Regardless of one’s ideological leanings, Texans deserve legislators who conduct themselves with the integrity their duty requires. Straus-lieutenant, Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), has proven time and again that he’s either incapable or unwilling to do so.
Throughout his career, he’s been an enemy to limited, fiscally responsible government, earning an “F” on TFR’s 2013 Fiscal Responsibility Index. Behind closed doors, it gets far worse.
Last session, he abused the Local and Consent Committee’s expeditious process to quietly amend SB 611, a measure that expanded the eminent domain power of “certain” water districts. SB 611 originally dealt with the authority of districts to charge fees and levy assessments.
But to understand just how nefarious Geren’s tactic was, one must first understand the Local and Consent process and purpose. Non-controversial bills unanimously passed out of their respective committee and “local in nature” are referred to the Local and Consent Calendars Committee. Its purpose is to expedite legislation.
But Geren waited to amend SB 611 after the bill was sent to Local and Consent, where only the names of bills (not the text) are read and passed in rapid-fire-succession as part of a calendar containing literally hundreds of measures. The below video allows you to watch the actual process in action.
A record vote on the first bill of the entire calendar’s block of legislation gets applied to every bill. In other words, members don’t cast a vote for each separate bill, only the bundle. Often times, they aren’t even present. To record opposition to a bill, a member must verbally notify the clerk ahead of time or during the process.
The approval of an amendment at this stage does not require a live record vote by House members, only the nod of the Local and Consent Committee. And for a member to stop Geren’s change, one would have to know SB 611 was amended. No one protested the change, and as the final record shows, the bill passed 147-0.
As an important aside, Geren’s provision wasn’t non-controversial nor was it local in nature. It gives certain water districts, like the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), sovereign immunity in eminent domain disputes with preservation districts. It also allows districts to overrun protected property across Texas.
Geren’s public record is riddled with other sneaky, taxpayer-abusing favors for local politicians in Tarrant County.
In 2005, he slipped HB 2639 through on Local and Consent which converted the same TRWD into an economic development slush-fund financier. As a result, the “water” district annually diverts up to 70% of its general fund (over $50 million) away from water-related services towards “economic development” projects—all of which is overseen by a non-transparent subsidiary run by J.D. Granger, Congressman Kay Granger’s son.
Geren also helped extend the terms of TRWD board members on two separate occasions over fears that voters may send them packing. The board has a long history of alleged TOMA violations and refusals to fully comply with records requests by taxpayers, its own board member Mary Kelleher, and several state legislators.
Recently, the run-away TRWD was caught ignoring complaints by forty-three landowners in an eminent domain dispute. Evidence surfaced that they lied to residents who were promised their property would not be condemned. The district temporarily halted their abrupt condemnation proceedings the week after we broke the story last year.
House members, including Straus and his appointees, have tolerated a loose adherence to both the House rules and the propriety of business placed before the Local and Consent Committee. And although Geren used crooked tactics, members in both parties have allowed it, perhaps because many still believe Texans aren’t paying attention.
The brightness of our state’s future will rely upon citizens who stand ready to prove those representatives wrong in non-partisan fashion. Citizen engagement isn’t only necessary for our continued prosperity—it’s also the right thing to do.