What’s Wrong With the Texas Legislature? Here’s a Clue…

If you don’t know what’s wrong with Austin, a recent article in the Dallas Morning News should give you a few clues:

AUSTIN — As lawmakers scramble to pass thousands of bills during the legislative session’s final weeks, one House committee wields the power to decide which legislation will see the light of day on the floor and which will die an unceremonious death.

 

Once a committee advances legislation, the filter of the full House’s work — the Calendars Committee — must then schedule it for floor debate. And this week, with a key House deadline looming, committee members are at the height of their power.

 

To outsiders, the powerful 15-member group largely works in the shadows, shrouded by its esoteric procedures.

 

At the committee’s daily meetings, Chairman Rep. Todd Hunter rapidly lists off bills by their numbers, and committee members vote on whether to schedule the bill for a House vote. There is little discussion, and the meetings are so short that many committee members don’t even bother to take seats.

 

How the committee makes its final decisions, which bills out of the nearly 400 currently pending get a chance, and exactly what powers the members have to stall or push legislation is murky. The real action takes place among committee members, other legislators and lobbyists in private conversations.

 

“It’s a process — you try to be fair, you try to be open, but it’s really a member-on-member process,” said Hunter, R-Corpus Christi….

 

The House speaker loads the committee with trusted allies, usually veterans who can advance the leadership’s agenda — and insulate him from criticism by members whose bills never get to the floor.

 

Former Plano Republican Rep. Brian McCall, who ran the panel for Speaker Joe Straus last session, liked to say that there are two people who can veto a bill: the governor and the chairman of House Calendars…

One of the main powers members have is an informal practice of holding up certain bills for consideration — some call it tagging. Hunter said that he doesn’t use that term, but when members explain their concerns about a bill, he will avoid scheduling it until such concerns are resolved.

 

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