State politicians often assert that they’re going to Austin so they can “get stuff done,” but such a charge demands review. At this point, we’re well past the halfway point in this regular session for members of the 84th Legislature. They’ve been “working” for 3 months now, so what have they accomplished?
So far this year, the Texas Legislature has only passed two new laws:
- SB 219 consolidates even more agencies into the bloated and mismanaged Health and Human Services Commission(HHSC). The bill has made it through both chambers and is sitting on Gov. Abbott’s desk.
- SB 293 unconstitutionally allows additional entities to be eligible for grants from the Major Events Trust Fund, specifically ESPN, NASCAR, and Ultimate Fighting Championship(UFC).
While hardly the priorities promised during the “conservative” campaign season, these are the measures that were speedily shepherded through both chambers.
Do any Texans remember campaign ads about increasing government funding for NASCAR or UFC? Did HHSC make it into any mailers from “conservative” Republican candidates? Not likely. Despite the fact that lawmakers (and even Gov. Abbott) campaigned on reform priorities such as tax relief, ending transportation diversions, and gun rights, none of those measures have made it into law yet.
So whose fault is it?
Certainly not the Texas Senate. Under the new leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, members of the upper chamber are actually following through on their promises. After abolishing the 2/3rds Rule as pledged, they’ve been working expediently and efficiently to pass substantial reforms. The Senate has approved property tax relief, dedicated transportation funding, business tax recalibrations and cuts, gun rights legislation, contracting reform, and other items conservatives have been asking for—over ninety (90) bills in total.
In stark contrast, the Texas House hasn’t done much of anything. Thankfully, they’ve graduated from recognizing Boy Scout troops and wedding anniversaries, but what have they actually passed? Only eight bills so far, including a toothless border security measure that legislators thumped their chests over, while admitting that it did not secure the border. Also approved (despite magical voting machines that allegedly malfunction at the most opportune times) was a redundant, problematic nanny state texting-while-driving ban, and a bloated budget bereft with bailouts for special interests—without even a dime dedicated to tax relief. Meanwhile, bills sent over from the Senate are currently stalled, each one held hostage by liberal House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who has refused to refer any of them to committee.
For those watching closely inside the Austin bubble, it’s the standard procrastination procedure by Straus. Astute observers know that in government, especially a 140-day session, delay is death. By simply stalling and legislative foot dragging, Straus can stymie the Texas Senate from passing the legislation that the people of Texas have asked for without the political cost of voting against it on the record. It’s not a new trick, we predicted such a scenario at the beginning of the legislative session and Straus has already shown that he is willing to postpone and procrastinate key House legislation.
“The bills that are going to originate from the Senate this session are going to be much more conservative than you’ve ever seen historically in Texas,” said Villalba in January. “The House is going to be the adult in the room. You’re going to see a number of bills come from the Senate into the House and that’s where you’re going to see them die.”(audio)
Refusing to even refer legislation is the governmental equivalent of taking your ball and going home if you aren’t winning, yet Straus is somehow the “adult in the room?” If Straus is truly the “Reaganesque” leader his most vocal allies claim him to be, he would speed things along. Both bills that have already passed did so less than a week after they were received from the Senate and were referred on that same day. However, doing so would run anathema to reality and upset his political base that’s largely disinterested in conservative reforms.
After all, Democrats and liberal Republicans originally placed Straus in power. It should come as no shock that open carry legislation has been waiting for weeks and transportation funding reform for over a month—all with no action by the Speaker.
Though Texans have every right to be angry, they shouldn’t be surprised. Everything Straus has done has been exactly what both his critics and supporters alleged would happen if re-elected. Nineteen Republican House members knew as much and voted for State Rep. Scott Turner (R-Rockwall) instead. When this session is over, they will be able to tell their constituents that they voted against a leader that intentionally killed conservative reforms to appease Democrats and squishy Republicans.
If Straus’ Republican enablers want to bring results and not excuses back to their communities, they may want to start holding the Speaker responsible. If not, voters will rightly hold them accountable.