In passing its rules for the 88th legislative session on Wednesday, the Texas House provided a daily fine and additional punishments for members who participate in a quorum recess, in severe retribution against the dozens of House Democrats who fled to Washington last session, preventing a Republican.. . controlled house from approving a controversial GOP priority election bill.
Adding a stir to the normally mundane rule-making process, the fines mark the first real row between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives this session and come just a day after the two parties united in a landslide vote to re-elect Rep. Dade Phelan. R-Beaumont, as speaker.
In contrast to paying for a quorum, the Republicans have refused to bow to their party’s ultra-conservative wing, which wants to change House rules to end the long tradition of giving committee chairs to minority party members.
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Members of the House of Representatives scrutinized 21 proposed rule amendments, rejecting divisive measures, including one from Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington requiring committee chairs to sign affidavits saying there are only two genders. and another from Rep. Brian Slayton, R-Royse. City, demanding official statements from committee chairs about whether they support Marxism.
The newly created quorum violation penalty passed 87–59, with three Democrats initially supporting the measure. Two of those Democrats, Rep. Ray Lopez, D-San Antonio, and Armando Valle, D-Houston, confirmed they voted yes by mistake and later changed their votes to oppose the amendment. Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, confirmed that he deliberately voted in favor.
“All he does is codify in the rules what I think the House was already entitled to,” Herrero said.
Under the new rules, members of the House of Representatives absent without permission will be subject to a fine of $500 per day. Notably, the rules prohibit members from paying the fine from campaign funds or from their operating account. Members suspected of breaking the rule will also be subject to “reprimand, censure or expulsion” after being referred to the House Management Committee for investigation and report.
Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, who as chairman of the caucus of the party is the highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said under the state constitution, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are empowered to make rules requiring members to attend. However, a member can only be expelled by a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives, a threshold that Republicans cannot muster in a 150-member House without the support of some Democrats.
Martinez-Fischer of San Antonio, who played a major role in organizing and funding the Democratic quorum break last session, hinted that despite the fines, a quorum break is not out of the question.
“When I woke up this morning, I had the constitutional right to violate the quorum, and when I go to bed tonight, even after these rules have been passed, I still have the constitutional right to violate the quorum if I want to,” Martinez. Fisher said. “Whatever the financial sanctions, when it comes to our democracy, when it comes to what we believe in, a lot of people have turned down a lot more than what we would be asked to give up if we felt we had to.” be principled. stand up for our beliefs and those of our constituents.”
The measure, though, is a blow to a minority party that has little room to fight the Republican Party’s agenda in the Republican-dominated Legislature, which passed a historic wave of conservative laws ranging from abortion to firearms in the last session.
Although Democrats in the District of Columbia delayed a vote on the GOP election bill for several weeks, the bill was eventually passed and became law.
Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, who sponsored the Quorum Penalty Amendment, defended the proposal in a lengthy floor debate.
“The bottom line is that nothing gets in the way (unless) something has even started. The whole idea is, let’s act like a House. Let’s be here, let’s get down to business. But we need to have a procedure,” said Hunter, who also authored a larger set of House rules.
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Application to remove Democratic committee chairs fails
In contrast to the crackdown they have taken against lawmakers who deny a quorum to the House of Representatives, Republicans have repelled the GOP’s push to end the longstanding practice of appointing committee chairs to Democrats.
The decision irritated conservative onlookers who gathered in the gallery on the second day to spur Republican lawmakers through a rule change to require all 34 House committees to have a GOP chairman.
Committee chairs play a vital role in determining which bills move from the committee to the full house for voting.
Texas is the only state in which a significant proportion of leadership positions are given to a minority party. Phelan, who says he supports the practice because he believes it promotes cross-party cooperation, appointed Democratic chairmen to 14 House committees last session. He has yet to appoint committee chairs this year.
“It’s a self-defeating practice,” says Lee Wambsganss, who chairs Patriot Mobile Action, a conservative political action committee.
The fervor against the liquidation of Democratic Party chairs was the basis for a far-sighted challenge to Phelan for Speaker by Tinderholt, the ultra-conservative Republican from Arlington, who received just three votes in Monday’s vote.
Uniformed in red shirts that read “Ban Democrat chairs,” some conservative viewers accused Phelan of quickly scheduling a rules vote for Wednesday to undermine additional protesters who were heading to Austin and due to arrive by bus on Thursday. Phelan denied this to the floor, citing past years when discussion of the rules arose on the second day of the session.
Twice Slayton introduced a rule amendment to end the practice of appointing Democratic committee chairs. Both were killed in order by Rep. Charlie Guerin, a Republican from Fort. It does, and the measures have never been put to a vote.
While Republicans outperformed Democrats with conservative legislation last session, some GOP members say they could do better if conservatives chaired every committee.
They say GOP legislators are too indebted to Phelan and should instead listen to Republican voters who overwhelmingly supported a proposal to stop appointing Democratic committee chairs in the March primary.
“They are literally pointing the finger at all their constituents,” said Dennis London, who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in last year’s GOP primary.
Reporting provided by USA Today correspondent John Moritz.