TABLE OF CONTENTS
FROM THE BENCH
SWALL AT AALL
of SWALL Annual Business Meeting
Okra and Killer Iced Tea
of the Texas 77th Legislative Session, 2001
From The New Mexico 2001 Legislature
From the CoALL Institute
Holterhoff Visits with CoALL
OVERVIEW OF THE 77th TEXAS LEGISLATIVE
A few weeks prior to the beginning of the session, the lawsuits related to the 2000 presidential election had many people speculating as to who would preside as Texas Governor on January 9th, 2001. When the dust settled, Governor Bush resigned and Texas had a new governor. For the first time Senate members selected an acting lieutenant governor to replace Rick Perry when he succeeded George W. Bush as Governor. The historical vote was preceded by a lawsuit to the Texas Supreme Court to enjoin the Senate from using a secret ballot in selecting the acting lieutenant governor. The suit failed, the vote was conducted in secret, and Senator Bill Ratliff was chosen to preside over the Senate.
The 77th Legislature began with rumors that redistricting would consume most of the legislatorsí attention, but the news of a weakened economy came shortly thereafter. The appropriations bill became the main issue - less money than expected was available, in part due to a miscalculation of medicare expenses during the previous biennium which complicated matters further. A total of 8,847 bills and resolutions were introduced during the session; 1601 bills and 20 joint resolutions passed both chambers and were sent to the Governor. What began as a "redistricting session" ended without an acceptable redistricting plan and no special session was scheduled to resolve the issue. The Legislative Redistricting Board was called into service for the third time since itís creation in 1951 (TEX. CONST., Art. III, sec. 28) to re-draw House and Senate districts based on the latest Census data.
After several attempts by earlier legislative sessions, Texas finally passed a hate crimes law (HB587) and an open container law (HB5). Other "hot" bills enacted into law include: improved legal representation of indigent defendants (SB7), prevention of racial profiling by peace officers (SB1074), better access to DNA testing for inmates (SB3), a uniform school start date (SB108), added protection for homeowners against actions by homeowner associations (SB507), a simpler Medicaid application process (SB43), a graduated drivers license process for drivers under 18 (SB577), a law that elevates stalking from a misdemeanor to a felony (SB139), a law that elevates animal cruelty to a felony (HB653), health insurance coverage for public school teachers (HB3343), and a raise for state employees (SB1). The full text of these bills are available at the Texas Legislature Online site: www.capitol.state.tx.us.
Despite the many improvements effected by these new laws, the 77th Legislative Session may be most remembered for the bills that did not pass. On June 17th, the deadline for the Governor to sign or veto bills, the Governor vetoed 78 bills, bringing the total vetoes to 82. Former Governor Bill Clements held the veto record with 57 in 1989. The most vetoes from former Governor George W. Bush was 37 in 1997. The most talked about veto related to the execution of mentally retarded people convicted of murder. Governor Perry vetoed HB236, stating that the Texas legal system already provides safeguards preventing the execution of retarded criminals. Other popular bills receiving the veto ax: SB1156 - a bill restructuring the Medicaid system and increasing federal funding for health care; SB512 - a bill relating to the investment and management of the permanent school fund; HB396 - a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driverís license by providing identification information other than a social security number; and HB1862 - a bill requiring insurers to promptly pay routine medical claims. A complete list of bills vetoed and veto proclamations are available at the Governorís web site at: www.governor.state.tx.us under "News and Information."
Some legislators and journalists commented that the heavy use of the veto power indicated the Governor was disengaged in the legislative process. The general practice is for the Governor to signal the legislature when he foresees problems with a bill. This saves many hours of studying and drafting complex legislation or gives members the opportunity to amend a bill as necessary. But more importantly, the Governor vetoed the bills after the session had adjourned, preventing the members from challenging and overriding the Governorís veto power. No action can be taken until the 78th Legislative Session when similar bills can be introduced.
One of the vetoed bills, HB2809 - establishing legislative intent for nonsubstantive revisions of statutes, is of particular interest as it may affect legislative intent research. The Texas Legislative Council periodically revises Texas statutes, continuing a process it began in 1962 to recodify the statutes into subject codes. The recodification is generally not a substantive revision of the law, rearranging statutes into a more logical order and eliminating duplicative provisions. This process was complicated by a recent Texas Supreme Court case, Fleming Foods of Texas, Inc. v. Rylander, 6 S.W. 3d 27 (Tex. 1999), wherein the court held that an omission from a 1981 recodification of the Texas Tax Code made a substantive change in the law regarding who may apply for a sales-tax refund. The court held that general statements made by the Legislature regarding a statuteís purpose cannot override the clear meaning of a new, more specific statute.
HB2809 was an attempt to refute the courtís holding. The bill states that "[ a]n omission or change for which the court finds no direct evidence of legislative intent to change the sense, meaning or effect of the statute shall be considered unintended and shall be treated as if the omission or change were a typographical or similar error." In his veto proclamation, the Governor stated that HB2809 "would fundamentally alter the manner in which Texas courts interpret the written laws of Texas." The bill analyses provide more detailed information about the recodification process, always useful in compiling legislative intent. The text of the bill and analyses are available at the Texas Legislature Online site referenced above.
It will be interesting to hear and read about the repercussions and eventual effects of legislation passed and vetoed during the 77th Legislative Session. I feel a certain sense of pride knowing that the legislative reference staff answered many research questions now reflected in the bills that were introduced and that guided some of the debate on the floor. In addition to many other projects and services provided to the legislative community, Library Staff indexed 8,847 bills and resolutions for subject access and noted the statutory sections that would be affected by the proposed legislation. We hope this information is helpful and welcome your suggestions or comments on other information that would be useful in conducting future legislative research.