Today Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus released the full list of House Committee Assignments for the 84th Legislative Session.
The way it was released marked a noted change in behavior from Straus in the past. Speaker Straus has traditionally had the clerk read committee assignments aloud on the House Floor during session informing members for the first time which committees they were going to serve on for the remainder of the session. Today the assignments were announced as a simple press release on the Texas House of Representative’s website a little after 3:30 PM today.
It was a subtle but still noticeable move for the Speaker who entered this Legislative Session on the most powerful terms he’s ever seen with first time record vote re-electing him as Speaker 127-19. Giving his naysayers no political protection, he seemed to offer some diplomatic space between him and any of the 19 members who might not be too pleased with their committee appointments today.
But Straus, never one to rule with too heavy a hand, again let the invisible hand of the House govern itself with members appropriately placed on their respective committees of expertise.
So how’d the Democrats do this year?
One Democrat from El Paso, Joe Pickett, is well placed as Chair of House Transportation, as he was in 2009 when Straus was first speaker. That year Pickett handled a special session reforming a lot of TXDOT with diplomatic ease. As former chair of Homeland Security and Public Safety Pickett let the 2013 Campus Carry legislation out of his committee at the time, something the counterpart Senate committee never allowed. Democrat Armando Martinez will serve alongside Pickett as Vice Chair of Transportation, making this Democratic-led committee one of a kind. This means that Texas might actually get some solid funding for roads this year with less obstruction from Tea Party Republicans who are unwilling fund necessary aspects of our Texas economy.
Other Democrats that received or maintained chairmanships are as follows:
Richard Raymond as chair of Human Services
Harold Dutton as chair of Juvenile Justice and Family Issues
Joe Deshotel as chair of Land and Resource Management
Ruth Jones McClendon as chair of Rules and Resolutions
Carol Alvarado as chair of Urban Affairs
Tracy King as chair of Agriculture and Livestock
Rene Oliveira as chair of Business and Industry
Garnet Coleman as chair of County Affairs
Abel Herrero as chair of Criminal Jurisprudence
Ryan Guillen as chair of Culture Recreation and Tourism,
And of course, Senfronia Thompson has been appointed chair of Local and Consent Calendars (read: Queen of Everything).
How’d the Republicans fare?
Myra Crownover, author of the smoking ban in Texas, is chair of Public Health with Democrat Elliott Naishtat of Austin as Vice Chair. Jodie Laubenberg is inexplicably chair of House Elections. Hopefully she knows more about elections and electronic voting machines than she does about rape kits.
House Calendars – the all-important committee that sets the agenda for what goes on the House Floor and what doesn’t – keeps Republican Todd Hunter of Corpus as its chair with Democrat Eddie Lucio III as Vice Chair.
As for Appropriations, the committee responsible for writing the base budget for the state of Texas this year, it will have a new chair in John Otto, who replaces retiring member Jim Pitts. Pitts served as chair of House Appropriations for 5 sessions. This means the chairs of both House Appropriations and Senate Finance are brand new at their jobs, so we’ll see how well of a learning curve each chamber has. Sylvester Turner of Houston remains Vice Chair and local budget expert Donna Howard keeps her seat on the committee as well.
The House Appropriations will likely divide into subcommittees shortly and will surely be very different than how Senate Finance is already running their committee. Senate Finance has already scheduled all of its hearings to move their budget to the Senate floor in record time – a move that remains to be seen as wise considering Texas is a pretty big state. One might want lawmakers to take their time with so much money at stake. Senate Finance meets tomorrow at 9am but the whole House and Senate are both adjourned for the rest of the week. So until next time I’ll leave you with this anonymous quote:
“No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe when the Legislature is in session.”