During the initial deliberations on the election integrity bill in the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday, a proposed resolution was filed by Republican State Rep. Drew Darby (San Angelo) seeking to change the House Rules to penalize absent House lawmakers going forward.
Notably, the proposal would do nothing to penalize the lawmakers who broke quorum in early July, paralyzing the Texas Legislature for 37 days.
The Fix is In
Not only was the resolution filed Thursday, but it was also immediately referred to the House Administration Committee, who on Friday scheduled a committee hearing to deliberate the proposed change over the weekend.
The resolution already boasts 56 total authors or supporters, including much of the Republican leadership surrounding House Speaker Dade Phelan.
If passed, the resolution itself would allow standing House committees to meet under a call of the House and with written permission from the House speaker. It would also preclude absent lawmakers from participating in those hearings if scheduled. It would create provisions allowing a fine of $500 per day for every day a lawmaker is absent; in the event they do not pay the fines, the resolution would create parameters by which their individual office budget allocations are reduced by 30 percent for every month the fines remain outstanding. Lastly, it would create provisions by which the designation as chairman could be revoked by the House speaker, something many lawmakers and state elected officials argue already is allowed in the existing statutes.
Again, it would only do this for future quorum breaks and would not be retroactive.
The Alternative is Left Languishing
On Monday, two Republican lawmakers used the opportunity of a renewed quorum to request the House’s consideration of penalties for lawmakers who broke quorum, as well as those who remain absent.
One of those lawmakers, State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (Arlington), specifically requested consideration of a proposed House rules change authored by State Rep. Cody Vasut (R–Angleton). Tinderholt indicated that he intended to make a series of motions, assuming he would be recognized by Phelan, to immediately resolve the lawmakers present in the House to what is called a committee of the whole, whereby they could immediately consider such a proposal. After being told to approach the front dais to discuss with Phelan and the House parliamentarians, the resolution was instead referred to the House Administration Committee.
This resolution would provide mechanisms for absent lawmakers to be removed as chairman or vice chairman from any standing House committee if they are unexcused for an absence of more than seven cumulative days in a regular legislative session, unexcused for absence of more than three cumulative days in a special legislative session, or absent for more than 14 cumulative days “with the intent to cause a lack of quorum” during the preceding six months.
It also specifies that any absent lawmaker who does not return under a call of the House within 72 hours automatically has their chairmanships and vice chairmanships taken away.
If added to the House rules, the resolution would only require an additional 25 lawmakers to support such a motion, assuming the appropriate notice is given by the lawmaker making the original motion.
The resolution also continues on to add other provisions to the House rules, such as fines of the absent lawmakers’ per diem as well as stripping them of their seniority privileges without the option to reinstate them.
Notably, this resolution has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, leaving it languishing in the House Administration Committee.
What Does it All Mean?
With 10 days remaining in the second called special legislative session, it looks increasingly likely that House Republican leadership is only interested in penalizing absent lawmakers for future quorum breaks, and will do nothing to penalize lawmakers who held the legislative process hostage for more than a month, leaving Texas taxpayers the ones left holding the proverbial bag.