A group of Republican lawmakers are accusing House Speaker Dade Phelan of disregarding Texas’ constitutional rules by unilaterally deciding to have the House stop conducting business for a long weekend.
During a normal day of a legislative session in the Texas House, any business—such as passing legislation and referring bills—is done while the chamber is in session. When lawmakers break for the day, they adjourn until a time certain when they will reconvene.
On Wednesday night, however, Phelan bucked precedent.
Instead of having the chamber adjourn until a specific day and time, he declared the House would “stand at ease” until Monday or Tuesday as he waits for the Senate to approve some legislation.
While a motion to adjourn requires a vote by members, standing at ease does not.
Republican State Reps. Tony Tinderholt (Arlington), Nate Schatzline (Fort Worth), Steve Toth (The Woodlands), and Brian Harrison (Midlothian) say the maneuver is in violation of the Texas Constitution.
“It is particularly troubling to hear an announcement that the House ‘stands at ease’ for an indefinite period of time—up to five or six days—while the members are conducting no business,” the group wrote in a joint statement. “This appears to violate Article 3, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution which stipulates that one chamber may not adjourn for more than three days without the permission of the other chamber. The Speaker mentioned this was being done to allow messages to come over from the Senate over the weekend. However, there are items on the Governor’s call which still require the House’s attention.”
The 5 to 6 day weekend means the House will not pass school choice during the current special session, as it is slated to end on Tuesday.
“We swore an oath to uphold the Texas Constitution, including the Constitution’s command that one chamber should not abandon the work of the legislature without the permission of the other,” the lawmakers continued. “Speaker Phelan’s decision was made so quickly that we were not given the opportunity to properly object, nor does there seem to be a clear process to object to the Speaker’s unilateral declaration that we are ‘standing at ease.’ Accordingly, we wish to make our concern over the Speaker’s flagrant disregard of the Texas Constitution, our House Rules, and accepted House practice known.”
This is not the first time Phelan and the House have abandoned the legislative process. During the first special session earlier this year, the House adjourned “Sine Die,” after the first day, meaning they would not return for the remainder of the special session—a move meant to force the Senate into accepting their property tax proposal.
Phelan did not comment on the lawmakers’ concerns as of publication.