My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character wakes up again and again only to find he is stuck living the same day until he finally gets the day right. With Governor Perry now announcing a second special session shortly after the first special session which was shortly after the regular session, I think the entire legislature is beginning to feel like we are stuck in groundhog day!
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. First special session ends; Second begins
Tuesday marked the end of the first special legislative session. However, of the four issues Gov. Perry had charged the legislature to address (redistricting, transportation funding, pro-life issues and criminal sentences for 17-year-olds who commit felonies), only redistricting had been resolved. Therefore, on Thursday the governor announced a second special session to begin on July 1. The sole purpose will be to address the three issues from the first special which went uncompleted, and just as with all special sessions, this one could last up to 30 days. I will keep you updated as we progress.
2. A filibuster to remember
An interesting (and historic) thing happened Tuesday as we wound down the first special. Sen. Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth spoke on the floor continuously for more than 12 hours in what we refer to as a filibuster. A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing a member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a specific bill. In Sen. Davis' case, she was attempting to prevent a vote on pro-life legislation.
While Sen. Davis has received a lot of attention for this action, she certainly isn't the first to do so. Interestingly, the record for longest filibuster was set by Texas State Sen. Bill Meier in 1977 with an unbelievable 43 hours speaking continuously on the Senate floor. This was an especially impressive feat considering Senate rules dictate you can't eat, drink, or leave the area around your desk while speaking (including to go to the restroom!). Unfortunately for Sen. Meier, the bill he was protesting against passed as soon as he sat down.
3. UT Regent to be investigated
On Tuesday as Sen. Davis' filibuster occurred in the Senate, House Speaker Joe Straus authorized a special committee to investigate allegations of misconduct by UT Regent Wallace Hall, and the overall roles of all gubernatorial appointees. This is the latest installment in an ongoing drama between the UT Board of Regents, UT President Bill Powers and the legislature in which many claim Hall and other regents are on a 'witch hunt' to oust President Powers and restructure leadership at the university.
The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations will investigate Hall and possibly recommend impeachment for not disclosing litigation and bankruptcies on his initial application to be appointed regent. The committee will have subpoena power, as well as the ability to investigate other gubernatorial appointees.
4. Voter ID on its way
The Supreme Court of the United States announced an opinion this week which will affect Texas in a big way. In Shelby County vs. Holder, the court struck down a central section of the Voting Rights Act, essentially allowing Texas and eight other states to alter their own election laws as they want, rather than having those laws first "pre-cleared" by the Department of Justice.
This means that the Texas voter ID law, passed in 2011 but blocked by the Department of Justice, will immediately go into effect. In fact, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has already begun to issue free IDs to voters who don't have an approved form of ID such as a driver's license, concealed handgun license, passport or military ID. To apply for one, simply visit your local DPS office.
5. John Adams, fireworks and the Fourth of July
"It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..." These were the words of John Adams in regards to celebrating our nation's independence day. As a child, "illuminations", also known as fireworks, were always one of my favorite ways to mark the holiday. In fact, the truth is I still have not quite been able to outgrow my fascination with them!
I hope that however you choose to celebrate the Fourth of July this year, you do so safely with family and close friends.