State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN —Texas lawmakers on July 1 reported to their respective Capitol
chambers for the opening of a second 30-day special session of the 83rd
Texas Legislature. The House and the Senate scheduled floor action for
July 9.

Gov. Perry, on June 26, invited them to take a second opportunity to craft and pass legislation relating to:
– Regulation of abortion procedures, providers, and facilities;
– Funding of transportation infrastructure projects; and
– Establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender.

Those items were on the call for the first special session that ended on June 25.

Senate
Democrats opposed to the abortion-regulating bill outflanked a
Republican majority by skillful use of parliamentary procedure. Sen.
Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, exercised the option to filibuster the
abortion bill on the final day of the special session.

While
the filibuster stopped the bill from final passage, other bills on the
calendar became ineligible for further consideration at the stroke of
midnight.

On June 26, Gov. Perry called another special session
to have the same matters addressed. On opening day, Democratic caucus
leaders suggested that because of constitutional concerns and the high
level of interest in the subject, regional hearings should be held
before abortion-regulating legislation votes are called.

Answers
came. Such decisions are at the discretion of committee chairs. The
chairs in this case, Rep. Byron Cook, House State Affairs, and Sen. Jane
Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Senate Health and Human Services, chose to
conduct their committees’ hearings at the Capitol.

On July 2,
more than 3,000 citizens registered to testify on, for or against HB 2,
the abortion bill, but only a small percentage of them were allowed to
testify before the bill was called to a vote. The House State Affairs
Committee approved HB 2 on a vote of 8 to 3.

Also on July 2,
the Senate Finance Committee tentatively approved Senate Joint
Resolution 1, a proposed constitutional amendment relating to the
transfer of certain general revenue to the state highway fund and the
economic stabilization fund and to authorize the payment for principal
and interest on certain highway improvement bonds.

And, the
Senate Criminal Justice Committee tentatively approved SB 2, legislation
relating to the punishment for a capital felony committed by an
individual under 18 years of age. The bill is the same as SB 23 in the
previous special session, requiring 40 years of time served before
parole eligibility.

Governor raises question
Gov. Perry on
July 2 hinted that he would have “exciting future news” to announce on
July 8. This hint brought on speculation that Perry might launch his
second run for the presidency in 2016, or perhaps seek yet another term
as governor in 2014.

In late December 2000, then
president-elect George W. Bush resigned as governor, and Perry, then
serving as lieutenant governor, became governor. Perry completed Bush’s
unexpired term, was elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006 and 2010. With
more than 12 years in office, Perry is the longest-serving governor in
the history of the state.

Who is running in 2014?
It is early
in the game, but if Gov. Perry does not run for an unprecedented third
consecutive four-year term as governor in 2014, Texas Attorney General
Greg Abbott has said he will run to succeed Perry.

If Perry
does not complete his current term, however, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
would be promoted to governor. If that scenario develops, Dewhurst would
have the advantage of incumbency with Abbott, and possibly others,
mounting challenges.

While Dewhurst has not declared his
intentions, state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land
Commissioner Jerry Patterson, both Republicans, have filed paperwork to
run for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Also, Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on June 27 announced his plan to run for lieutenant governor.

As
for who might succeed Abbott as attorney general, Texas Railroad
Commission Chair Barry Smitherman has said he will seek the office
contingent on Abbott’s seeking another office. House Higher Education
Committee Chair Dan Branch, R-Dallas, has been mentioned as a possible
candidate for attorney general or lieutenant governor.

State
Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, has announced plans to run for comptroller.
State Comptroller Susan Combs has said she will not seek another term as
the state’s chief accountant or for any other statewide office in 2014.

Democrats have kept their aspirations muted, so far, as to statewide races in 2014.