One of the top priorities of the Republican Party in Texas was killed over the weekend when a minority of Republicans joined with Democrats to send the bill back to committee with scarce time for the issue to be revived.

House Bill 208 by House GOP Caucus Chairman Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound) was scheduled to receive a vote on Saturday. The bill would have imposed a stronger state spending limit based on population growth and inflation, a long-time priority of the Republican Party that is overwhelmingly supported by voters. The bill was placed on the call for the current special session by Gov. Greg Abbott and quickly passed the Senate last month.

However, when the bill hit the floor, Democrat Caucus Chairman Chris Turner of Arlington raised a point of order against it, complaining that some of the accompanying documents were not in order. It was the type of objection that has been overruled by the House leadership repeatedly during the past several sessions.

This time, however, House Speaker Joe Straus elected to sustain the point of order. But ten conservative members forced an appeal and the matter was submitted to the whole chamber to decide whether to kill the bill over the paperwork issue.

Parker argued in favor of keeping the bill alive, noting that there are exceptions in the rules to prevent hyper-technical points of order from sidelining major legislation. But when it came time for the debate in favor of killing the bill, Turner didn’t take the field.

Instead, two of Straus’ top Republican lieutenants, including State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth) and State Rep. Sarah Davis (R–West University Place) argued that the bill had to be killed under the rules, not mentioning all the times over the past several sessions their leadership team has ignored the same rule.

The point of order was sustained by a coalition of Democrats and a minority of Republicans, adding to the growing list of times this session that Parker and the Republican majority have been defeated despite having a near super-majority.

A review of the point of order strongly suggests that it was intentionally placed in the bill by House leadership in order to kill it, a tactic they use frequently to obstruct conservative legislation that makes it to the House floor.

In committee, State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R–Round Rock) added extraneous, non-substantive language to the bill declaring that it was the intent of the legislature that dedicated fees be used for their stated purposes. If adopted, the Gonzales amendment would have had no real effect and it is hard to see why it was added, if not for the purpose of simply adding extra material to the bill at the last minute.

The Gonzales amendment was described in a side-by-side comparison of the substitute bill, but no mention of it was added to the “analysis” section of the committee’s report on the bill. Over the past several sessions, points of order relating to omissions of material from bill analyses have been routinely overruled, but this time House leadership used the complaint to kill one of Abbott’s major priorities.

The following Republicans voted with the Democrats to kill the strong spending limits bill:

Trent Ashby (Lufkin); Ernest Bailes (Shepherd); Burkett (Sunnyvale); Button (Richardson); Capriglione (Southlake); Cook (Corsicana); Cosper (Killeen); Darby (San Angelo); Davis, S. (West University Place); Dean (Longview); Flynn (Canton); Frullo (Lubbock); Geren (Fort Worth); Gonzales (Round Rock); Gooden (Terrell); Huberty (Huberty); Hunter (Corpus Christi); Kacal (College Station); King, K. (Canadian); Kuempel (Seguin); Lambert (Abilene); Larson (San Antonio); Morrison (Victoria); Paddie (Marshall); Phelan (Beaumont); Phillips (Sherman); Price (Amarillo); Raney (College Station); Sheffield (Gatesville); Shine (Temple); VanDeaver (New Boston); Wray (Waxahachie); Zerwas (Richmond).

With only two days left, there is very little time left for this vote to not be a fatal blow to spending limits. The Calendars Committee must act quickly to put the companion bill, Senate Bill 9, on the House calendar for a vote before the special session expires on Wednesday.

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.