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point of order

First shenanigan spotted

There will be more to come, I’m sure, but this will be happening today.

A Tuesday debate over the future of the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry could instead become a showdown over immigration and where transgender Texans use the bathroom.

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations proposed in the Senate’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which House Speaker Joe Straus has decried as “manufactured and unnecessary.” Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer has filed two amendments that would essentially require the Railroad Commission to enact some of the bathroom-related regulations proposed in Senate Bill 6 — a measure that would require people to use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that align with their “biological sex.”

A separate amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, appears to target transgender people by requiring the commission to define women business owners — who can qualify for certain benefits in contracting — on the basis of the “physical condition of being female, as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Schaefer and Tinderholt are members of the socially conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, which is expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other measures. On just the second day of the legislative session, Schaefer, who leads the caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution with language requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

See here for the background. According to the Chron, the bill in question in HB1818. As RG Ratcliffe notes, the amendment will likely be killed by a point of order, but that won’t put an end to the effort. The rest of the session may well turn into an exercise in swatting flies, as I doubt these guys will be deterred by reason, threats, or humiliating defeat. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

There’s also this:

On the immigration front, an amendment by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would require that a company regulated by or contracting with the Texas Railroad Commission certify that it doesn’t hire undocumented workers and charged with perjury if found to have lied. The amendment would also require the commission to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local district attorney if a company CEO or supervisor is in violation of the provision.

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he has no desire to expand state-based immigration enforcement, and doesn’t expect his fellow Democrats to vote for the amendment. It’s symbolic: He wants businesses to be more vocal against what he called extreme immigration proposals the Legislature is considering this session, specifically Senate Bill 4. That measure, passed by the Senate last month and now pending in a House committee, would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and vastly expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police.

“For Republicans to only demonize immigrants but not talk about the insatiable appetite on the part of businesses for immigrant workers is hypocrisy at its best,” he said.

I respect Rep. Anchia and I get what he’s trying to accomplish here. I don’t know if it will work – if nothing else, I’m sure there’s a point of order with this amendment’s name on it as well – but it’s about making a point. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Schaefer’s shenanigan gets averted, while Anchia’s amendment gets adopted.

Someone attempted to do something about MBIA and the Sports Authority

And others expressed their disapproval about it. What the “it” is, and who it was that was trying to do “it” remain unclear.

Who dunnit?

Who dunnit?

A surprise legislative maneuver has local government lobbyists scrambling to defend the agency that pays the debt on Houston’s sports stadiums against an alleged takeover attempt by the company that insures its bonds.

The insurer, MBIA, has hired lobbyists to circulate language that would prevent the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority from spending money on anything other than debt service and legally required payments without its creditors’ approval.

Sports Authority chairman J. Kent Friedman said the draft, which names neither the Sports Authority nor MBIA, appears innocuous at first glance.

“It’s extremely well done. You have to be an insider to know what this really does,” he said. “In effect, they would take over running the Sports Authority. I’m convinced they’ll try to stick it on some other piece of legislation at the end of the session, on the floor so it’ll get as little notoriety as possible, and try to slip it through.”

A Houston-area lawmaker had considered attaching the language to a pending financial transparency bill, Friedman and others said, but quickly dropped it when a lawyer whose feedback he had sought realized its implications. The legislator could not be reached Friday.

[…]

Harris County lobbyist Cathy Sisk called the legislative maneuver “bizarre,” saying the insurer appears to be trying to get lawmakers to do what a judge did not.

“We’ve pretty much alerted everybody in the delegation to watch for it,” Sisk said. “I’d like to think that means it doesn’t have much of a chance of being attached to anything, but you never know. Anything can happen in the Texas Legislature.”

City of Houston lobbyist Kippy Caraway said her team also is on alert.

Kevin Brown, a spokesman for MBIA affiliate National Public Finance Guarantee Corp., said what the firm seeks in its lawsuit against the Sports Authority and the goals of the draft amendment are different.

“The legislation that we have been promoting seeks to achieve greater transparency and accountability from certain governmental entities that are in financial distress,” he said. “The Sports Authority’s opposition to that legislation should raise serious questions for Houstonians and other stakeholders about the authority’s financial condition and the reasons for its objections.”

The draft amendment runs two pages and would apply to a “political subdivision in condition of financial stress,” as defined by five points that describe the Sports Authority.

The amendment says such an entity “may not, unless authorized by (its) creditors” spend money on anything other than debt service, payments required by law or a contract, or to maintain its assets. The draft also would, among other things, require the entity to submit to its creditors a plan stating how it will address its financial woes.

See here, here, and here for the background on MBIA and the Sports Authority. Frankly, the most important piece of information in this article is that the Chair of the Sports Authority is now being referred to as “J. Kent Friedman” again, after a brief run of being called “Kenny Friedman”. Whether this represents a return to copy-editing standards on the part of the Chron or the documenting of a brief midlife crisis on Friedman’s part also remains a mystery.

Things that the story left a mystery:

1. The identity of the legislator. Why wouldn’t you just say who the legislator was? So what if he couldn’t be reached for a comment by the time the story went to print? The fact that this amendment was drafted and this legislator was shopping it around before pulling it back isn’t in dispute, so no one’s reputation is on the line. What purpose is being served by holding back this information?

2. The full text of the amendment. Reporter Mike Morris has clearly seen it, since he quotes from it, but it runs two pages and all we get is a couple of sentence fragments. The amendment was apparently not filed, since I can’t find it via an amendment search using the phrase “political subdivision in condition of financial stress” or a combination of the words. But clearly it exists, so a document could be made of it and uploaded somewhere for the rest of us to see.

3. The bill that the unnamed legislator was going to try to attach it to. At this point in the session, it could only be attached to a Senate bill, and if adopted it would thus require a conference committee to get the different versions straightened out for final votes. If we knew the Senate bill in question, we could then ask the Senate author what he or she thinks of this maneuver. Given all of the sturm und drang we’ve seen recently, that might have made for a more interesting story than the one we got.

As it happens, from prior communication I’ve had with MBIA representatives, I was able to get answers to these questions. The bill in question was SB14, specifically the committee substitute CSSB14, authored by Sen. Tommy Williams. The House legislator was Rep. Jim Pitts, who was the House sponsor for the bill. I don’t know how you can call Rep. Pitts, who is based in Waxahachie, a “Houston-area lawmaker”, but I suppose that’s a minor quibble at this point Rep. Jim Murphy. The amendment, which was drafted but not officially filed, is here. Again, I’m not sure why this information wasn’t in the story. Be that as it may, MBIA disputed Friedman’s contention that this was an attempt to “take over” the agency, saying that the main purpose of the legislation was to enhance transparency and accountability. At last report, a point of order had been sustained against CSSB14 in the House, so this is all likely moot at this point. But we still should have known more about what was happening at the time.

UPDATE: I have since been informed by Judge Emmett’s office that the legislator was Rep. Jim Murphy, not Rep. Jim Pitts. I suspect this was a matter of confusing one Jim for another.

Point of disorder

New House, new rule.

"Objection Overruled", by Charles Bragg

The Texas House’s Democratic minority was dealt a blow Monday when the House passed an amendment to the chamber’s rules to limit legislators’ ability to derail a bill based on clerical errors. Calling “points of order” on such errors is a strategy lawmakers have often used to block measures they oppose.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, authored the amendment to the House rules to limit abuse of typographical mistakes to kill legislation. Points of order on those types of mistakes send bills back to committee to be corrected before they can return to the floor to be voted on.

“The practice has been to allow bill after bill after bill to be defeated because a clerk at midnight, a sleepy and tired 25-year-old, made a typographical error,” King said. “That’s just not appropriate.”

Several Democrats and one Republican spoke against the provision, arguing that it weakens minority power. Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, said the amendment takes “tools out of the toolbox” for the minority party.

Since Republicans became the House majority in 2002, Democrats have often called points of order on the paperwork, including committee minutes and reports, that accompanies legislation. Under the new rule, a point of order may be overruled if it is “substantially fulfilled and the violation does not deceive or mislead.”

You can see the amended rule here. This is potentially a big deal, because Democrats have indeed been very adept at using points of order, known colloquially and amusingly as POOs, to stymie, delay, and sometimes kill outright bills they don’t like. Not just Democrats, of course, as anyone familiar with the oeuvres of Robert Talton and Arlene Wohlgemuth can attest, but it’s certainly been the main arrow in their quiver these past few sessions. Limiting their ability to wield this weapon will limit their ability to influence the outcomes. Having said that, I do have some sympathy for what Phil King says. There’s not really a principle behind POOs, and as they say about holding in the NFL, you could probably find such errors on every bill if you wanted to. It’s a matter of how much sway the minority is allowed, and how much authority the majority thinks it ought to have to enact its agenda. How you feel about these things is almost certainly directly proportional to your feelings about the majority and minority parties in the legislative body in question.

It occurs to me that this is also a potential trap for Speaker Straus. If he takes this rule to heart and regularly slaps down POOs he deems to be non-worthwhile, that could galvanize Democrats to abandon him and coalesce around a future challenger like David Simpson, who by the way was one of three Republicans (Jim Keffer and Gary Elkins were the other two) to vote against this amendment. If he continues to let Democrats knock bills down – and note that as a general rule, POOs only delay bills by a few days, so except in deadline situations they can be fixed and re-introduced; this happened several times last session – he’s unlikely to endear himself to his Republican critics. I think Straus is smart and slick enough to walk the tightrope, but it will be a challenge. BOR, Rep. Mike Villarreal, Trail Blazers and Texas Politics have more.

UPDATE: More from the Observer.

Another point of order delays Eissler’s school bill

HB400, the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler that among other things raises the 22:1 student:teacher limit in grades K-4, came up for debate last night after the “sanctuary cities” bill got sidetracked by a point of order. Here was the original AP story about this bill going into the debate.

Districts could increase class sizes, cut employee pay and give teachers unpaid furloughs under the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. Schools could also wait until the end of the academic year to notify teachers that contracts won’t be renewed. Current law says teachers have to be notified 45 days before the end of the year.

GOP House leaders say the bill will free schools from state mandates while saving teacher jobs. They say districts have been begging for more leeway in dealing with lower funding because of massive budget reductions.

“These changes should have been made a long time ago,” Eissler said, citing current law that only gives school districts the option of laying off teachers.

But key teacher groups statewide say the bill will devastate educators and their ability to stay in the classroom. They say Eissler’s bill is launching an attack on educators that will result in severe pay cuts and make it even easier to fire teachers.

[…]

Teacher advocates argue that the reforms Eissler seeks should be temporary, much like a Senate bill that allows teacher furloughs and salary reductions only while the state faces a budget crisis.

Democrats in the House argued that the bill was just paving the way for legislators to continue underfunding public schools.

“This is a conciliation bill that says we are prepared to downsize and dumb down the educational system of Texas,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “It is nothing to do about quality education, nothing to do about excellence, and everything to do with us not wanting to spend one additional dollar from the rainy day fund.”

Eissler did give some ground on these points as the debate opened.

Eissler, R-The Woodlands, demonstrated he came ready to deal when he offered an amendment from the floor that kept the 22-1 class size ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade but made it significantly easier from districts to get a waiver exemption as long as they maintained a 22-1 district wide average. And teachers’ groups scored a victory when Eissler agreed to make the bills’ measures temporary — something he previously said he would not do.

“As much as I hate weakening our 22-1 law at all, all I’m saying is that if we have to do it, we should sunset it,” said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, the author of the amendment.

Eissler initially said he believed making the measure temporary would be “creating havoc” in school districts. But after a few moments of deliberation, he approved the amendment.

That sunsetting would be for the 2014 school year. These gains did not stop the bill from being put on hold by another point of order from Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, who had previously stalled the “sanctuary cities” bill as well.

[Martinez-Fischer] objected to Eissler’s bill because the committee minutes reflect that Rep. Todd Smith, R- Euless, offered a committee substitute for the bill, but the bill printing says it was offered by Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

“So you either have a committee meeting problem, or you have a printing problem,” Martinez Fischer said.

“But – you don’t have a chairman problem,” he said within earshot of Eissler.

The San Antonio legislator told Eissler he could have avoided the problem had only he “put in his two cents” and influenced House Speaker Joe Straus to make Martinez Fischer a chairman. Eissler and Straus are close allies.

“I’d be fixing all these bad bills,” Martinez Fischer said.

“That’s why I love Trey,” Eissler responded.

This morning, Speaker Straus upheld the point of order, saying the bill needed to be reprinted, so it will be Monday at least before it can come back to the floor. Seems like some Republicans must have been expecting this, because many of them didn’t show up on Saturday, enough to endanger the quorum in the House. Despite some frayed tempers, it appears that the House did indeed still have a quorum, and after a motion to stifle debate, the House rammed through the so-called “loser pays” rule, which was the most recent “emergency” declared by Rick Perry, then finally adjourned for the weekend. Monday is going to be a lot of fun.

Sanctuary cities bill delayed

Another point of order sends another “emergency” bill back to committee.

The controversial “sanctuary cities” bill hit a roadblock in the Texas house late Friday when a point of order derailed the legislation and knocked it off the calendar.

The bill, HB 12, by state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting a policy that prevents law enforcement from asking persons lawfully detained or arrested if they are in the country legally. Minority groups and immigrants’ rights groups oppose the bill, alleging that it will promote racial profiling and open up legal residents and citizens to harassment by police officers.

The roadblock, which materialized five hours after lawmakers began debating the bill, is the result of an error on a witness affirmation form. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, called the point of order because, he said, a member of the State Affairs Committee, where the bill was heard, filled in a section of the form for a person scheduled to testify. Witnesses are asked to indicate whether they are for a bill, against it or neutral. In this case the witness left the section blank, and the lawmaker filled it in. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks, a member of the committee, said there was no way to determine that the position indicated was truly what the witness meant to convey.

Martinez Fischer and Geren declined to name the lawmaker, but both said it was “absolutely” a mistake.

Trail Blazers has more, and you can get a blow-by-blow from the Trib’s liveblog. It’s a temporary win – the bill will be back on the calendar on Monday – but sometimes it’s not about whether you win or lose but how you fight. This is something the Dems need to fight.

For what it’s worth, yesterday’s Chron had a story about how law enforcement agencies across the state were speaking out against HB12 on the grounds that it would be a huge unfunded mandate on them; Rick Perry dismissed their concerns, because what does he care? Many of the Democratic amendments that were brought up before the point of order attempted to give police departments and Sheriff’s offices some discretion, but they were all knocked down. I always am amused by those who rail about the oppressive federal government trying to impose its will on helpless innocent states gleefully pushing legislation like this that would impose more state control over cities. And all this happened on the same day that Perry’s “unfunded mandates” committee released its report, though without mentioning this particular bill. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.

On a side note, the early derailment of this bill meant that HB400, the bill that would raise the class size limit, among other things, had the time to be taken up.

The next step for voter ID

Very likely, the courthouse.

While the Democrats have little chance of stopping the bill from getting the votes to pass, this particular piece of legislation may very well be tied up in lawsuits for years. And today, Democrats can lay some of the groundwork for those future cases.

As I wrote when the Senate passed this piece of legislation, this particular voter ID bill would be the most stringent in the nation—more stringent, even, than the Indiana bill that it’s based on. Currently, it only allows five forms of photo identification and only exempts people over 70. The Indiana law allows student IDs from state universities to count—our version doesn’t. And while the Indiana version gives folks missing suitable ID ten days after they voted to bring it in, the Texas version only gives voters six days. Many worry the bill would suppress voter turnout, particularly among the poor and black and Latino voters. In fact, the legislation is so dramatic that after it passed the Senate, I called Wendy Weiser, the director of Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. In addition to having one of the better titles I’ve heard, Weiser is an expert on voting rights.

Weiser said Texas was going to have a tough time implementing the law—despite the widespread legislative support. That’s because our fine state is one of seven singled out in the Voting Rights Act Section 5. Thanks to our history of discriminatory election law—poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. the Voting Rights Act requires that we get the okay from the Department of Justice or the courts before implementing certain changes to our election law, a process known as “preclearance.”

Because of its stringency, this bill will undoubtedly get a close look—and Weiser said that the legislative debate around the bill can play a role in determining whether or not it violatese the Voting Rights Act. For instance, if the Legislature rejects amendments that would make it easier for certain groups to obtain IDs, that could send up red flags for the Department of Justice. The legislative debate, Weiser said, “is relevant the extent to which the state takes proactive efforts to make sure that law is not excluding groups.”

This would be why GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor wanted Democrats to keep quiet and allow the bill to pass as it inevitably would without any fuss. This would also be why it’s never a good idea to take advice from your political counterparts. Fortunately, the Democrats are smart enough to recognize this for what it is, and in the end they stalled the House vote for at least a day via a point of order. That sent the bill back to the Calendars committee, where this issue was fixed and the bill voted out again, so the process can repeat itself as early as Wednesday. This would also be why Governor Perry declared voter ID and all those other silly, pointless things “emergency” items: It put them at the front of the calendar, which leaves sufficient time to correct errors like this one, which was about “days” versus “business days”. Later on in the session, what kills these bills isn’t necessarily the point of order but the lack of time to go through committee again.

Anyway. Greg does his usual bang-up job of liveblogging, which you need to read to understand just how ridiculous this exercise is. Stace, Eileen, Texas Politics, TrailBlazers, and Postcards have more.

Sonogram bill delayed in the House

Delayed for a day, at least.

House lawmakers today launched into debate over their version of an abortion sonogram bill — one that is more stringent than the measure that passed the Senate last month. But after hours of delays over technicalities, lawmakers voted to send the bill back to committee, with the goal of bringing it back to the floor tomorrow.

HB 15, authored by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, would require a doctor performing an abortion to conduct a sonogram on the woman at least 24 hours ahead of the procedure. (The Senate version sets a two-hour mandate.)

The doctor would also show the woman the sonogram image, play the audible heartbeat for her and describe what appears on the sonogram, including the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of arms or legs. (In the Senate version, the woman would be able to opt out of viewing the sonogram or hearing the heartbeat, though she’d still have to hear the description. In the House version, there’s no penalty if the woman opts out of viewing the sonogram or hearing the heartbeat.)

While the House bill excepts women experiencing a medical emergency, it makes no exception for women who have been the victim of rape or incest, which the Senate version does.

The “technicality” in question was related to a point of order.

The point of order was raised on House Bill 15 because the Committee Chair took testimony on the issue, but not on the actual bill. Those who testified on the bill testified on the topic, or “matter” of the bill, and once their testimony was over, the bills were laid out. This goes against years of House precedent, where a bill is laid out and then testimony is taken on the specific legislation. Additionally, the initial ruling on the Chair, which is currently being revisited, suggested that House Chairs would no longer have to follow the five-day posting requirement in order to hear testimony on a “matter” the Committee has jurisdiction over.

By rewriting the rules, House Republicans are side-stepping the established and essential witness process for bills. Removing the public testimony on all legislation would be a grave and dangerous precedent for House Republicans to establish, and would seriously undermine the open government process Democrats have fought for years to protect.

That point of order, raised by Reps. Yvonne Davis and Trey Martinez-Fischer, was upheld, so back to committee it goes. I don’t know if this means that there will be further testimony – you would have to think so, or else the underlying issue would seem to be unresolved. We’ll see. In the meantime, kudos to State Rep. Carol Alvarado for clearly demonstrating just how literally intrusive this abominable bill will be, and remember that if people like Rep. Sid Miller really cared about saving lives, he’d support more spending on contraception, which would also save money in the long run on health care and reduce the number of abortions, too. But that’s not what this is all about, so never mind.

UPDATE: Christy Hoppe has a good explanation of what happened with the point of order.

Let the shenanigans begin!

Boy, we only thought voter ID would not be brought up in the House till next week. Apparently, Rep. Betty Brown tried to attach a voter ID bill she has pending in its entirity to HB71, an otherwise fairly innocuous bill “relating to the establishment of a program to provide a ballot by electronic mail to military personnel serving overseas and their spouses and dependents residing overseas”. The amendment was not germane to the bill caption and would likely have been knocked out on a point of order, but in the end the amendment was withdrawn and the fight was saved for another day. As Burka notes, don’t expect this to be the only time such a maneuver is attempted. One way or another, the Republicans will do everything in their power to push this through, even as Elections Chair Todd Smith tries to strike a conciliatory tone. All of which is makes the Heflin plan seem that much less crazy.