June 14, 2009
It definitely feels like baseball season.
Not just because the Longhorns are in the College World Series. And not just because it’s gotten so stunningly hot that no one wants to play anything that doesn’t involve a lot of standing around.
No, it’s baseball season because up in the Capitol, everyone seems to be in that clock-less mindset. As in, nobody’s in much of a rush, and there’s no clock or calendar or whatever making us move faster.
At the same time, there’s work to do. We’ve all had our metaphorical nine innings to play. And if we didn’t get everything done, we need to come back for extras.
In fact, we now know we’ll be back for extras. The Governor just said so.
Yes, legislators learned last week that that they’re going to have to come back to work for a Special Session to finish up at least a little of what didn’t get done last month.
The agenda will have to include two items that ran out of time in the political demolition derby that was the Texas House of Representatives over the last weeks of the session. (Yeah, yeah. I know that badly mixed sports metaphors. Real guys can do that.)
One is the so-called “safety net” bill that will keep the Department of Transportation, Department of Insurance, and other agencies in business even though their required Sunset reviews didn’t pass.
The other item is funding for roughly $2 billion in transportation bonds that voters authorized in 2007 and that the state indisputably needs, but that didn’t get authorized during the session – thanks, again, to needless political spats around the Capitol.
All of that should be pretty easy, barring any unforeseen political flare-up (which is to say, it probably won’t be that easy). And that probably covers the basic legal bases we need to touch to keep the state running for two more years.
But honestly, I feel like there’s still a lot of unfinished business and missed opportunities that Texans would like to see taken care of. And if we’re potentially going to get another shot at all of this, I think we should take it.
The top of the list should be the Department of Insurance and TxDOT – unless there’s anyone out there who thinks things are swell enough with insurance rates and transportation that the state can get by with the status quo for a couple of years.
The truth is that the insurance sunset bill is pretty close to done. It isn’t perfect – I voted against the thing and would like to see the agency doing a whole lot more to protect consumers, not just insurance companies.
But I was also able to negotiate a couple of important protections that would benefit customers around the state. And a special session would provide more time to come up with a product everyone could support.
As for the TxDOT sunset bill, the lone sticking point seemed to be a measure allowing communities and regions to ask the voters to authorize additional funds to pay for their transportation needs. This is a critically important issue in places like Central Texas – it would actually give us alternatives to toll roads, options that we’d control at a local level.
The objection is that even though the voters are deciding whether anyone gets taxed, and even though the money would go somewhere it’s desperately needed, this initiative involves taxes, so it must be bad. I guess some folks up here think they’re smarter than local officials who know what they need – and who know how little support they’re getting from the state.
Whatever, it would be good to spend a couple of hot summer weeks actually having the conversation. Since we’re going to be here anyway, I say, let’s go.
And there’s other important business that’s still unfinished. The state has actually funded a good, important expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the bill authorizing that spending came within days (and some very bad House politics) of passing. Some landmark renewable energy legislation, including my RPS bill, was left on the table for the same reason. Really, can’t we take advantage of this sun?
None of this stuff should require that much more work – we’ve been doing the work for the last six months. It just needs to be waved around third. If we’ll be in town anyway, I say we try to take home.
One of the big problems with rain delays is you don’t know when play will continue.
Well, the Governor, who has sole power over when to schedule a special session, is being coy about when we’ll start. So all anyone can do is guess and speculate about when we’ll be back together.
Meanwhile, Six Flags goes bust and declares bankruptcy since no one can plan for anything or schedule a vacation.