Tuesday, June 02, 2009

"Without this grassroots army, the train wreck would have continued unabated with untold damage."



HB 300


Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2009

It was messy, and full of drama, but the grassroots, with the help of infighting among lawmakers over the "local option" gas tax hike, managed to slay a beast of a bill that would have unleashed horrific provisions upon Texans for GENERATIONS to come.

Thank you for all the phone calls and emails to your legislators, and for your support and sacrifices to come to Austin to give testimony to these committees and hung in there when it felt like they weren't listening and would NEVER do right by the PEOPLE of this great State.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with us through these 5 months of hard-fought battles during the session and for many of us, years of uphill struggles to bring accountability and fix transportation policies that are outright rip-offs. Without this grassroots army, the train wreck would have continued unabated with untold damage.

Play by play...

The final version of the bill from conference committee wasn't even posted until 11:40 PM Saturday night. We had 24 hours to read a 1,000 page bill....IMPOSSIBLE! I was able to get a side by side report of the actual, final changes in text (that report was 178 pages!) and managed to inform lawmakers of the horrible provisions still left in HB 300 to give us ammo to KILL HB 300. Read them here.

We put out a call for supporters to meet us at the Capitol yesterday for a last push to prevent lawmakers from selling off Texas highways to foreign corporations and KILL HB 300. When we arrived, word got out that Senator John Carona announced he was going to filibuster HB 300 because his "local option" 10 cent gas tax hike was taken out of the bill.

Support in the House started to waiver as it appeared HB 300 was going down in the Senate. The House bill wasn't eligible for a vote until 11:40 PM, just 20 minutes before the clock ran out. If they couldn't pass it, they still had to pass the safety net bill before the stroke of midnight. It was going to be tricky!

An added wrinkle...

We found out about some chicanery with the safety net bill (after hearing we were trying to kill the sunset bill and push TxDOT's sunset to next session). HB 300 author Carl Isett magically changed TxDOT's sunset date in the safety net bill to 4 years instead of the 2 years as it was originally written. Apparently this was a move to force lawmakers to choke down his anti-taxpayer, anti-reform HB 300 under the guise that it was better than nothing. But rather it smacked of dirty politics to try and say, "you take our bill or get no change at TxDOT for 4 years."

After we made the rounds and staffers were tight-lipped about their reps position for or against the bill, Rep. Vicki Truitt threatened to filibuster HB 300 in the House (following Carona's footsteps, she wanted the 10 cent gas tax hike and was willing to KILL the bill over it).

Then, House Transportation Chairman Joe Pickett at one point threatened to "release the conferees" and call up the senate bill for a vote instead of the House bill hoping to vote it down handily to send a message to the Senate that the House didn't want their bill. School children behave better than these people. The Senate version was chalk full of the WORST provisions imaginable (worst case scenario), including the 10 cent gas tax hike. So I didn't find the move particularly funny. It was an awful scare until I figured out what Pickett was doing.

By the time the dust settled, it was 11:40 PM and they never called up HB 300 (already declaring it DEAD, for all the wrong reasons, but dead nonetheless) and went straight to the safety bill.

Now the safety net bill, having been hijacked and no way to change it since all the final version of bills had to have been filed by midnight Saturday, needed to DIE. We couldn't let TxDOT off the hook for another 4 years. But if the safety net bill didn't pass, TxDOT would be dissolved (many would cheer such a scenario, but not lawmakers who live and die by getting road projects built for their districts).

So Rep., David Leibowitz led the charge and stalled passage of the bill and midnight came and went and NO HB 300 and NO safety bill passed.

TxDOT ABOLISHED (for a few hours)

For about 16 hours, TxDOT was officially ABOLISHED! Oh, I slept well last night...

Today, the House was only to do technical changes (like remove conflicts within bills, mismarked section numbers and the like), but they AGAIN broke their own rules and managed to extend TxDOT for another 2 years (which was the original plan, just a lot more messy!) through a resolution. Lawmakers would do anything to avoid a special session, so they snuck the continuation of TxDOT into a resolution on stimulus funds (and where to deposit them).

The House officially adjourned, sine die only moments ago. While we didn't reform the agency and get the GOOD provisions passed, we averted disaster and CDAs, that sell our highways to foreign companies, sunset August 31. If CDAs die, TTC-35 dies with it. The TTC-69 was excepted OUT of the moratorium bill last session (which we vehemently opposed), so CDA contracts for that corridor can continue until 2011.

The local government 391 commissions we've been forming all over the state will now be the only thing (aside from litigation) standing between East Texas and a possible 1,200 foot wide Trans Texas Corridor!

CDAs may have been snuck into another bill somewhere...

With the "chubbing" over Voter ID, many bills died in the House. So the Senate started attaching their bills to House bills and there were a flurry of conference committee reports filed at midnight Saturday with no way to read them all to see if CDAs got snuck into a bill. Considering the House arrived at sine die before the senate today, and since both chambers routinely suspend their own rules, the Senate may have slipped CDAs into a bill today AFTER knowing for certain that CDAs will sunset this summer absent the passage of HB 300.

What's also uncertain is what happens to the bills that gave RMAs the authority to enter into CDAs if CDAs are going to sunset? Which law will take precedence over the other? So there are many open questions and disaster may be lurking around the corner. But for today, we can enjoy a BIG VICTORY #2!

© 2009 Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom: texasturf.org

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