Capitol Cocktail Hour
A look at this week's happenings inside the Texas Legislature, from arts education to phallic flags
As we promised, things are starting to get pretty busy in this legislative session. Although we may have been nursing our post-Texas Independence Day hangovers, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate were filing bills, tentatively passing budgets, and listening to calypso music played by schoolchildren.
Money, money, money
In boring but important news, the House Appropriations Committee has tentatively approved an education budget bill. Unfortunately, this budget doesn’t tackle the big issues (like public education or pre-K or after school activities), but it does add a pretty big chunk of change to the Teachers Retirement Fund. Representatives hope to tackle those other issues later on in the session.
Over in the Senate, another tentatively approved budget bill would see state employees receiving a universal 3 percent pay raise. This must surely come as a relief for most state workers who haven’t seen their salaries change since the 2011 budget freeze. Neither of these are the actual big enchilada that funds Texas to the tune of more than $100 billion over the next two years. That's still processing.
Bills, bills, bills
There were hundreds (we mean HUNDREDS!) of bills sent to committee this week. Tuesday had more than 300 bills go through the House alone. Here are a few that caught our eye:
The House passed a resolution this week designating the first Friday in November as Texas Arbor Day. It also passed one making the last Friday in September American Indian Heritage Day. Hopefully legislation will be passed in the next session changing the name to the less offensive Native American Heritage Day.
Though it hasn’t passed yet, we’re already ironing our “Come and Take It” banners in preparation for HCR 62. The bill designates October 2 as “Come and Take It Day,” allowing Texans everywhere to freely fly the most phallic flag of all time.
Calypso kids — long live the arts!
Arts Education Days hit the Capitol for two days this week, as children from all over the state performed inside the Capitol rotunda and outside on the south steps to show lawmakers the true meaning of arts education. Big jazzy bands, xylophone orchestras, steel drum corps and blues-singing high schoolers reminded all of us that performing arts in public schools are not just for John Philip Sousa fans anymore.
Happiness is a warm gun
Following up to last week’s handgun bills, this week saw a bill in the Senate that would mandate four to six hours of education courses before you can get a handgun license. We’ll see how that goes.
The drugs not working
Remember last year when it seemed like all the teenagers in the whole world were smoking bath salts and then posting videos online? Well, lawmakers have responded with two bills in the House that would classify synthetic hallucinogenic substances (like bath salts) as a Penalty 2 controlled substance and therefore punishable by the law. Teenagers, we're sorry for your loss. Guess this means you'll have to go back trying to smoking other things, like soap or your mom's oregano. (It doesn't work, FYI.)
In a filibuster meant to derail John Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA and bring attention to the Obama administration's drone policies, Sen. Rand Paul (R- Kentucky) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Capitol for nearly 13 hours on Wednesday. In a Texas twist, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) read Tweets in support of his colleague. “I would note that your standing here today, like a modern Mr. Smith goes to Washington, must surely be making Jimmy Stewart smile,” said Cruz.
Do you think Sen. Cruz thinks that movie was real? Does he think he's in his own movie, Mr. Cruz Goes to Washington? The mind reels!
All right, folks. That’s all we got for this week. Tune in next Friday for a special SXSW edition aimed to educate you just enough so that your friends visiting from New York and LA will be terribly impressed by your knowledge of state government.