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Texas House plods toward midnight bill passing deadline

Texas House plods toward midnight bill passing deadline

May 13, 2021
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Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, right, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, left, line up to speak against HB 6, an election bill, in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) AUSTIN — The Texas House worked late into the night […]

Click here to view original web page at www.dallasnews.com


Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, right, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, left, line up to speak against HB 6, an election bill, in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, right, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, left, line up to speak against HB 6, an election bill, in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN — The Texas House worked late into the night Thursday, plodding slowly toward a key bill passage deadline at midnight.

“It feels a little slower than normal,” Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said early in the evening. “There’s a lot more on the calendar we’re not going to get to.”

As the hours ticked away, debate repeatedly lagged and even halted, as lawmakers argued their amendments and fought over procedure. Unlike some years past, there were few flare-ups or particularly contentious debates by late evening.

Lawmakers made “tick tock” jokes and texted each other blooper reels from the first several months of session. They shared barbecue.

Along the way, they also worked slowly through a 25-page calendar. Any House bills that didn’t get a vote on the floor by midnight were effectively dead — although bills can always be resurrected later in the session by tacking them on to other pieces of legislation. Bills that got an initial OK on Thursday still need to get one more vote of approval before heading to the Senate for more debate. The Legislature adjourns on May 31.

Rep. Tom Oliverson, vice chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus, attributed the slow pace, in some measure, to a halting start this year due to the coronavirus. Once under the massive pink dome, however, he said it’s been a comparatively friendly session.

“This is a pretty ‘kumbaya’ year, relatively speaking,” the Cypress Republican said. “We’ve had some pretty prodigious fights about issues that people feel passionately about, that have divided us. But I’ve been impressed at how quickly we seem to be able to move on to the next thing.”

Oliverson said the GOP caucus did not necessarily have a strict game plan heading into Thursday, since they have already passed a number of high-profile bills on abortion, elections, guns and police. One piece of GOP-backed legislation that will likely die due to timing, he noted, was a particularly divisive measure targeting health care for transgender children.

“I’m quite confident we’re not going to get to that,” Oliverson said. “I would have liked to.”

Among those bills that passed were a measure by Dallas Democrat Rafael Anchia to require public high schools to issue student identification cards, and another by Waxahachie Republican and congressional candidate Jake Ellzey to increase the criminal penalty for shining a laser into a police officer’s eyes if it causes damage.

One of the fiercest debates came over a bill that would prohibit the state from contracting with companies that stop doing business with the firearms industry.

Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said there was no one reason for the at-times glacial pace, although he cited the procedural fights and “time-wasting” bills as main explanations. He singled out a bill to require displays at the Alamo in San Antonio to include lessons about the Texians and Tejanos who fought the 1836 battle as well as their “grievances.” Debate on the bill stretched on for over an hour.

Bill author Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, eventually accepted an amendment from Plano Republican Jeff Leach that would require a display noting Texas’ “commitment to continued union” with the United States, perhaps a clapback to his support for the state’s secession.

After the change was accepted, chants of “USA! USA! USA!” echoed out through the chamber.

By early evening, Turner was crossing his fingers that there would be still time to get to a handful of bills Democrats would like to see pass.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get to Rep. [Carl] Sherman’s Bo’s law,” Turner said, referring to the DeSoto Democrat’s bill in honor of Botham Jean, who was fatally shot in 2019 in his apartment by an off-duty Dallas police officer.

He also highlighted a bipartisan effort, authored by Fort Worth Republican Charlie Geren, to make it a state crime to lie on a background check application for a firearm: “I hope we do. Those are good bills.”

Rep. Jessica González, vice chair of the Texas House LGBTQ+ Caucus, was happy the House would not have time to debate access for trans children to gender affirming health care. But she struck a less positive tone than some of her colleagues, noting that even on quieter days, she felt the need to work harder to ensure similar measures weren’t tacked on to other bills.

“We’ve had to be vigilant every day,” González, D-Dallas, said. “[Republicans have] already had a lot of red meat. Do they really need to add trans kids?”

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