DALLAS - With the fate of five state agencies in limbo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry confirmed that he will call a special session of the Legislature, but said he has not decided when or what issues will be included.
Amid a parliamentary slowdown over Republican efforts to enact a voter identification law, the 2009 legislative session ended June 1 with major funding issues unresolved.
Unless a special session extends their charter under the state's sunset law, five agencies will have to close within 15 months. Chief among those is the Texas Department of Transportation, one of the state's top debt issuers and administrator of federal funds for highway construction. Some lawmakers question whether the state could accept federal stimulus funds for transportation without TxDOT and its supervisory board, the Texas Transportation Commission.
The other agencies in need of reauthorization are the Department of Insurance, the Racing Commission, the Texas State Affordable Housing Corp. and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel.
Perry, who is facing a tough primary challenger in U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, cannot collect campaign cash during a regular or special legislative session, nor hold fundraisers until the June 21 conclusion of the veto period for the regular session.
In his public pronouncements, Perry has sought to burnish his conservative credentials by refusing federal funds to extend jobless benefits for unemployed Texans and touting a voter ID law that was stymied by the House Democrats' parliamentary maneuvers in the last five days of the session. Hutchison criticized Perry for a lack of leadership during the session.
Perry did not say whether he might try to resurrect the voter ID law that Democrats call the "voter suppression law." The proposal to require a photo ID before a registered voter can cast a ballot is popular among Republican conservatives under the guise of stopping voter fraud. However, Democrats see the ID provision as raising barriers at the polling place for the poor, elderly, disabled and/or minority citizens who traditionally vote Democratic.
Should Perry place voter ID in the legislative call, another contentious session could develop.
A special session could also give Perry a chance to seek a resolution for transportation funding in the state. TxDOT has voter authorization to issue $2 billion of Proposition 12 bonds but needs legislative authority. That died along with a 330-page bill that included a local sales-tax option for raising money for regional transportation projects, including rail.
Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, threatened to filibuster any transportation bill that did not include the local option, which was developed by local officials in his region of North Texas.