Right out of the gate, House Republicans are using their super majority to completely rewrite thirty years of precedent in the Texas House and could, depending on an official legal ruling that everyone at the Texas Capitol has been waiting on for almost two hours, create an opportunity for the elimination of all public testimony on legislation.
Here's what's going on:
The House of Representatives is taking up their first bill of the session right now, House Bill 15. That particular piece of legislation requires women to receive a sonogram before having an abortion. While discussing the ridiculous nature of the bill, a point of order was called on the legislation. For those not familiar with the official procedures of the Texas House, a point of order is called if the legally required procedures for the passage of legislation are not followed correctly. A point of order has the effect of removing the bill from the Calendar.
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.
In summary, we could witness a dramatic return to the days of Speaker Craddick unless the ruling from the House Chair comes down differently, only instead of one Speaker Craddick, every Committee Chair would become a Craddick with the newly created power to refuse any and all public testimony on legislation.