With sine die and the end of the legislative session drawing near, the window is rapidly closing for Republican lawmakers to deliver on the campaign promises that propelled them to victory. Nobody campaigned on the status quo; rather they advocated for less regulations, limited government, greater transparency, tax relief, gun rights, and protecting the unborn. However, at this point there’s been a stubborn idleness in the Texas House to address many of the aforementioned issues.
Such inaction is no accident. As was predicted with the continuation of the Straus regime, the Chamber’s agenda is defined by the same Democrats and liberal Republicans whom he chooses to empower. Rather than pass the reforms they promised to voters, they’ve chosen a simple strategy to deal with conservative legislation: delay as long as possible, destroy as much as possible, and dilute what still survives.
A clear example of weaponizing the process can be found on the issue of campus carry. Killed in previous sessions by Straus and Co., the bill this session, filed in January, was once again sponsored by State Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress). Doing his part, Straus threw two road blocks against campus carry.
He first delayed referring the legislation to committee for over a month before passing the ball to his lieutenant, Chairman Larry Phillips (R-Sherman). Phillips then delayed until the end of March before voting the bill out, and then another two weeks to even file the report to the Calendars Committee on April 15th.
Then on April 17th, when the House was considering open carry, Fletcher moved to add campus carry on an amendment, but Straus bowed to Democrats who threatened to break quorum—Fletcher yanked down the amendment.
The significance of the delay cannot be overstated. The House rules dictate that the Calendars Committee must vote on a bill within 30 days of receiving it. However, the delay in referral until April 15th shifts that deadline to May 15th – three days after May 12th, the last day that Calendars can schedule a floor vote. While the window for passage isn’t completely closed yet, it’s clear that Straus, Phillips, and Calendars Chairman Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) have colluded in order to give themselves the option to kill it quietly.
“On Calendars, [Straus] has appointed his closest (allies). Calendars decides what bills get to the floor for a vote,” said Villalba. “I can tell you right now most bills die in Calendars… because Calendars is, again, loyal to the speaker and loyal to the folks who are trying to get things done.”
To borrow an expression from Mr. Villalba, the “folks who are trying to get things done” aren’t in House leadership, they’re in the Senate. The same issue provides stark contrast to the way the Senate has operated under the leadership of Lt. Gov Dan Patrick. The bill was filed on the same day as the House legislation, but the similarities end there. Rather than be delayed it was referred to committee two days after it was filed, heard two weeks after that, and passed rapidly. Leaving the Senate in March, it’s been collecting dust along with a host of other Senate bills on Straus’ desk.
Though the clock is ticking, there is enough time left in the session for conservatives to advance the very same causes in the legislature that they espoused on the campaign trail—if they act quickly. Otherwise they’ll have to bring excuses rather than results back to voters.