After a Democrat Chairman in the Texas House was charged with possession of cocaine, Speaker Dennis Bonnen claims he doesn’t have the power to remove him from his committee, despite interpretations to the contrary.
On September 6 a DPS affidavit affirmed two Texas Department of Transportation employees found an envelope filled with four plastic baggies of cocaine bearing the official state letterhead of Democrat State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (Eagle Pass) lying on the ground inside an area of Austin Bergstrom International Airport frequently used by state officials.
That story was broken last week by Direct Action Texas just days after Nevarez announced that he would not be seeking re-election to the legislature in 2020. And on Friday, months after the incident, Nevarez was charged with possession of a controlled substance.
On Friday, heading into the weekend, three Republican committee chairs—State Reps. Phil King (Weatherford), James White (Hillister), and Jeff Leach (Plano)—wrote a letter to Speaker Dennis Bonnen requesting that he be removed from his position as Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety (which oversees law enforcement agencies such as Texas DPS, who performed the initial investigation into the incident) and as Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.
Additionally, the three lawmakers requested that the matter be referred to the House General Investigating Committee.
“These requests are made to ensure the effective continuation of the important duties of the Texas House of Representatives and to protect the sacred trust bestowed on our chamber by the people of Texas,” they wrote.
But almost as soon as that letter became public, Bonnen quickly responded that he had no power to help the situation, claiming that under the rules of the Texas House, “the Speaker does not have authority to remove members from any House committee.”
A look at that rule cited in his letter—House Rule 1 Section 15—appears to only ban a Speaker from replacing chairs if he is elected after committee appointments, which Bonnen was not.
Furthermore, even if Bonnen was elected after committee appointments and subject to this restriction, the rules even allow an exemption for another member of the committee to be designated as committee chair.
Former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi says he interprets the rule to mean that Bonnen has the power to replace committee chairs at his pleasure.
Speaker response to 3 of his chairs goes out of the way to justify keeping chair of Public Safety arrested for felony. Sub (e) of Rule 1:15 gives the only instance in which a speaker is prohibited from replacing chair-when Speaker is elected after committee appointments. #txlege pic.twitter.com/MnTJurlJYX
— Matt Rinaldi (@MattRinaldiTX) November 16, 2019
While the rules were amended to prevent a new speaker elected mid-session from shuffling the deck, it would appear that nothing precludes Bonnen from taking action.
With Bonnen, who has already announced his retirement from the legislature after a scandal of his own, refusing to take action against a Democrat colleague charged with a felony, calls from conservative grassroots to Gov. Greg Abbott for a special session to remedy these internal problems in the legislature before the 2020 elections are becoming even stronger.