Active Session Punctuated By Bill Not Considered
AUSTIN - The Senate voted to pass 17 bills in today's session, but it was a bill that wasn't taken up that proved most controversial.
Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis was expected to make a motion for the Senate to consider the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 87, his bill focusing on hate crimes.
CSSB 87 would give local jurisdictions help in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. The bill would also stiffen penalties for crimes motivated by hate, prejudice or bias.
After session, Ellis told reporters that he did not have enough votes to bring the bill up for debate by the full Senate.
A 2/3 vote of the members who are present is required to bring a bill up for debate in the Senate.
"I am told from a reliable source that Gov. (Rick) Perry did encourage at least one -- maybe more - of my votes not to vote for the bill," Ellis said. "This is public policy and I understand how it works.
"I didn't have the votes today when I was ready to bring the bill up. I did have the votes earlier today," Ellis said. "You never say it's over until it's over."
Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff said he has not taken a position on the bill, which he characterized as an issue that's up to each individual member of the Senate.
"I'm not twisting any arms either way," Ratliff said. "I think this vote probably as much as any other vote in my 12 years here is a vote of personal conviction and personal conscience, and I don't think that I should attempt to move a member either way on that question."
Ratliff added that Ellis will be able to bring the bill up for debate as soon as he has the votes.
"I have said since the very beginning that I believe that my role with regard to this bill and maybe a few others is that I need to keep this Senate in a workmanlike fashion, a calm and deliberative attitude, and to try to make sure that an issue like this doesn't cause this body to be fractured," Ratliff said.
CSSB 87 has 11 Senate co-authors. A similar bill was one of the most controversial issues of the 1999 session.
Also in today's session, the Senate passed a bill authored by Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffrini intended to streamline the application and eligibility process for children's Medicaid. Current law requires a face-to-face interview. CSSB 43 eliminates the interview requirement.
In other Senate news, Sally Ratliff, the wife of the Lt. Governor, and Nelda Laney, the wife of House Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney joined Texas first lady Anita Perry at a press conference announcing the kickoff of the Texas Donate a Phone campaign.
The campaign will collect and refurbish wireless phones and distribute them to family violence shelters. The phones will be given to victims of family violence for emergency use.
"This is a remarkable effort and I'm so pleased to see Texans working together to combat domestic violence," Sally Ratliff said.
In committee action, the Redistricting Committee heard public testimony on the most recent proposals for the redrawing of Texas Senate districts. The Education Committee continued testimony on a draft bill for public school teacher and employee health insurance.
The Nominations Committee was to consider nominees to the several university boards of regents, including the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and Texas Southern University.
The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Thursday.