Caught in a real-life episode of E.R., Senator Teel Bivins spent the final week of the legislative session performing triage on bills that were at death’s door. As our story begins, a perspiring Bivins frantically tries to revive Governor Bush’s charter schools program, which is among the 52 bills that are casualties of a parliamentary drive-by shooting in the House, known as the Memorial Day Massacre. No, wait! There goes Bivins, racing across the rotunda for a life-or-death consult with House members about making schools safer. Quick! Back to the lieutenant governor’s office to stitch together the $1 billion property tax—cut compromise.
Let’s tell you a little bit about our star performer before our program continues. After four sessions as a well-regarded understudy, Bivins got his first lead role this year as the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He passed a post-tenure review process for university faculty, took aim at “professional” students who clog up college classrooms without making significant progress toward a degree, and carried the charter schools bill, which expanded the experimental public schools program. He devoted sufficient study to the state’s byzantine school-finance system that he joined the handful of lawmakers who understand it. He even found time to pass the session’s most important tort reform bill (limiting access to Texas courts by out-of-staters) and a voluntary surgical-castration program for sex offenders. In the closing weeks, he became the Senate’s chief negotiator on the governor’s property tax—relief plan and was, inexplicably, the only senator who really cared about the idea. Despite his lonesome stand, he forged a compromise that came, in the words of one insider, “within an eyelash” of winning approval.
And now to the conclusion of our story. In those tumultuous final days, Bivins finds himself facing a crisis of medical ethics: House members are trying to force him to choose between his charter schools and safe-schools bills. Which one should live? Which one should die? Bivins decides that the safe-schools bill is more important, because it affects children at every school in the state, and he steels himself to make the sacrifice. Then he finds a way to save both bills. Another happy ending. Tune in next session.