Next Week in Austin (& Elsewhere)

Updated info on legislative process—SB1 and HB2 are companion bills. Each will progress through its own chamber of origin, but won’t have to go through mirror process in the other house. Senate will pass SB1, House, HB2, and one side will adopt the other as a replacement, then they’ll send to the governor. It means fewer steps in the process. 

Monday, July 8th, has three big agenda items:

  • A Senate Health & Human Services committee hearing on SB1. Here is absolutely everything you need to know about it, with maps, links, and four-part harmony!
  • Rick Perry is making a special announcement. Because when he realized we were all paying attention to the fantastic Texas pro-choice delegation in the legislature, he stomped his foot and started screeching EYES ON ME, EYES ON ME, ME ME ME ME ME. Opinion is divided on whether he’ll be announcing his candidacy for the 2016 presidential race, or pissing off Gregg Abbott by saying he’s going to take one more crack at the Governor’s race. There is a third possibility of what he might announce, but, um, what’s the third one, ummmm, let’s see, uhhhhh … ooooops.
  • A bajillion non-Texas anti-choice media personalities (the Duggar family + Mike Huckabee = one bajillion) are hosting a rally at the Capitol at 7 p.m., and busing in anti-choice students from outside of the state to help pad the crowd. This, by the way, is what is known in the biz as astroturf—artificial grassroots. Seriously, the bus starts in DC, stops in Roanoke, Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, and Little Rock, all of which are NOT TEXAS. And only Little Rock is even Texas-adjacent. I suppose that if these people can’t quite come to terms with biology and evolution, I shouldn’t expect their geography to be any better.

Should you go to Austin for the Senate HHS hearing to sign in opposed to the bill, and perhaps to testify? I thought I’d share some information about what to expect after that hearing to help you decide. So, let’s table that question while we cover the legislative process.

A long detour into the legislative process.
There are two bills making their way through the legislative process during this special session #2, SB1 and HB2, companion bills.

Those links take you to the page with the bill text. You can click on the tabs immediately above to see things like the bill’s history, sponsors, or actions taken. The last tab is bill stages. Here’s what that looks like:

SB1 second session filed screen capture

The Senate and House of Representatives are each working to get the bills through committees, onto the floor of the respective chambers, and over to the other body (House bill to Senate, and vice versa) as quickly as possible.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, has said he’d like to get one of these bills out of the legislature and to the governor’s desk for a signature by the end of next week.

Texas Legislature Online has not quite caught up as of this morning. Here’s today’s screen grab of HB2’s progress, which does not show it as having passed out of committee:

HB2 committee progress

Last week, the House of Representatives State Affairs Committee had a hearing and voted to send the HB2 to the floor. The hearing was notable for the number of people who registered to give testimony (>1,000) versus the number actually called (<100), and for the glitch in releasing the number of people who registered for or against the bill:

Following Tuesday night’s hearing, House officials told reporters that 2,181 people had registered in support of the bill, while 1,355 had registered against it. They said today that they had those numbers reversed.

To be clear, 62% of people signing in, 2,181 of the 3,536, did not support it. Still, the committee passed it. That puts it in Stage 2, waiting to be voted on by the entire House of Representatives after it has had three readings, per the rules:

Section 15. Requirement for Three Readings — A bill shall not have the force of law until it has been read on three several legislative days in each house and free discussion allowed, unless this provision is suspended by a vote of four-fifths of the members present and voting, a quorum being present. The
yeas and nays shall be taken on the question of suspension and entered in the journal.

“Legislative days” is a term of art, as the notes to the rule (Rule 8, §15, note 1) explain:

A “legislative day” is that period from a convening following an adjournment until the next adjournment. The most common daily session pattern is for the house to meet at 10 a.m., recess for lunch, and adjourn at 5:00 p.m. A legislative day is thus completed on the particular calendar day. But, if at the end of the day (or any other time) the house recesses, the particular legislative day continues. Often a single legislative day will span several calendar days. Also, parts of two legislative days will often fall on a single calendar day, this occurring when the house adjourns and meets again on the same calendar day. It is possible, therefore, to have as much as a fraction of one legislative day and the whole of the next legislative day on the same calendar day, this occurring when the house meets in the morning following a recess, adjourns until 2:30 p.m., for example, and then adjourns later in the day until a future day. It is not possible, however, to create two complete legislative days on the same calendar day; for example, a morning meeting following an adjournment from a previous day, followed by an adjournment before noon until afternoon, followed by a convening in the afternoon, pursuant to the adjournment, and then an adjournment later in the day — constituting two complete legislative days — would not be permitted.

Cookie for you if you can summarize in 140 characters!

Seriously, though, you needn’t become an expert on the rules in each chamber. The Senate rules, by the way, are slightly different. You can check them out here if you’d like.

What you need to know is that the Republican majority, led by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst in the Senate, and Speaker Strauss in the House, will be working within the rules to move legislation through as quickly as possible. It was their moving slowly last special session, after all, that allowed the filibuster to happen.

So, what other opportunities will there be to go to Austin to watch the sausage get made?

  1. Monday, July 8, 2013: Senate HHS Committee Hearing on SB1.
  2. Readings, debate, and votes in the full chamber of each house after each bill passes out of committee. I believe the House will have the first reading on Tuesday, July 9th, for example. Some of these readings may go quickly as part of a gavel in, gavel out style day, but some may drag out, with Democrats trying to engage bill sponsors in debate or raising amendments.
  3. Readings, debate, and vote in the senate of the house bill, and vice versa, once each passes out of its own side.

At a certain point, likely next week, it will become clear which bill is going to get a final vote first in which house. By final vote, I mean the the one that takes us from Stage 5 (in house or senate) to Stage 6 (bill to governor). That’s the stage at which the filibuster happened last time.

Will there be another chance to filibuster?
Never say never, they say, but all signs point to no. The House of Representatives doesn’t even allow filibustering, just chubbing; the Senate rules are so strict, and ruled upon by someone who wants the bill to pass, as we saw last time, that history won’t repeat itself.

What about the Democrats leaving the state?
In 2003, 51 Democrats camped out in Ardmore, Oklahoma, to break quorum and scotch a Tom Delay-inspired redistricting plan. Off the Kuff has a thorough analysis of the reasons all signs point to no on this strategy.

Is it important to go to Austin and sign in and/or testify opposing the bills on Monday, July 8th?
The legislators have demonstrated that they’ll vote the way they are going to vote regardless of how many people sign in or give testimony. Some might say, then, that it is a waste of time to go to Austin to sign in and/or testify.

I’m of the opinion that participating in democracy is never a waste of time. If you go to Austin to sign in at the committee hearing on Monday as opposed to the bill, your name will be part of the permanent record of Texans who opposed it.

If you are in or near Austin, go. Please go. You are doing what those of us who live farther away can’t do as easily, and we appreciate you for taking on that burden. Go as early in the morning as you can, because there is no guarantee that the Senate HHS committee will hear testimony all day long. I strongly suspect, in fact, that they will wrap up their business well ahead of the evening’s rally, since presumably at least some Senate anti-choice/pro-SB1 members will want to participate. Again, consult Jessica Luther’s blog for all of the information on Monday.

If you can’t go to Austin, that is OK. If getting to Austin is going to be tough, no one will think less of you if you skip Monday. You can still help.

Call your friends in Austin and tell them to go. Note that no one can sign in on your behalf. It is illegal and unethical to ask someone to do that, and that’s not how you roll, is it? It isn’t how I roll. You can call your friends in and around Austin this weekend and tell them how easy it will be for them to go to the capitol Monday morning to sign in opposed to this bill. Give them the link to Jessica’s blog. Ask them to go be counted since you cannot be there. Offer to send them cookies or babysit their donkey or whatever it takes.

Watch hearings/proceedings online. You can always watch testimony as it happens and help report to others what actually happened. Recall some of the zingers that will come back to haunt various legislators when they have to stand for reelection. Rape kits anyone?  Legislature Online has links, as does Texas Tribune. Note that when you are watching or listening, some of the action takes place off the microphone. You’ll see legislators milling about, talking in small huddles, but you won’t hear anything. They’ll come back to the mic before they take any action. It is frustrating, but that is how it happens.

Advocate via phone, email, and paper and ink. Especially if you are a Republican. Call your representatives. Thank them if they are voting the way you want them to vote, express your disappointment if they are not.  It is especially important for Republican elected officials to hear from Republican constituents. Break out your activist toolbox—write letters to the editor of your local paper, and invite your friends to do the same. I’m a big fan of sending snail mail to elected officials, too, in addition to calling and emailing them. They get less mail than they used to, but we’ve seen how befuddled they are by modern technology, so we can’t count on it meaning much to them to know how many emails they’ve received. Be polite, be respectful, but share your opinion and don’t hesitate to share your story.

Know where to go for information. There are several great resources for staying on top of what is happening, including publications that are doing a great job of documenting this nonsense:

  •  Reality Checka daily publication providing news, commentary and analysis on sexual and reproductive health and justice issues.
  • Texas Observerwhich writes about issues ignored or underreported in the mainstream press. Our goal is to cover stories crucial to the public interest and to provoke dialogue that promotes democratic participation and open government, in pursuit of a vision of Texas where education, justice and material progress are available to all.
  • The Texas Tribunea nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern.

Phone bank! We’re doing a phone bank tomorrow, Sunday, July 7th in Houston. Here are the details.

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2 Responses to Next Week in Austin (& Elsewhere)

  1. Pingback: Coming attractions in the Senate – Off the Kuff


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