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Archive for June 1st, 2009

NPT Capitol: Senate sets up Perry to call a special session

Senate adjourns without passing HCR 291, which would have prevented a special session by keeping several statewide agencies in existence, including TxDoT. The House passed the resolution earlier today. Some Senators harshly criticized the House before motioning to Sine Die. Perry will now undoubtedly call a special session.

For background read earlier posts on the blog.

More information here and here

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Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NPT Capitol: Isett criticizes sunset process, calls for reform

State Rep Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, just gave a personal privilege speech in the House criticizing the Sunset process in Texas.*

Sunset bills have become, “targets of opportunity to seek the legislative goals that we have,” – but the Sunset process was supposed to about seeing if agencies were needed – or reforming them to make them more effective, he said.

Isett outlined how the Sunset process had been initiated in the 1970s because, “it was thought that the industry and the agencies had developed too cozy a relationship” – the line between ‘regulator’ and ‘regulated’ had become blurred. However, the House must now work hard in order to make them “something other than Christmas trees.”

“Sunset is about how we do it, not the body of law,” Isett said suggesting that the House change either rules or statute in order to make sure a stricter degree of germaneness is enforced in the future.

The question may be: Isett possible? or Isett time to sunset Sunset?

–Ben Wright

*The sunset process works like this: each state government agency has a limited life span and simply goes out of existence if further enabling legislation is not passed. Agencies up for “sunset” are vetted by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Legislative recommendations are made, some of which are rolled into the statute along with the enabling legislation. The sunset safety net bill is there to ensure that if an agency’s sunset bill dies (like the TxDoT sunset bill) there is a back-up – that simply enables the agency to go on as it did before – the agency comes up for sunset the next session or the one thereafter usually. But what happens when the back up dies? We’ll see this afternoon!

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NPT Capitol: Special session looks off the cards, Straus scolded

An HCR looks like it has saved the legislature from the need for a special session. But not before Straus took a somber mauling from a number of state Reps.

HCR 291 was the cause of sparring on the House floor between state Reps Sylvester Turner, Dawna Dukes and Yvonne Davis on one side, and Speaker Straus and Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts on the other.

Davis called a point of order on HCR 291, which tweaks HB 2583 – something HCRs are allowed to do (and for which the last day of session is allotted.)

Davis called it a “blatant attempt to the fix the problem that they are too ashamed to ask the members on.” Davis was referring to a rather clever amendment Pitts threw into the HCR, which resolves that state agencies receiving stimulus funds (i.e. all of ’em – even the ones that sunset after yesterday’s cluster-chub) will exist for the next two years.

Davis was overruled. State agencies look set to keep on existing. A special session seems to have been avoided. But is it a stroke of genius or a fudge to cover a fumble?

Turner and Davis weren’t finished.

“We ought to be insulted that they would call this a technical correction,” Davis said, referring to the fact that the HCR goes beyond tweaking HB 2853 and salvages a massive chunk of government infrastructure.

The cynic may accuse Turner and Davis of a clever PR play – The session begun with the Senate fudging rules in order to bring up voter ID – the session ends with the House doing the same in order to fix a Strausian, “will-of-the-House” created mess. If so it was a bi-partisan play – Hartnett, a former Craddick lieutenant and Republican jumped saying the HCR would set a “dangerous precedent.”

Turner finished proceedings saying that whether a Speaker is “authoritarian” or “mild,” if they break the rules then “the bite is always the same.”

The HCR passed 111- 29. Straus kept his cool. Perry, of course, retains his constitutional prerogative to call a special session if he deems it necessary.

Ironically, as one reported just pointed out to me, if Perry doesn’t want a special session, it will be federal stimulus dollars that saved him…

–Ben Wright

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NPT Capitol: Special session on the way?

This afternoon is do-or-sine-die for the Texas Legislature. Much remains to be done – that’s always true of any session – but in this session, one thing really really does need to be done – if a special session to be avoided.

Last night, the clock struck midnight before HB 1959 passed the House – David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, chubbed the bill to death. HB 1959 deals is what is called a “sunset safety net bill.”* To cut a long story short, a plethora of government agencies, including TxDoT will simply cease to exist if HB 1959 does not pass. But in order for it to pass today, the House must suspend it’s rules, which requires a two-thirds vote (100 members.)

If that doesn’t happen, Perry will have to call special session to re-enable those agencies.

Here’s the deal though: Leibowitz, may have gift wrapped Perry the chance to call a special session. And Perry can call a session on whatever he likes – multiple subjects – let’s say for example, HB 1959 and Voter ID…

One Democratic state Rep told me that a fair few Democrats were furious with Leibowitz going rogue last night. (Many Dems were upset that Republicans had chubbed through the preceding bill in order to leave too little time to discuss SB 2080 CHIP expansion. Leibowitz is not a fan of HB 1959 because it lets the Texas Department of Insurance of the hook for two more years.)

So what will happen today?

The deal currently being brokered by both parties’ top brass this afternoon would involve suspending the rules to take up both HB 1959 and SB 2080. (Both have already passed the Senate.) But that would require 100 votes that might not be there. The question is, are their 50 Republicans who want a special session? Would they be willing to swallow a vote on CHIP to avoid one? Are the Dems bluffing? They REALLY dont want a special session because Perry can throw Voter ID into the mix, CHIP or no CHIP.

So how many votes are out their for a rule suspension? My guess: not many more than 80ish bar some last minute arm twisting from the House leadership (something they’ve not done all session.) That leadership team, the backbone of which is the Anyone-But-Craddick Republicans have the most to lose out of HB 1959 not passing – their first term in charge and they manage to cull a basketful of state agencies by accident.

That ironically, puts them in the same place they were in at the start of the session – in cahoots with the Dems and under the suspicious eye of the Republican faithful.

Or is there another way to fiddle things so HB 1959 passes? We’ll keep you posted…

–Ben Wright

*The sunset process works like this: each state government agency has a limited life span and simply goes out of existence if further enabling legislation is not passed. Agencies up for “sunset” are vetted by the Sunset advisory commission. Legislative recommendations are made, some of which are rolled into the statute along with the enabling legislation. The sunset safety net bill is there to ensure that if an agency’s sunset bill dies (Like the TxDoT sunset bill) there is a back-up – that simply enables the agency to go on as it did before – the agency comes up for sunset the next session or the one thereafter usually. But what happens when the back up dies? We’ll see this afternoon!

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NPT Capitol: Pickett engages more than TxDOT this session. He’s getting married.

The Houston Chronicle’s Gary Scharrer, a former El Paso Times reporter, has the scoop on state Rep. Joe Pickett’s engagement to House assistant parliamentarian Shannon Wiggs. Click here to see the item.

Pickett said Scharrer, upon receiving an invite to a reception later this week, posted the item, not realizing that the event was not publicly known and that Pickett had not told his children yet. No hard feelings, Pickett said, although it did pre-empt him a bit. Scharrer, he said, is still invited to the reception.

Sito Negron

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NPT Media: New Yorker: McAllen health costs high. El Paso heading that way.

El Paso health costs lower compared to McAllen’s, despite similar health demographics, but both might be the unhealthy future

“Do we provide better health care than El Paso?” asked Doctors Hospital at Renaissance CEO Lawrence Gelman. “I would bet you two to one that we do.” But that might not be the question.

The lesson from other high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care. Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes. You get McAllen. In El Paso, the for-profit health-care executive told me, a few leading physicians recently followed McAllen’s lead and opened their own centers for surgery and imaging. As America struggles to extend health-care coverage while curbing health-care costs, we face a decision that is more important than whether we have a public-insurance option, more important than whether we will have a single-payer system in the long run or a mixture of public and private insurance, as we do now. The decision is whether we are going to reward the leaders who are trying to build a new generation of Mayos and Grand Junctions. If we don’t, McAllen won’t be an outlier. It will be our future.

“The Cost Conundrum,” by Atul Gawande, newyorker.com, June 1, link

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NPT Capitol: House adjourns without passing CHIP, TxDoT, host of other bills

The House adjourned last night without passing a series of major bills including ones that would have expanded CHIP, made substantial reforms to TxDoT, and a host of others.

In fact TxDoT is one of a number of government agencies that will actually cease to exist if legislation is not passed today by the House – by going “outside the bounds” and suspending the rules. That is likely to happen in order to prevent the Governor calling a special session – TxDoT simply has to exist (not least because you can’t use federal money for transportation projects without a statewide decision making agency in charge!)

“This is a fitting end to the legislative session,” said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who came over to the House to watch the final few farcical minutes of the day.

As Repubs tried to slow the calendar down in order to prevent legislation that would have expanded CHIP from being heard (the Speaker refused to recognize a motion to bring it up early), some Dems seemed to retaliate by chubbing through HB 1959, the sunset safety net bill. Midnight sounded, a point of order was called, was well taken and after a record vote on whether or not to keep going, that was the end of that.

Lawmakers will come back today in order to clean up the sunset mess – and maybe pass a few other bills too – providing they have the needed 100 hundred votes to suspend the rules – something the TxDoT and CHIP bills appear to lack (though they do appear to have majorities.)

“We’ve got one more day,” said state Rep Jim Dunnam, D-Waco.

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

June 1, 2009 at 7:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized