Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The SBC Session

Today, it became abundantly clear what the second called special session on school finance is really about. For those of you who thought it was about the kids or the teachers or even property tax reduction, how wonderfully naive of you. This session is really about Telecom; more specifically it's about a bill that will likely make hundreds of millions, if not billions, for SBC. If you are a consumer though, hold on to your wallet.

The telecommunications bill HB 13 would create statewide franchising for cable competitors while keeping companies like Time Warner locked into their municipal franchise agreements. (All cable competitors that is but Grande Communications, it appears, but that's another post). The bill would also deregulate local phone rates, and approve the provision of broadband over power lines.

SBC lobbyists have been working this bill hard the entire 79th Legislature. They have more than 50 registered lobbyists. While most won't get paid unless the bill passes, SBC has likely shelled out in excess of half a million dollars on lobbying already.

Dewhurst, bent on embarrassing Craddick by sending an education bill to die in the House, shrewdly let it be known that telecom wouldn't come up until senators had passed out education "reform." It doesn't matter that the votes in the House for the education bill don't seem to be there or that the "reform" is sadly lacking.

Oddly enough, two of SBC's strongest Senate supporters, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and Sen. Frank Madla (D-San Antonio) were absent today. Both were likely no votes to bring up the education bill. With both gone and Senators Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Royce West (D-Dallas) switching sides, the Senate voted to take up SB 8. Once they took care of that, they could get to the real important stuff, Telecom. It passed quickly.

Meanwhile in the House, telecom was also on a fast track. Efforts to amend the bill, by for example, forcing SBC to provide Internet to everybody, not just the rich, died quick deaths. On the anti-redlining amendment to provide equal access the following Democrats voted against: Rep. Terri Hodge (D-Dallas), Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio), Rep. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), and Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin).

At one point, it looked like the bill might have to go to conference between the Senate and the House. Bill author Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) then let slip what was really going on. He urged a temporary postponement "to expedite us all getting out of this special session as soon as possible." Ah, so that's why we this circus continues...

As one perceptive legislator watching the proceedings on the House floor commented: "Education will get a slice of bread and SBC will get the whole enchilada."