels more like overtime. We just completed the 140-day regular session and on the very next day, we started our Special Session. There is no firm end date but if you read last week’s column, you know that it cannot be more than 30 days in duration. But you might also recall that the Governor can call more sessions if there is work remaining at the end of the 30-day period. You could say we’re motivated to have only one session!
The most clearly identifiable reason for this session was the failure of SB 1811 to pass the Senate on the last day of the Regular Session (May 30th). This was not just any bill. It was termed the “Fiscal Matters” bill and contained significant changes to our expenses, some revisions to income, and new funding formulas to allocate resources to local school districts. While it is true that we had already passed the 2012-2013 budget, SB 1811 was required to ensure the funds were spent properly and that the savings were realized that we needed to balance the budget. We had hoped right up to the end that there would be an agreement reached, but are now faced with a new scenario.
The Governor has called us to meet to consider the Fiscal Matters bill (now SB1) and has taken the opportunity to add several other items to the call. We will be addressing Health Care Compacts, Medicaid reforms, educational support services and budgeting, educational funding formulas, and health care reforms. In short, the first call rolled in all the matters that can help Texas operate its government more efficiently.
On June 1, we received a second letter from Governor Perry. (These are official documents, formally worded and read aloud in the House and Senate chambers.) We will now take on the additional task of congressional redistricting. Many insiders had speculated that we would be called into special session this summer for this task even if we had passed all the budget bills. Adding it now is a good idea since we are all there and can certainly multi-task as we do all session.
In a regular session we have 30 committees and thousands of bills are filed and work through the process. Right now, due to the Governor’s limited call, only the Appropriations, Public Education, Public Health, State Sovereignty, and Redistricting committees have been assigned bills. These will have public hearings very soon. As a consequence, I expect that we’ll see these bills on the floor in about a week or ten days. With so few bills on the calendar, we will get our versions to the Senate in a few days, they will do likewise, and within a week after that we should be complete with the Special Session.
Staying is Austin for a few more weeks is a little inconvenient for the legislators, but it will ensure that the people’s work is done and done well. It is certainly worth the effort. While the dust is still settling on the past session, we successfully tackled a revenue shortfall of $15 billion, passed critical tort reform legislation, strengthened voting integrity, and more. Looking back, it is understandable that there was just more to do than we could finish in the 140 days.
A special session was not part of my plans for this summer. However, I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue my service and ensure that we take the time needed to address issues as critical as the budget, healthcare, and education. So it is overtime for you too. The state websites are up and running, albeit with new bill numbers. Our staffs are still working, we continue to value and desire your input, and are committed to doing the best job possible. Let us hear from you soon as the next few weeks will go in a hurry.
Stay tuned for a legislative wrap-up.