Special session dominated by Republican agenda

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Senator Juan Hinojosa, D-Hidalgo, and Senator Jane Nelson, R-Denton, talk during a break in the senate session. Four bills purposed by the GOP for the special session are currently on their way to becoming laws.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Republican lawmakers have rubber-stamped most of the legislation Gov. Rick Perry added for the special session, leaving Democrats voiceless. Four major bills are hurtling past the final roadblocks to becoming law after passing at least one chamber this week.

Redistricting
On Wednesday, the House passed its final procedural vote on its version of the congressional redistricting map that divides Travis county into five different districts, all Republican leaning.

“The members provided much input and direction on maps that reflect the population changes in our state,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in a press release.

Democrats argue the maps silence the voices of growing communities; particularly Hispanics.

Austin legislators stood up against the map, stating it discriminates against minorities in Travis County because more than 50 percent of the county’s growth has been Hispanic. The map divides the minority population into separate Republican-leaning districts.

“You couldn’t have done a better job of carving out minority neighborhoods unless you were a surgeon with a sharp scalpel,” said Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin.

The Senate will vote on the legislation next week, but Democrats expect the courts to rule on whether the maps violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Texas Windstorm Insurance Association
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association bill received a legislative OK on Wednesday from the House of Representatives with a 99-41 vote.

Under the new bill, the quasi-governmental agency will be able to limit the amount of damages recovered for homeowners to actual costs plus court fees and also limits the number of lawsuits brought against the association.


Rep. Jon Smithee, R-Amarillo, said it was a necessary reform that will properly equip insurers for the next hurricane season.

The association has struggled to recover from 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which hit Galveston and Houston. The association distributed approximately $1.9 billion in claims and court fees, a total they will not be able to match if another serious hurricane hits Texas this season.

Sanctuary Cities
Democratic and Hispanic senators tearfully surrendered Tuesday night after they failed to stop the Sanctuary Cities bill, which passed 19-12 along party lines.

Emotions ran high as Democrats tried to convince the Republican supermajority the bill was, as Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, put it, “hurtful, ignorant and offensive.” Those watching from the gallery involved themselves in the conversation — one Hispanic constituent lapped the room with a bold sign reading “shame” before police detained him.
The bill effectively allows police officers in the state to question a person’s citizenship status if they are lawfully accused of another illegal action. If the person fails to produce valid proof of citizenship, they can be detained.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, defended his bill, stating the importance of bringing a uniform policy to the state that allows police officers to understand what they can and cannot do.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, read a letter by the Houston police chief that said to kill this legislation because it would affect how police officers would do their jobs and said San Antonio, Fort Worth and Austin police chiefs shared the sentiment.

The bill will return to the House next week for final consideration.

Budget
Late last week, the House made progress toward passing the 2012-13 budget, which Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered during the regular session, forcing the special session.

The House approved a budget June 9 which cuts $4 billion from public schools with a 83-62 vote.