10 AUGUST: This morning, in their 3rd special session this year, Texas legislators sent a controversial telecommunications reform bill (SB 5) to the Governor, perhaps ending a long, bitter fight that has big phone companies aiming for a win. The regular legislative session ended Memorial Day Weekend and the legislators should have gone away until January 2007. But, the Governor called special sessions both this year and in 2003 after the last regular session to reform state funding for schools and property taxes. While the specials sessions were to be dedicated to school finance reform, lawmakers have managed to sneak in other major initiatives such as this telecom reform bill and the now infamous Texas redistricting legislation in 2003.
The House passed SB 5 in four minutes with no debate or amendments. Last night, the Senate revived the measure after days of an impasse. The measure will let SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. gain new freedom to set their own phone rates and easier access to selling planned Internet-based television services.
Currently, cable TV providers have to go city to city to get a myriad of local agreements. The new bill would allow SBC and Verizon to get one statewide franchise, skipping the local agreements. Cable providers and consumer advocates oppose the legislation, saying it gives the phone giants an unfair advantage. Source.
The Governor may not sign the telecom measure if there is no deal on school finance. His staff indicate that they're not sure what he'll do. Some speculate that signing this bill before education and property tax reform is completed could be a liability for the Governor and other lawmakers going into the election season.