SENATE WORKS LATE TO SAVE BILLS
|Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa sponsored sunset legislation for the Department of Public Safety that passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday.|
(AUSTIN) — The Senate worked late into the night to pass legislation that died in the House Tuesday because of a contentious fight over voter I.D. House opponents to the measure that would require photo identification to cast a ballot used parliamentary maneuvers to prevent consideration of that bill. As a consequence, many important pieces of legislation died at the midnight deadline on consideration of bills for the House. Wednesday, Senators looked for bills with broad enough captions to permit bills that already passed the Senate to be amended on. Senate rules that require amendments to be related, or germane, to the caption of the bill. Senators were under additional pressure as they faced a midnight deadline, the latest that bills could be considered before the body.
Some legislation that fell victim to the House deadline Tuesday include reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the sunset review of the Texas Department of Insurance, and a bill to draw down federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. Governor Rick Perry has warned lawmakers that he will call a special session if they don't pass windstorm insurance reform, but Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said the issue could find new life. "In my judgment, and I'll have to check and see if they're germane, but we have one or two bills that we might be able to put the windstorm bill on," he said Wednesday afternoon.
That opportunity came just before midnight, when Senator Mike Jackson accepted an amendment to HB 4409 that added windstorm insurance reform language passed by the Senate in April. "We hopefully will be able to get over and work very quickly," said Jackson, referring to an inevitable conference committee with House negotiators. The Senate language uses bonding authority to offset damage claims in the event of a major hurricane, but House and Senate conference committee members will formulate the final language that each chamber will vote on.
Senators approved nearly 80 bills before the deadline, including the Department of Public Safety (DPS) sunset measure. HB 2730, sponsored by McAllen Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, makes a few changes at the agency. It would set up an office of Inspector General, within DPS to detect and prevent criminal activity within the agency. The bill would move the Governor's Division of Emergency Management under DPS, and the director of that division would be appointed by the DPS board. The Sunset Commission would be charged with assessing the agency's progress toward reform recommendations made in 2008 relating to improving information technology and the driver's license division. The bill now heads back to the House so they can consider Senate amendments.
The Senate also approved a significant tax cut that will affect thousands of small business owners in Texas. HB 4765, sponsored by Houston Senator Dan Patrick, would raise the minimum floor for the gross margins tax from $300,000 to $1,000,000 for two years. That means businesses that gross less than a million dollars a year would be exempt from the franchise tax for the next two years. Patrick says this would exempt nearly 40,000 businesses that paid the tax last year, saving a total of $170 million in taxes over the next biennium. After two years, the floor would be permanently set at $600,000. This bill also heads back to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.