by Joel Kissell, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
The first major hurdle towards the end of the Texas legislative session is over. At midnight, on Thursday, May 11th, any bill originating in the House of Representatives was effectively dead if it had not received a vote on the floor. Some of those bills may still find their way through the legislative process—if their companion bill is passed in the Senate and sent to the House for approval or as an amendment added to other legislation—but the majority of these bills will have their next opportunity in two years when the legislature reconvenes. The days were long in the Legislative Study Group as we put together our analyses for bills, many of which would probably not get their moment, watching our legislators work their way through the bills from last Monday’s calendar on Thursday night.
Over the course of the week leading up to this deadline, several members took time to give speeches to their colleagues about their bills and about the vagaries of the process. These speeches, called Matters of Personal Privilege, supersede all other rules of parliamentary procedure and can be a powerful tool of persuasion. On May 4, Representative Senfronia Thompson of Houston stood up for one of her bills that was removed from the Local and Consent Calendar (typically used for non-controversial bills or bills that impact a small number of cities or counties) by some of her colleagues without warning. The bill, HB 2629, would have required cosmetology programs to include training on identifying signs of human trafficking. A few days later, Representative Helen Giddings of Dallas took to the microphone for her own speech on May 9 after a similar maneuver removed HB 2159, which would have given school districts the option to offer a grace period for children whose lunch accounts were empty, from the Local and Consent Calendar. These two speeches demonstrated the members’ passion for the issues and their frustration with the machinations happening behind the scenes in the legislature.
In a sharp counterpoint to the speeches during the previous week, Representative Drew Springer of Muenster delivered his own emotionally-charged speech an hour before the looming House bill deadline on May 11. The bill, HB 810, was next in line but unlikely to get taken up for consideration as other members stalled for their own unrelated reasons. Springer’s plea emphasized his personal connection to the other members and HB 810, which I am less familiar with, but which enables increased access to investigational adult stem cell treatments for certain patients. Watching the way his speech was received in contrast to the others given that week, where members could be seen laughing and not paying attention, was disheartening. Human trafficking and lunches for schoolchildren could be dismissed as collateral damage resulting from parliamentary moves, but this speech was the one that made the membership change their minds and make sure HB 810 was passed. There is always more happening behind the scenes that affects our understanding of the legislative process, but as I reflect back on my experiences here in Austin, I am reminded that it is always personal.