Members of the Texas House are leaving Austin this week with decidedly less power than they had when they arrived.
Amending bills on the floor was once considered an almost sacred right of every member of the state’s lower legislative chamber, limited only by constitutional restrictions and “germaneness” as determined by fellow members. That went out the window on Tuesday, when House Speaker Joe Straus assigned to himself the ability to now “determine” whether amendments can be offered… without lawmakers having any ability to question or challenge it.
The decision comes as Straus seeks to keep conservatives from offering amendments dealing with popular measures that threaten his Austin lobby cronies or undermine the Democratic Party platform. It’s an autocratic power move that threatens the basic constitutional structure of the Texas legislature.
Ironically, the Democrats and 11 Republicans used a similar action taken by former House Speaker Tom Craddick (R–Midland) as their public excuse to depose him in favor of Straus in 2009.
The chairman of the House Republican Caucus, State Rep. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, has stood silently by as GOP initiatives have been actively opposed by Straus’ leadership team. And like a household eunuch in the kingdoms of old, Parker has rendered himself politically impotent through his own silence at the dismantling of conservative priorities by his legislative patron.
On Thursday, members of the Texas House were back at it when they gave up their ability to amend the budget by rejecting a motion by State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) that would have given them more time to review the document and prepare amendments. The House Appropriations committee finished their work on a bloated, gimmick-laden budget late Wednesday, yet members have only until 10am Monday to finish reviewing the more than $200 billion budget and offer correcting or perfecting amendments.
Leach wanted members to have more time, but Straus’ team urged lawmakers to oppose the motion and thereby limit their own input. Only 16 members of the House voted with Leach. They included:
Cecil Bell, Dwayne Bohac, Dustin Burrows, Briscoe Cain, Harold Dutton, Patrick Fallon, Matt Krause, Mike Lang, Matt Rinaldi, Scott Sanford, Matt Schaefer, Jonathan Stickland, Valoree Swanson, Tony Tinderholt, Jason Villalba, and Bill Zedler.
It’s bad enough that Straus consolidated power unto himself; it’s worse that lapdog legislators decided to help him. Either way, taxpayers suffer when their representatives are stripped of the ability to add meaningful input into the legislative process.