AUSTIN - The 80th Texas Legislature was a contentious five-month gathering that may have seemed to end quietly on May 28.

Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, had come out on top of a parliamentary battle to stay in office. Then, House members used the closing hours of the session to pass hundreds of pieces of legislation, instead of pressing issues with Craddick to the bitter end.

But the battle over the speaker’s authority and the way challenges were rebuffed raised questions.

The speaker refused to recognize members seeking to make a motion calling for a vote to remove him from office, or in House parlance, “vacate the chair.”

Reps. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, in an attempt to resolve questions about the legal and constitutional scope of the authority of the speaker, asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to render an opinion.

Those who are interested in the details of the request can find RQ-0585-GA on the attorney general’s Web site.

Alexis DeLee, Craddick’s press secretary, said the speaker welcomes Abbott’s opinion.

The state constitution requires the attorney general to issue a written opinion on a question affecting the public interest. The attorney general is required to issue the opinion not later than the 180th day after the date that it is received, unless before that deadline the attorney general notifies the requesting person in writing that the opinion will be delayed or not rendered and states the reasons for the delay or refusal.

At the beginning of the legislative session, Craddick appointed Keffer chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and Cook chairman of the Civil Practices Committee.

Keffer and other House members have let it be known that they want to serve as speaker of the House in the 2009 legislative session, but Craddick has said he intends to seek re-election.

Personnel changes

are coming

Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley announced on June 20 her resignation, effective July 1.

Perry appointed Neeley in January 2004. As commissioner, she served as the head of the Texas Education Agency, overseeing 1,037 school districts and a number of charter schools.

Secretary of State Roger Williams resigned earlier. He will be succeeded in office July 1 by Gov. Perry’s former chief of staff Phil Wilson.

The governor’s current chief of staff Dierdre Delisi resigned. Perry appointed Brian Newby to replace her on July 1. Newby currently serves as the governor’s general counsel.

Perry also announced the appointments of senior adviser Kathy Walt and deputy legislative director Kris Heckmann as deputy chiefs of staff, effective July 1.

And, Perry announced Donna White, a member of his senior staff for more than six years, will move to a position at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. White earlier served in the office of then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry and in the office of the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.

Other Highlights

Forty-four Texas lawmakers signed a letter requesting the Public Utility Commission implement measures to protect the state’s most vulnerable electric consumers this summer. Chief among those measures is the permanent implementation of a moratorium on electric disconnection during the summer months for low-income elderly and critical care customers. The rule also would allow low-income customers to spread their summer bills out over a period of time to ease the financial burden that increased summer usage creates. Gov. Perry issued a disaster declaration on June 19 for Cooke, Grayson, Lampasas and Tarrant counties after storms, flooding and tornadoes struck. Perry summoned military, state and local agencies and private organizations to assist in search and rescue and relief efforts in the affected counties. The governor and first lady Anita Perry are on a weeklong visit to Israel and Jordan.

Ed Sterling, of the Texas Press Association, writes a weekly column for the Empire-Tribune.