On Wednesday, the Texas House met to pass two resolutions dealing with the operation of the body as they begin the 86th Texas Legislature.
House Resolution 3, or the “housekeeping” resolution, increases office budgets by $1,000 per month while the legislature is in session, places limits on the value of gifts members are able to give other committee members, and makes permanent new policies and procedures designed to curb sexual harassment.
Despite the resolution already containing an office budget increase during the legislative session, State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) offered an amendment to maintain the increased level during the interim, arguing that offices needed additional money to hire and maintain staff while the legislature is not in session. The increase was opposed by State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth), the author of the resolution, and the amendment failed to pass, 47 to 81.
No member, however, requested a record vote, shrouding in secrecy the identity of those lawmakers that supported the additional increase in the proposed amendment.
With the amendment defeated, the resolution was then passed unanimously by the body.
Lawmakers then proceeded to House Resolution 4, the main topic of the day, which set the rules for the duration of the session. As filed, the proposed new rules made some tweaks, including changing the makeup and naming of different committees. This is not unusual, especially with a new speaker of the House at the helm.
The original version of the resolution called for raising the threshold of support required of representatives to take bills off of the Local and Consent calendar. In using this calendar rather than the traditional committee process, members are able to use a fast-paced process designed to move through noncontroversial bills, such as those renaming highways after fallen police officers and game wardens, the majority of which is comprised of legislation that will pass without objection.
In recent sessions, however, this fast-track process has been abused as a mechanism for passing substantive legislation that would ordinarily go through a more transparent process. According to previous rules, any bill can be removed from the Local and Consent after garnering five signatures (or if a member speaks for 10 minutes against it).
While the original resolution proposed changing that threshold to 10 members, an early amendment brought the number back down to five after complaints from members, proving to be the only victory for conservatives that day.
Ignoring the “unspoken rule” of newly elected legislators “sitting down and shutting up” while more senior members conduct the House’s business, freshman State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Wallisville) offered an amendment to institute term limits for the speaker of the House and committee chairs. Under his amendment, both positions would have been limited to three two-year terms, or six years total.
“I am bringing this amendment because it is something I have promised my constituents,” said Middleton during his first turn at the chamber’s front microphone.
While the amendment failed to pass (11 to 128), Middleton pushed for and received a record vote detailing which members opposed the effort.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford) also attempted to amend the rules, bringing forward a SREC-endorsed proposal from last session to offer Texans the ability to register their support or opposition to bills from members’ district offices, a practice currently afforded exclusively to Texans that can afford to make the trek to the state Capitol (or live in the Austin area).
The amendment failed 15 to 127 on a record vote. Support for the change was bipartisan, which included several Democrat members voting for the commonsense measure.
Other amendments prioritized by grassroots conservatives, such as measures to make it easier to bring legislation to the floor for a vote, failed to be offered for consideration by any single member of the House.
Like HR3, the housekeeping resolution before it, HR4, the new House rules package, passed the body unanimously.
Under the leadership of newly elected Speaker Dennis Bonnen, with two newly appointed parliamentarians assisting him, Texans will soon see if he intends to live up to his promise to allow the member-driven body to operate according to the rules.
They will also see if the lawmakers they elected intend to stand up for the issues that each campaigned on.
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