UPDATED March 25 to include Cain’s letter to Collier.
A partisan power struggle, plus a procedural error, shut down a public hearing in the Texas House on top-tier election reform legislation almost as soon as it began.
Both Republicans and Democrats expected heated debate on House Bill 6, the Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021, during Thursday’s House Elections Committee hearing, and activists on both sides were eager to testify on the measure.
The high-priority comprehensive election reform bill was authored by State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park), who chairs the committee.
When it came time to present his bill, Cain temporarily turned over the gavel to the committee’s vice chair, Democrat State Rep. Jessica González (Dallas).
The night before the hearing, González had taken part in an event hosted by the Texas Democrat Party training Democrat activists how to testify against HB 6.
After members of the committee had questioned Cain about his bill, González tried to call a fellow Democrat not on the committee—State Rep. Nicole Collier (Fort Worth)—to question Cain.
Cain intervened and called for a lunch recess.
González objected, saying she hadn’t relinquished control of the meeting.
“I’m the chair right now,” she said.
Cain replied that he had taken back the chair.
He then moved for a recess a second time, and González objected a second time, pressing Cain to recognize Collier.
Cain said only committee members had the option to question a bill’s author or witnesses, but Collier could participate from the podium like other citizens.
The day before the hearing, Cain had sent a letter to Collier explaining his policy and declining her request to question witnesses from the dais.
González again tried to recognize Collier, telling Cain, “I have not yielded the gavel.”
Cain said that wasn’t necessary. “At all times, the chair is still the chair.”
He once more called for a recess, and his motion carried.
But a half-hour later, Cain returned to the hearing room to announce a procedural error.
Because he failed to say the committee would reconvene at a certain time, he said the rules dictated that the hearing was adjourned for the day.
“After consulting the parliamentarian’s office … pursuant to the rules, today’s hearing has concluded,” he said.
Cain apologized for his error and said the bill, which now has 41 co-authors, will be heard again “soon” by the committee, so the public will have a chance to weigh in on the high-priority proposal.
Election integrity is a Texas GOP legislative priority and the only one also declared an emergency item by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who publicly endorsed “robust” election reform legislation, including Cain’s.
Texans can contact state officials about HB 6 and other issues.
Details about bills, along with resources to help citizens participate in the legislative process, are available at Texas Legislature Online.