On Friday, the Texas House passed its first “Local and Consent” Calendar of the 87th Legislative Session. While important Republican priorities languish in committee, 52 measures were selected for the House’s fast track, where bills are passed in a matter of moments, without debate, in a proceeding that sounds more like a cattle auction than a legislative deliberation.

The process is defended on the grounds that the bills considered are “noncontroversial” and that passing them without debate saves time for more important legislation. That rationale falls apart, though, when legislators spend the rest of their time moving at a glacial speed so they can claim they ran out of time on grassroots priorities at the end of the session.

Indeed, on Friday, as the House was passing bills at a pace of a few seconds a pop, they stopped in the middle of the calendar for 10 minutes to haze freshman State Rep. Glenn Rogers (R–Graford). In fact, the corny jokes about Mr. Rogers’ neighborliness and lack of a red sweater had to be repeated twice because of a breakdown of the House audio system.

No, the real purpose of the Local and Consent Calendar is to allow special interests to pass obscure measures without drawing the attention of the public.

In the midst of the rapid-fire bill passage and the Mr. Rogers puns on Friday, a measure slipped through without debate or notice that would put more of Texans’ money in the pockets of Roman-style tax collectors.

House Bill 1428 by State Rep. Dan Huberty (R–Houston) expands the ability of local governments to enter into contingent fee contracts with law firms to shake down their constituents for unpaid taxes and fees. The only witness for the bill in committee was an attorney with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP, “a national law firm with a practice dedicated to the collection of delinquent government receivables.”

Like the Roman tax collectors from biblical times, who personally profited off the taxes they collected for the empire, Linebarger’s use of contingent fee contracts means they profit directly from the collection of taxes for their government clients. Every time they shake more money out of a taxpayer, a significant slice of that collection goes straight into their pockets. And their profits are staggering; the firm reports annual revenue north of $300 million.

One would suspect that, if the Legislature proposed paying local tax assessor salaries based on commission, the public would be up in arms. But because House Bill 1428 involves a third-party law firm that can lobby the Legislature for its own future profits, the bill was able to pass the House unnoticed and unopposed via the Local and Consent Calendar.

House Bill 1428 now goes to the Senate where, unless there is public objection, it is destined for the Senate Local and Uncontested Calendar. That’s the Senate’s process where they pass bills in an empty room.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.