As part of his proposal to promote safety in schools in the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott encouraged the legislature to study a few areas during the interim for potential policy changes for the upcoming legislature.
Just hours after Abbott’s press conference, retiring Speaker Joe Straus announced he was giving the first charge… to a Democrat-led committee.
The charge, which was given to the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, is as follows:
Review the applicable portions of the state’s penal laws and make legislative recommendations regarding whether existing protective order laws are sufficient or could be amended to include ‘red flag’ or mental health protective orders or whether ‘red flag’ or mental health protective orders should be independently created to allow law enforcement, a family member, a school employee, or a district attorney to file a petition seeking removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person and providing for mental health treatment for the potentially dangerous person, while preserving the fundamental rights of the Second Amendment and ensuring due process.
Chairing this committee is State Rep. Joe Moody (D–El Paso).
Not only is Moody a liberal Democrat, he is also the statewide political director for Beto O’Rourke’s campaign against US Sen. Ted Cruz.
Notably, Moody wrote a bill last session that would have allowed courts to confiscate Texans’ guns without notice or a hearing, and extend such an order for up to two years without giving the accused a right to a jury or a right of appeal.
Moody has been a fierce opponent to gun rights, repeatedly attacking the NRA and gun owners on social media.
Why then would Straus give one of the governor’s gun safety proposals to an anti-gun liberal Democrat?
It could be seen as just another symptom of a larger problem created by Straus and his governing coalition with the Democrats. House Democrats chair a third of the chamber’s committees, and half of all House Democrats are either a committee chair or vice-chair. Since Moody chairs the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, and that’s where Straus wanted to send the charge, Moody gets to handle it.
However, even with the existing committees stacked with Democrats, Straus had other options at his disposal. The charge primarily relates to the creation of a civil cause of action, not a new criminal statute, and so it would have more appropriately been given to the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee chaired by State Rep. John Smithee, a Republican from Amarillo.
Or Straus could have followed the lead of his counterpart in the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick created a Select Committee on School Violence that is chaired by two Republican Senators to take up the charge in the upper chamber. Straus too could have established a select committee and given the chairmanship to any Republican that wasn’t staunchly antagonistic to gun rights.
Instead, a liberal Democrat who frequently attacks the NRA and is helping run Beto O’Rourke’s campaign gets to write Abbott’s gun bill. That’s the result because that’s what Straus wanted.
This situation highlights one of the many problems with the coalition that brought Straus to power in the first place. Originally elected Speaker by House Democrats and a minority of Republicans, Straus has continued to allow Democrats to wield a disproportionate share of power in the lower chamber, while shutting conservative Republicans out of the process.
Meanwhile, Moody has celebrated the opportunity given to him by Straus, letting the anti-gun groups Texas Gun Sense and Moms Demand Action know he would use his committee to build consensus around a so-called “red flag” law.
While Straus will no longer be presiding over the body come January, the possibility remains for another “coalition” speaker to replace him. Conservatives must fight diligently against such a possibility.
UPDATE: The first hearing of the committee has been set for June 25.