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Midnight, Tonight, Deadline Looms Large For Texas House Votes

Wikipedia Commons

AUSTIN — Hundreds of closely watched proposals, including a key conservative push to defy the U.S. Supreme Court if gay marriage is legalized, hang in the balance as work in the Texas House has slowed to a crawl — even as the chamber’s last chance to pass its bills looms.

Democrats are outnumbered nearly 2-to-1 in the lower chamber but have been stalling all week.

They ask every imaginable question on the floor to draw out debate on as many bills as possible, then use parliamentary tactics to further slow things down.

Known as “chubbing,” the effort comes because midnight Thursday is the deadline for House bills to get their first vote by the full chamber.

Measures that don’t make it are considered dead, though they could live on as amendments attached to other proposals that originated in the Senate or have advanced faster through the process. The legislative session ends June 1.

The slow play has delayed a highly anticipated vote on a House bill prohibiting state, county and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Gay marriage was banned under an amendment to the Texas Constitution approved by voters in 2005, but the proposal by Republican Rep. Cecil Bell of Magnolia, outside Houston, is designed to further shield the state from a possible high court ruling superseding that.

Bell’s plan was originally set for a vote as early as Tuesday. But it didn’t happen then or Wednesday as efforts to pass bills preceding it on House calendar bogged down. “While it could be considered a delaying tactic, we honestly have problems with these bills,” said Rep. Mary Gonzalez, an El Paso Democrat who has taken to the floor repeatedly to ask questions or raise unsuccessful amendments.

Plano Republican Rep. Jeff Leach was unmoved: “I have no question that there’s a deliberate and intentional effort by some to slow things down even more than they already are. The reality is, there’s a lot of good bills that die,” Leach said. “A lot of bad bills die, too.”

Adding to the pressure, meanwhile, is an impasse over the best way to cut taxes in the proposed state budget. House budget writers are backing the state’s first-ever sales tax cut, but their Senate counterparts prefer rolling back property taxes.

Unlike House bills, the budget doesn’t have to be passed Thursday — so there’s still plenty of time to finagle. A proposed compromise could see the House scrap its sales tax cut proposal in favor of deeper tax breaks for businesses, but top House budget leaders say they’ve not agreed to that.

And, as House tempers run short with their chamber nearly at a standstill, any budget deal could also be delayed. (AP)