Lawmakers prepare for the last day of session

The final push is on at the Texas Capitol with the session ending on May 27. 

Several big items are waiting for a compromise deal in conference committee, such as the budget and education and property tax reform. Those are expected to make it to the governor’s desk but a few others are in a race against the clock.

Dirk Nowitzki, who retired this season from the Dallas Mavericks, was honored Tuesday in the Texas legislature in a moment of unity in this political arena. But with time on the session winding down, many state lawmakers like state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler) spent the day focused on the game of political basketball.

“We can do it, the clock is ticking, we can do it, we follow the rules and we are going to do everything required by the book, we believe there is time,” said Hughes.

Hughes is trying to push through a bill to protect religious freedom, also known as the Save Chick-fil-A bill. House Bill 3172 was filed after the San Antonio city council refused to allow the Christian-owned fast food restaurant to open in a city airport. The House LGBTQ Caucus objected to the bill calling it a license to discriminate and blocked it on a procedural technicality.

On Monday Hughes revived the legislation by getting the Senate companion bill out of committee. He now has until next Tuesday to get the measure back to the House floor for a final vote. A fail-safe plan involves adding the bill’s language to a similar bill, Senate Bill 17, which is already in a House committee.

“It could move as well. So you are right there are plenty of options, I think there is a desire by members of the House and in the Senate to do something significant on religious freedom, so I think we are going to get it done,” said Hughes.

Another bill that’s running out of time under the dome is a proposed ban on owning certain exotic animals as pets. SB 641 was filed after a tiger was found in Houston. The Humane Society of the United States officially won custody of the tiger Tuesday and has moved it to an east Texas sanctuary. The legislation however has failed to move out of a House committee after passage in the Senate.

Animal rights advocates like Katie Jarl were at the Capitol Tuesday asking for a hearing and pointing out the bill goes beyond big cats.

“That means tigers, that means great apes, and other animals that are not only a danger to the public but are a danger to law enforcement and first responders that might be operating in an area and not know, about to serve a warrant or make a flood rescue, in a house that has a lion in the backyard,” said Jarl.

If the bill is signed into law, people who currently own exotic pets will be able to keep them as part of a grandfathering clause.

One hot topic did get a positive vote. The House approved SB 21 which increases the legal age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarette cartridges to 21 years of age. The bill has to go back to the senate because of some amendments including preventing cities from increasing the age and providing an exemption for anyone younger than 21 with a valid military ID card.