AUSTIN — When Republicans grabbed a supermajority in the Texas House, the joke was that Democrats wouldn’t even have to show up for the GOP to pass bills into law.
But now it’s Republicans who are skipping out on the special session called by Gov. Rick Perry. It happened again Friday when the House appeared to be well short of the 100 members needed to have a quorum and quickly adjourned without doing any business. Republicans hold 101 of the chamber’s 150 seats.
The session expires next Wednesday. Lawmakers have yet to pass critical budget and hurricane insurance bills, as well as Perry’s pet projects on immigration enforcement and criminalizing invasive airport security pat-downs.
If those fail because of a lack of time or interest, it could be seen as a major embarrassment to a Republican governor with a Republican-controlled Legislature who’s considering a run for president.
“There’s still time to get the work done,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner.
Several House Republicans who were at the Capitol on Friday expressed frustration at their colleagues’ absence.
“It’s important for Republicans to be here absent illness or a family crisis,” said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who closed her eyes tightly and paused before answering when asked why the House isn’t doing any work.
Among those missing was House Republican Caucus leader Larry Taylor of Friendswood, who was on a family vacation in the Bahamas this week. He was also out Monday when the House fell one lawmaker short of reaching a quorum.
Lawmakers are weary after the 140-day session that began in January morphed immediately into a 30-day special session, Kolkshorst said. But she also noted she has children ages 12 and 8, drives home to see them often and still has time to make it back to Austin on time.
“It seems like we’re stalled,” Kolkhorst said. “Time is getting skinny.”
Seven of the 15 lawmakers who were formally excused from work Friday were Republicans. One of them was Rep.
Warren Chisum of Pampa, who in May called for the House chamber doors to be locked briefly to keep Democrats from leaving when a mass walk-out had been rumored to break quorum because so many Republicans were absent.
House Republican leaders have tried to keep their colleagues interested in staying in Austin to do the state’s work. The GOP caucus this week put out a call for any lawmakers interested in a group outing for boating or dinner on a nearby lake or even a trip to the movies.
The Republican-controlled Senate has not had similar trouble getting the numbers to pass bills on its work days.
Perry called the special session on May 31, a day after the regular session died without the critical bills on education spending and hurricane insurance coverage.
At the time, Republicans warned Democrats they could use the special session to steamroll them on bills they didn’t like. Perry quickly added to the agenda a bill that gives police more power to enforce federal immigration law, which prompted a bitter and emotional fight in the Senate before it passed that chamber.
Republican House Speaker Joe Straus had warned lawmakers it would be a long and busy day and said they should be prepared to work over the weekend if they didn’t get everything done.
Straus shrugged at Friday’s no-shows and even joked that “our plane is not full to capacity.” He also strongly indicated the House may not pass the airport security bill.
“The bill, without some serious readjustment, seems to me to be little more than an ill-advised publicity stunt,” Straus said.
He said the House still has time to pass bills by Wednesday. Perry has warned he may call lawmakers back into another special session if they don’t.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” Straus said. “I predict a very heavy turnout on Monday.”