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TX Sen. Van de Putte Offers 'Motion to Instruct' For HB 2 Conferees

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

It was a nail-biting moment for Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) Thursday evening when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) offered a "motion to instruct" the conferees on the Conference Committee on HB 2, the public school reform bill.

Both chambers always have the opportunity to "instruct" conferees as they head into conference committee to hammer out differences on bills. But rarely does it happen, as most of the time such instructions tend to hamstring conferees.

Van de Putte's motion asked Senate conferees not to deviate from or accept any changes in the Senate version of the bill relating to: the phase-in to 98 percent equity; the degree of equity; the weighted system of funding for special needs; enhancements to small and mid-sized schools; and pay raises for school personnel.

Almost immediately, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) began to ask Van de Putte if she would accept a "friendly amendment" to her instructions. That brought Shapiro to her feet.

Saying time is short and members are trying to expedite the process of reaching a compromise on the bill, Shapiro said, "These instructions to conferees could go on and on and on..." She thus asked Van de Putte to withdraw her motion. Instead, she asked all members who have an issue with HB 2 to either bring their concerns to her personally or put them in writing. She said she would send each member of the conference committee a copy of those concerns "so that we know exactly where you stand.

"If not, we'll be here for another hour and a half."

Explaining Senate rules, Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) pointed out that if a conferee "disobeys" the instructions, the bill would not be subject to a point of order. The fate of the bill would simply be left up to the body on consideration of final approval of the conference committee report. Armbrister said the Senate can "ask" for instructions to get a "general idea" of what the members want, but that is "not necessarily binding."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst agreed, saying under Texas House and Senate and U.S. Congress rules, motions to instruct are "not binding," but are simply used to "reflect the feeling of that body at that time."

Thus, said Armbrister, it would be up to an individual member to decide whether he or she wanted to accept a conference committee report if the Senate conferees did not adhere to the "instructions." He said if Van de Putte felt her instructions to the conferees were not followed, that should weigh on her decision on how to vote on the conference committee report.

Van de Putte said her reason for offering the motion to instruct was so that everyone on the Senate floor would know there are five particular areas of importance to the Senate in this bill.

She said she was aware that motions to instruct are not binding, but wanted to offer her motion as an added way to ensure the conferees understood many members of the Senate have "very strong feelings" about the issues in her motion.

That being said, Van de Putte withdrew her motion.