The two most infamous tyrants in the Texas Capitol announced their retirement one year ago. Since Joe Straus and Byron Cook announced their departure, we have hope for a brighter future for the Pro-Life cause. Straus and Cook thwarted the Pro-Life cause too many times to count, but enjoy below the top 10 most egregious ways they opposed life-saving reforms.
1. Cook publically opposed critical Pro-Life amendments on the house floor two sessions in a row.
At every attempt to close the loophole in Texas law that allows preborn babies with disabilities to be killed by abortion after 5 months of development, Byron Cook stood actively opposed. During the 2015 legislative session, Cook sent a letter to his colleagues encouraging them to leave this exception in place for abortion on babies with disabilities. During the 2017 legislative session, he went a step further by standing on the House floor and adamantly urging his colleagues to table, and thereby kill, the attempt to close the loophole and protect Texas children with disabilities. In one of the most shocking statements, he said members must oppose the amendment because this indicates “we are willing to play God with somebody else’s life in the most unfortunate circumstance.” This is not only grimly ironic but also a line right out of the pro-abortion talking points.
2. Straus called the Special Session agenda, including Pro-Life priorities, a “steaming pile of manure.”
Last year, in a pre-Special Session interview on the Texas Take Podcast, Joe Straus equated the Special Session to attempting to find a pony in a pile of manure. Well Mr. Speaker, during that pile of manure, with the assistance of our supporters, Texas enacted 4 Pro-Life bills, including priority Pro-Life bills Health Insurance Reform and patient-centric DNR Reform.
3. Cook held Pro-Life Priority Bill to permanently defund abortion providers in Texas hostage.
When Governor Abbott called the legislature back for the Special Session in 2017 to pass conservative legislation, he included HB 14 that would have permanently prohibited state and local funding of and contracting with abortion providers and their affiliates. However, though he appeared to support the legislation publicly, Byron Cook silently killed this legislation by procedurally slow-walking the bill. Cook took 17 days for an administrative step for the bill which usually takes less than a day. Because Cook sat on this bill for more than two weeks before the grassroots realized his deception, too much time had passed and there was not enough time left in the short Special Session for the bill to pass.
4. Cook wrote a public letter urging all State House members to oppose Pro-Life amendment.
In 2015, Cook wrote a letter to all House Members urging them to oppose Representative Schaefer’s amendment to the Price Sunset bill for DSHS (HB 2510) to stop late abortions when a child is suspected to have a “fetal abnormality.” Cook stated that testimony for this exception had been the most heartbreaking and emotionally draining he had ever experienced and that the fetal abnormality amendment was crucial to keep in place.
5. Cook Kicked a Pro-Life activist out of public hearing for recording committee.
Byron Cook had a State Affairs rule against anyone recording the committee hearing, however, this explicitly violated state law. When Pro-Life activist, Amy Hedtke, insisted on recording the meeting pursuant to her rights under State law, Cook order that she be forcibly removed from the hearing. When the activist took him to court, Cook lost.
6. Straus repeatedly referred all Pro-Life bills to State Affairs committee to empower Cook to be the gatekeeper on life-saving bills.
During the past three legislative sessions (2013, 2015, 2017), Joe Straus and Byron Cook tag teamed in setting up barriers to Pro-Life legislation. Straus routinely referred all Pro-Life bills to the House State Affairs Committee chaired by Byron Cook, including bills that sensibly should be referred to other committees. Straus decided that the Pro-Life Health Insurance Bill should go to State Affairs instead of the Insurance Committee, even though Pro-Life Hero Representative John Smithee, the author of the Pro-Life bill, was chair of the Insurance committee. Cook and House leadership then consistently killed these bills by bad faith negotiations, silent procedural tricks, playing political games with when bills are passed out of committee and whether or not they are set on the calendar for the House floor. Pro-Life Heroes like Chairman Smithee had to work around the Straus-Cook blockade with amendments, political trade-offs, or even asking the Governor to add the issue to the Special Sessions call to pass substantial means.
7. Cook Refused to even hold a hearing on Pro-Life Priority Dismemberment Ban.
In 2017, the Dismemberment Abortion Ban was added to the Republican Party of Texas Platform with overwhelming support. Although the bill had passed the Texas Senate in early March with bipartisan support, and the House version of the bill had an outstanding 72 co-authors, Byron Cook refused to give either version of the Dismemberment Abortion Ban as much as a hearing in his powerful committee. While Pro-Life Champion Representative Stephanie Klick continued to ask for a hearing and urge Cook and Straus to let the critical Pro-Life bill move, the House version remained dormant in House State Affairs for more than 2 months before being joined by the Senate version. Although both died in silence, Pro-Life heroes were able to amend the Dismemberment Abortion Ban onto a Pro-Life bill, contrary to the wishes of both Cook and Straus.
8. Straus killed two bills because the Senate added Pro-Life strengthening amendments.
Toward the end of the Regular Session in 2017, when Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Pro-Life Senators were looking to score as many Pro-Life victories as possible, they attached two significant Pro-Life policies onto other legislation (HB 2962 and HB 3124). When the two bills were returned to the House with Pro-Life amendments, Joe Straus ruled the amendments were not germane and sent the bills with the Pro-Life amendments back to the Senate for reconsideration. This move undeniably killed the legislation because there was not enough time for the bills to go back through the needed parliamentary steps to pass. The Straus team argued the Democrats would have tried to kill the Pro-Life amendments if Straus had not. This reveals Straus’ leadership style from day one. He would rather fight Pro-Life legislation and conservatives than put up a fight against the anti-Life Democrats.
9. Cook killed Pro-Life DNR Bill in the Regular Session and nearly killed the Priority in the Special Session.
True to form, Byron Cook killed the Patient Consent for Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Orders bill during the Regular Session behind closed doors out of sight from Pro-Life voters. He demanded that there be consensus on the language of a bill before he would take a vote in the State Affairs Committee. This Pro-Life priority bill was doomed by design because Cook was effectively handing a veto stamp to the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Associations who have consistently opposed Pro-Life legislation in his committee and admitted no desire that a DNR Reform Bill pass. Pro-Life Champion Greg Bonnen, MD worked diligently to force some minor consensus but the delay tactics of Cook and other stakeholders had wasted too much time for the bill to pass. However, during the Special Session, Governor Abbott added this policy to his agenda. Once again, Cook gave the stakeholders other than Pro-Lifers the upper hand by insisting the bill be re-written after language was agreed to since the medical and hospital lobby had changed their minds. Thankfully, Dr. Bonnen, the Governor’s office, and other Pro-Life Heroes like Senator Charles Perry stepped in to ensure that Pro-Life DNR Reform was passed no matter the political games and bad faith negotiations.
10. Straus claims the laws on abortion are fine as is in 2009.
In an interview just preceding his original election to the speakership (in which an extensive majority of support came from pro-abortion Democrats), Joe Straus stated current abortion laws were “not at that point a state matter.” However, Pro-Life Texans made abortion a state matter. The vast majority of Texans were not content with the Pro-Life laws in 2009. That is why there was a swelling of grassroots activism and support to ensure that despite Straus’ apathy, the Sonogram Bill (2011), the Preborn Pain Act (2013), stronger Parental Involvement Laws (2015), and the Dismemberment Abortion Ban (2017) all passed in subsequent legislative sessions.