Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Senate has passed TxDOT Sunset Bill--what might happen next?

The Statesman's Ben Wear discusses where TxDOT Sunset stands now and its possible future.

HB 300 started out in the House as a huge bill and it has grown. Wear says:

"The thing had gotten so big by the time it reached the Senate floor that staffers printed it in an unusual single-spaced, legal-size paper format just to keep the height of the stack down. . . . The rough estimate is that in normal format HB 300 was a 700-page bill at least when it hit the Senate floor."

There are important differences between the House and Senate versions, and Wear discusses what might happen now and the timing:

"First, the 15 or so Senate amendments have to be incorporated and it has to be printed. This alone could take 24 hours. But we’re told that in the meantime, or perhaps after this is done, the bill would then go back to the House for concurrence.

"[S]tep two, the House declines to concur and appoints its five conference committee members. The two leaders of this almost surely will be Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, the bill sponsor, and Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the House Transportation Committee chairman. . . . [The Senate] will then appoint its own conference committee members. The leaders there will be Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the Senate sponsor, and Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

"Both the House and Senate must vote for final bills emerging from conference committees by midnight Sunday, the session’s penultimate day. . . . Realistically, then, negotiations have to be done by sometime Friday."

Some sort of measure to keep TxDOT going, rather than Sunset it, must be passed. It sounds like it will be difficult to go through all these steps in time to complete all the reorganization contained in HB 300. If the House and Senate can't get this bill out in time, or if they complete their work, but Perry vetoes it, I assume there will be some mechanism to keep TxDOT going the way it is for two more years and start the whole Sunset process over again for the 2011 session. If this is the case, untold hours of work by the Sunset staff, legislators, and citizens giving input will have been for naught, at least at this point.

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