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Surprise: Senate tacks 'bathroom bill,' property-tax reform onto House measure

AUSTIN — In a surprise move, the Texas Senate early Wednesday tacked its controversial version of the 'bathroom bill" and property-tax reform measures into a catch-all House bill.

But it was a trap, the House author of the so-called "Christmas tree" bill confirmed, and the measures added to it are now dead.

Among the 48 amendments the Senate tacked onto House Bill 4180 were the Senate-passed versions of Senate Bill 6 and Senate Bill 2, two measures the House had watered-down greatly before approving them in recent days.

The other amendments tacked onto the House bill by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, were entire bills, as well, ranging from a short one on a Houston flood study to a 54-page Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

They included both Senate and House bills that had not passed in the House.

They were slated to die if they had been amended onto the bill, which was a measure covering governmental entities and officials — a broad category that allowed the attachment of the numerous amendments.

Lawmakers refer to the bill that gets loaded with amendments as a "Christmas tree," a session-ending frenzy that in past years has been used to get many bills moving ahead to become law at one time.

Much the same thing happened two years ago, when Senate Republicans loaded it up with amendments toward the end of the session, including a controversial anti-gay marriage provision. Coleman also carried that bill.

"I sent this bill over knowing they would do this, and they fell for it," Coleman said early Wednesday, after watching the Senate session. "I'm not moving that bill. It's all dead . . . In fact, I get to kill a couple of Senate bills twice."

Even so, senators seemed assured as they attached amendments, in hopes the move might get their bills through a logjam in the House.

"I had looked for days for something to put this on," said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the sponsor of the House bill that was loaded up wth the amendments. "There was no other vehicle to put this on."

She was the Senate sponsor of SB 6, the bathroom bill, that failed to pass the House.

"This bill represents a tremendous amount of legislation and work that we passed that never got out of the House," said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who attached his SB 2.

After more than a hour of attaching amendments to the House bill, the tentative vote was 21-10.

While Republicans hugged each other after the vote, and some even issued press releases on the maneuver, Democrats seemed surprised. "That was a curve ball," said Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, remarked about the now-thick House bill: "This thing looks like an encyclopedia now."

Before Coleman pronounced his bill a dead-end trap, a final vote on the greatly expanded bill was likely Wednesday in the Senate. That vote is now unlikely.

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