Partisan gridlock grips TX Legislature

May 23, 2009 12:54:44 PM PDT
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said Saturday he is trying to forge a compromise to break up the partisan gridlock that is gripping the Texas Legislature. Straus has been largely absent from the House speaker's rostrum as Democrats continue to block controversial election law changes and Republicans fume that the signature reforms of the waning session are going down the tubes.

But Straus, a San Antonio Republican, said he has been huddling with members to ease the logjam and expressed a glimmer of hope that a deal can be reached.

"There are a lot of conversations," Straus said. "Conversations come first, then the agreement."

At issue is a bill that would tighten ID requirements for Texas voters. The Democrats say it's designed to suppress turnout. Republicans say the legislation, requiring Texas voters to furnish additional ID at the polls, is needed to stop ballot box fraud.

The voter ID meltdown visited the Senate at the beginning of the year and now has moved into the House as the 140-day session heads toward a tense finale on June 1.

The latest drama began Friday, when House Democrats started using parliamentary tricks to gum up the legislative machinery. It's basically a filibuster, where opponents use time privileges to engage in endless debate that halts action on major legislation.

The maneuvers stretched into Saturday as Democrats again demanded that the GOP change or pull down a bill tightening voter ID requirements.

College tuition relief, insurance reform, curbs on government condemnation power and tax relief for disabled veterans were among the items hanging in the balance as the extraordinary showdown entered a second day.

Democratic said they were willing to take up those key reforms separately so that key legislation could be brought up -- but not if it means allowing consideration of the voter ID bill. Republicans refused to take the bait.

The question seemed to be who would get blamed for killing a slew of bills -- or who might blink first.

Straus, siding with fellow Republicans, said he did not support cherry-picking a few key bills to pass while Democrats hold pages and pages of bills hostage: It's all or nothing.

The speaker, who began his job in January, also made it clear that he is taking a hands-off approach to leading the House. It presents a stark contrast to the long shadow cast by his predecessor, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, whose iron-fisted approach eventually led to his ouster a few months ago.

"Members will have to figure it out," Straus said. "We're working on it."

Straus noted that the House is almost evenly divided between the two parties. With the absence of Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, who suffered a heart attack a few days ago, the Republican majority now stands at 75-74.

"It's just one of those spots you get in a closely divided place," Straus said. "But we'll get through it, I think we've done really well all session."

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