AUSTIN (KXAN) - The all-important vehicle for a school finance plan in Texas passed both the House and Senate Tuesday and is now headed to the governor's desk for his signature. By mid-day, the Senate – the chamber where its unsuccessful predecessor forced lawmakers into the special session – had finally cleared it 21-9.
After initially voting Senate Bill 1 down late Tuesday afternoon, the House decided to reconsider the bill with some clarification. It later passed 80-57.
Among its other provisions, SB 1 ushers in $4 billion in cuts to school districts across the state for the next two years. Without this system redesign, schools would run out of state funding around February 2013.
Late last week, an idea materialized to attach controversial sanctuary cities legislation to SB 1. After the measure to allow police to question the immigration status of people they detain appeared stalled in its standalone bill form, officials began searching for another way to finally pass the only one of Gov. Rick Perry's emergency items to fail in the regular session.
After senators seemed uninterested in using SB 1 to pass the immigration legislation, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said SB 9 could still pass, though House officials felt there was not enough time in the specials session to do so.
"I am disappointed the legislature did not address sanctuary cities," Perry said. "Working with legislative leaders last weekend, we worked to include sanctuary city legislation in Senate Bill 1. Unfortunately, SB1 Conference Committee Chairman Robert Duncan ultimately refused to allow language related to the ban of sanctuary cities into the final version of Senate Bill 1. Because of this action, the special session will not provide our peace officers with the discretion they need to adequately keep Texans safe from those that would do them harm."
And one day before the 30-day session ended, lawmakers finally passed and and sent to the governor the bill to reform the struggling Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
TWIA is a quasi-governmental body plagued by management problems after recent, destructive hurricanes like Ike in 2008. The group was meant the help get insurance for people in 14 coastal counties who otherwise have trouble obtaining it.
"When hurricanes strike, Texans want to know that their homes and business are protected," said Dewhurst. "Passing the TWIA bill – on the eve of hurricane season – will help protect our coastal policyholders, while preventing lawsuit abuse, promoting greater oversight and transparency and improving the overall solvency of the fund."
Gaining the most attention in the last week was a last-minute addition to the special session call. The "anti-groping" legislation was meant to criminalize intrusive pat-downs by airport security officials.
On Monday, the Senate passed its version of the bill 19-11. It would allow invasive searches where the TSA agent had a "reasonable suspicion" they would find something illegal during the search.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said the legislation could die if the House did not accept the Senate version on Tuesday. Shortly before adjourning for the day, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee announced it would be taking up the bill Tuesday night. If passed out of committee, it could come up on the floor on Wednesday - the last day of the special session.
The House gave preliminary approval to a less strict version on Monday to include input from Attorney General Greg Abbott. It would make it tougher to prosecute the TSA agents. However, this bill will not have a chance now that the Senate called for its final adjournment a day before the session ended.
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