Thursday, March 22, 2007

Highlights from yesterday's House Floor

I'm still stunned by the scenes from yesterday's House Floor. It was one of those days when so many bills are heard that stress runs high and emotions are subject to change: i.e. there's a greater chance of reactionary politics.

For starters, Rep. Jerry Madden laid out HB 427, which is a bill that would allow for counties to request a special prosecuting unit for TYC charges. Rep. Dunnam attached an amendment that would create a special prosecutor based in (not necessarily from) Travis County, and this prosecutor would not override local DAs.

Rep. Dunnam began speaking passionately about this since "we need to do something about our boys getting raped with state dollars." Rep. Madden then turned around and got on his own soapbox and, with even more passion, spoke about why this would be bad. It was a little underwhelming and disingenuous to watch a rep opposing his own bill from getting strengthened, though, since it seemed like the Republicans have something to hide:

Then, Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) had his opportunity to kill the amendment by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) raised a technical point of order which would normally go unnoticed on such important legislation.

The bill's now back in committee.

A little later, Rep. Elkins brought HJR 59, which would require a 3 day (well, after Rep. Leibowitz's amendment, it's now up to 5 days) session after any veto by the Governor, including line-item vetoes in the budget. Though I support this, I also support what Rep. McCall said. Rep. Hartnett said that it's already such a burden to uphold the responsibilities of elected office, and another 3 days would just be awful.

McCall answered with something along the lines of: "Well, we only meet for 140 days every other year, and for the first 55 days we just do the pledge and a bunch of resolutions." Why wasn't this man speaker?

The second to last bill for the day (it was supposed to be the last until the ethics bill was postponed) was a seemingly low-profile bill about statues on state property. It passed last session 145-0, with support from such rep's as Thompson and Veasey, members of the Black Caucus.

However, tensions ran high because the bill would seemingly throw in a roadblock to moving or removing confederate statues from university campuses. There are a few high-profile, prominent ones at UT-Austin that include Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. The bill would require universities to gain authority from the state Historical Commission in order to move or remove them.

Requiring a little extra bureaucracy is nothing new to the Lege, but this set off a firestorm of debate, with members of the Black Caucus trying to kill/amend the bill to where confederate statues wouldn't necessitate such permission from the commission.

Thompson initially offered an amendment "unless that person engaged in an armed insurrection against the United States," then after Veasey had one exempting universities from the bill, he had one: "... does not apply to a...person or was a member of or affiliated with a terrorist organization, including the Ku Klux Klan." Each amendment was tabled, but the last was tabled because it also included a provision since it included slave owners, and the white Republicans fighting against the bill were quick to point out that many of their heroes were slave owners.

Veasey started to get upset and said that certain rep's ancestors had probably owned his ancestors, and Rep. Thompson said that she was offended that the bill even made it to the floor, directing her comment at Speaker Craddick.

Rep. Woolley, for some strange reason, stood up (almost proudly) and proclaimed she was the reason for the bill making it out of committee. This triggered a near knock-down, drag-out fight on the floor, which needed a sergeant-at-arms and Borris Miles to break it up: Miles stepped in between the two rep's and backed Thompson away from smacking Woolley upside the head. They then went head-to-head again and had to be broken up again.

Rep. Thompson finally struck gold when she offered an amendment: "This section does not apply to a monument or memorial for a person who does not believe in 'One Nation Under God.'" Many of the Religious Right weren't going to vote against this, and the motion to table failed, 34-85.

At one point during the debate, it may have been during this amendment, Rep. Miller did admit that this bill would've protected the confederate statues, even though he'd started off the debate saying the bill was to protect MLK and César Chavez.

In an unexpected move, State Affairs Chairman David Swinford stood at the front mic and apologized for the bill making it through his committee since he had "no idea" of its ramifications. In an even more expected move, after 45 minutes to an hour debate, Rep. Miller pulled the bill down, echoing what the chairman said. Granted, the bill no longer protected confederate statues so he had nothing to lose, but he postponed it until July 4.

See also:

Although I appreciate Miller not insisting on passing his bill, I felt almost as sick as I did watching Madden pouring his heart out to water down his own bill when Miller invoked some patriotic obligation to unite the body when he postponed the bill. All in all, it was a long, crazy day.


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