Delay Tactics Leave Bills 'Mostly-Dead' After Crucial House Deadline

May 12, 2017

Texas lawmakers wrap up a very busy week at the Capitol today, and last night had a little bit of everything that you’ll find at the end of a legislative session.

Bills as amendments

With just over two weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers are scrambling to get their bills to the governor’s desk. That scramble often has lawmakers looking for ways to add their bills to other legislation. That’s exactly what Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) did Thursday morning when he added a provision to create a school voucher system onto a school finance bill.

“It establishes the educational savings account program administered by the comptroller, which provides parents with funds to pay for education needs of their child,” Taylor said as he added the amendment to the House bill in the Senate Education committee.

But even this addition isn’t everything the Senate Education chair wanted. The addition only provides money for private school tuition or tutoring for children with disabilities.

Senate Republicans have made clear their intention to pass voucher legislation, though, members of both parties in the House have been opposed to the idea. Taylor's amendment could give their efforts another slim chance.

Chubbing

Another late session tradition is slowing down work in the House to keep bills from being passed.

In the Senate, lawmakers can filibuster, holding the floor for as long as they can keep standing and talking to delay a bill's passage. Since you can’t talk forever in the House, lawmakers try to "chub," or slow down legislative debate, by adding amendments and asking question after question to take as much time as possible before allowing a vote.

That tactic can lead to tense debate like the one Thursday between Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) and Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) on a bill that would change how abortion data is collected.

“Because we have a lack of good data on this procedure. We need to modernize it. We need to bring it into the 21st Century. We need electronic reports. We need reports that conform to other aspects of the law,” Schaefer explained.

“I think you need to come into the 21st Century,” Alvarado shot back.

That bill ultimately passed, and the decorum in the House went downhill from there.

Democrats spent much of the day stalling because of residual anger over passage of conservative bills like the ban on sanctuary cities. Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus derailed debate because they feel the House hasn’t done enough on their pet legislation like abortion restrictions and the so-called bathroom bill.

Mostly-dead by midnight

And why did slowing down the process matter last night?  Because under House rules, just like in Cinderella, those bills that hadn’t been given initial approval turned into a pumpkins when the clock struck midnight.

And because of all those delay tactics, hundreds of House bills died last night.

However, they’re actually only mostly-dead. And, of course, there's a big difference between mostly-dead and all-dead.

As long as there’s time left before the session ends on May 29, no legislation is truly all-dead.