On Wednesday, Day 2 of the 88th Legislative Session, the Texas House of Representatives considered House Resolution 4, or the proposed rules that will guide their efforts over the remainder of the legislative session and interim period.
Lawmakers made several attempts to apply additional transparency to the steps of the legislative process, which have proven to be problematic to both lawmakers and the general public alike in assigning accountability for specific actions. Nearly all of the efforts failed.
Record Votes on Legislation Stuck in Committees
Republican State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (Arlington) offered several amendments over the course of the deliberations of the rules resolution. One amendment sought to ensure that legislation that had received a public hearing in committee could be brought to a record vote of the committee members at the request of the author of the legislation. In current practice, legislation could receive a hearing but then linger in the committee itself without ever actually being considered, ending its legislative prospects, often with no explanation to the legislation’s author.
The current practice grants lawmakers the appearance of due diligence, as they initially allow a piece of legislation to a public hearing. With many high-profile pieces of legislation, though, activists travel to the Capitol to offer testimony, which often lasts hours beyond the start of the committee hearing itself. This allows lawmakers to diffuse any accountability for the legislation’s prospects being ended, because it never is officially voted on. In these situations, the public never get to see which lawmakers may have been opposed to such legislation.
Tinderholt offered his amendment, and it failed by a vote of 13 in favor and 136 in opposition. Republican lawmakers who voted in favor included State Reps. Briscoe Cain, Mark Dorazio, Brian Harrison, Richard Hayes, Carrie Isaac, Terri Leo-Wilson, Nate Schatzline, Bryan Slaton, Tinderholt, Steve Toth, Cody Vasut, and Terry Wilson. The lone Democrat lawmaker who voted in favor was State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos.
The Unofficial Practice of “Tagging”
Tinderholt also proposed an amendment seeking to prohibit the practice of “tagging” in the calendars process. Tinderholt has brought this amendment in previous legislative sessions, and lawmakers have historically made efforts to dissuade others that this practice exists. On paper, they are right; but anyone who has ever been privy to the process knows it absolutely is a practice used by many lawmakers over the course of the legislative session.
So, what is “tagging”? It is an informal system that allows a lawmaker to “tag” or make note of a particular piece of legislation that they are opposed to for whatever reason and delay or prevent it from being placed on a calendar for the House of Representatives to consider without having to take a record vote on it, thereby avoiding accountability. It is one of the reasons the calendars committees in the House are ranked as the most powerful, for their gatekeeping capabilities and ability to obfuscate the legislative process.
Tinderholt offered his amendment, and it failed by a vote of 17 in favor and 132 in opposition. Republican lawmakers who voted in favor included Republican State Reps. Benjamin Bumgarner, Briscoe Cain, Mark Dorazio, Brian Harrison, Richard Hayes, Carrie Isaac, Terri Leo-Wilson, Matt Schaefer, Nate Schatzline, Bryan Slaton, Valoree Swanson, Tinderholt, Steve Toth, Ellen Troxclair, Cody Vasut, and Terry Wilson. The lone Democrat lawmaker who voted in favor was State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos.
A Simple Text Overlay
Another amendment, offered by Republican State Rep. Bryan Slaton (Royse City), sought to require that a simple text overlay was displayed on any video broadcast of any House proceedings noting which lawmaker was speaking or being highlighted along with their partisan affiliation.
For those familiar with the legislative process and who choose to view the proceedings via the internet whether live or archived, they know it can be difficult at times to know which lawmaker is speaking or asking questions at any particular time.
Slaton attempted to offer his amendment, but it was swiftly subjected to a point of order, called by Democrat State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (El Paso) on the grounds that it was not germane to the resolution being considered. That point of order was sustained, ending the prospects of the amendment.
What Is Next?
The House rules resolution was successfully adopted, without the aforementioned pro-transparency amendments, meaning the Texas House of Representatives will likely continue to operate as usual, with some obscurity and diffused accountability as a part of the overall legislative process.
The 88th Legislative Session lasts until Monday, May 29, 2023. Barring emergency items declared by the governor, lawmakers cannot consider any legislation of consequence until after the bill filing deadline of Friday, March 10, 2023.