for special session

Ed Sterling

AUSTIN - Here's a Friday, May 25, snapshot of what's going on at the state Capitol with sine die, the end of the 80th regular session of the Texas Legislature, set for 10 p.m. Monday, May 28.

A conference committee of House and Senate members concurred on SB 792, the transportation bill that lawmakers had to rework to avoid the governor's calling a special session. Gov. Rick Perry said he would summon the Legislature back to Austin if the bill stripped too much authority from the Texas Department of Transportation in devising a new, comprehensive road plan.

So, the bill satisfies Perry and gives lawmakers and their constituents a two-year study period they can use to get a better picture of how their own local and regional road plans might interface with Perry's statewide plan.

Senate kills voter fraud bill

HB 218, the "voter I.D." bill, died in the Senate. Under the bill, Texans would have had to present a valid picture identification card or two other forms of identification other than their voter registration card in order to cast a ballot.

Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, the author of HB 218, said her bill was meant to prevent voter fraud. Opponents said the bill targeted minorities, the elderly and the disabled. Opponents also disputed allegations of widespread voter fraud enabled by false identification at the polls.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Galena Park, who is recovering from a liver transplant, disobeyed doctor's orders by remaining at the Capitol to help block the bill from further consideration by the full Senate.

Memorial Day

observance is held

Because the end of the legislative session coincides with Memorial Day, May 28, the House and Senate met in a joint session on Thursday, May 24, for an early observance.

Lawmakers, the governor, lieutenant governor and other state officials honored present and former members of the military and especially the loved ones of military men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since March 2003.

Family members and friends were seated in the House chamber and came forward to be recognized as the names of fallen military members were called.

TYC-fixing bill

moves forward

Texas Youth Commission reform is in the works with the adoption of the conference committee report on Committee Substitute to SB 103 by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored in the House by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson.

At early presstime for this column, the legislation was due for a final vote by the full House, and delivery to the governor's desk.

Investigative reporting initially published by The Dallas Morning News spurred a growing body of detail bringing to light corruption at the agency, including rape, abuse and mistreatment of TYC inmates.

Public outcry prompted management changes at the agency and public hearings drew input from people across Texas. Lawmakers filed more than two dozen bills, including SB 103, to fix problems at the agency.

Final work due on

state budget

A Sunday, May 27, vote was expected for the $150 billion 2008-2009 state budget.

Passage of a budget is the Legislature's primary and only constitutionally mandated duty.

The budget bill, HB 1, was in conference committee at press time for this column.

Speaker change

rumors continue

On and off huddles of lawmakers and murmurs in the halls and House gallery in the final week of the session kept rumors alive about a possible ousting of Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, as speaker.

Lawmakers could attempt to remove the speaker by a vote of no confidence or wait until after sine die to mount campaigns for the powerful post.

Already mentioned as definite or possible candidates are Reps. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, Brian McCall, R-Plano, and Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. Another name to emerge is Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson.

But Craddick appeared unruffled about the prospect of challengers and stuck to his assertion that he intends to finish his third and current term as speaker and run for a fourth.