Yesterday, the deadline for final approval of all bills passed at midnight, effectively killing all legislation that had not been heard in either chamber. For the remaining five days of session, the most important legislative action will happen in conference committees, where members of both chambers come together to work out differences on specific bills. Legislation dealing with the most important issues of this session, like Adult and Child Protective Services, workers compensation, public education finance reform and the budget, are all being negotiated in conference committee, and the final passage of these laws hinges on legislators' ability to come to a compromise.
Much attention is focused on the conference committee to House Bill 3, which deals with the revenue side of education finance reform. The main disagreement between the House and Senate on this issue revolves around the sales and franchise tax provisions in the bill that would pay for the proposed property tax cuts. The Senate wants to close loopholes that allow five out of six businesses to avoid paying franchise taxes. The Senate also wants to raise sales tax by about half a cent. The House wants to raise sales tax by a full cent, and does not broaden the franchise tax as much as the Senate plan.
Because of Senate rules, all tax-related bills must lay out for 48 hours following passage out of conference committees. This puts a realistic deadline on the passage of HB 3 on Friday. If the bill does not pass out of committee before then, suspension of this rule would require support of two-thirds of the Senate.
Other important bills are closer to a agreement than HB 3. Senator Jane Nelson of Lewisville said today that the conference committee on Senate Bill 6, the protective services reform package, is nearly ready to vote on a compromise. HB 7, which is the workers comp reform bill, has been agreed on and should come to the floor this weekend, said Palestine Senator Todd Staples. Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst have reported this week that both chambers are close to a compromise on the education reform plan, HB 2.