The 2017 85th Session of the Texas Legislature began January 10. Unsurprisingly, the oligarchy in the Texas House of Representatives schemed to “manage” pesky advocacy organizations, such as Texas Right to Life, even before the opening gavel.
Texas Right to Life mainly ranks legislators on priority life-saving bills and amendment votes, rather than on procedural measures. However, the only way to circumvent behind-the-scenes stall tactics is through procedural moves and amendments on the House floor; thus, those actions require our attention and scoring too.
Regrettably, passing a stand-alone bill is the least efficient way to gain reforms under the current leadership of the Texas House. Some establishment leaders are so worried about the debate to protect Life that they planned to further quell the right—on the second day of the 85th session—during the consideration and votes on House rules. After hearing about malicious efforts to change the rules by which the Texas House of Representatives operates, Texas Right to Life forced transparency on this rule vote.
During the interim period when the legislature is not in session, the Sunset Commission (a committee of legislators and one member from the public) begins the review process of eligible agencies, culminating in a bill that reauthorizes and restructures the said state agency. During each session of the legislature, sunset bills prepared by the Sunset Commission are prioritized for passage. The current Sunset Commission is chaired by State Representative Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock), whose Pro-Life record is marred with a 49% Pro-Life ranking from 2013.
In anticipation of legislation addressing sunset review, Representative Gonzales prepared several amendments to the House rules that would have blocked amendments to sunset bills. Texas Right to Life informed members of the Texas House that votes in favor of any such gag rule on amendments would be scored as anti-Life and votes that foster transparency and open government proceedings will be scored as Pro-Life votes.
Gonzales channeled his inner-Pelosi by telling members that he would not accept amendments, specifically Pro-Life amendments, to the sunset bill for the Texas Medical Board (TMB), the agency entrusted with monitoring physicians, complaints against them, and the conditions upon which their licenses are issued and renewed. One way to protect Life is to empower the TMB to sanction doctors who violate safeguards for pregnant women, for unborn children, and for vulnerable patients.
Other Pro-Life House members learned of the gag rule attempts by Gonzales and pressured him to abandon today’s effort. Gonzales did withdraw his amendment today, but he pledges to try similar tricks when the TMB sunset bill reaches the floor of the Texas House in a few weeks. Today marked a win on this point, but the battle is far from finished.
For decades, the sunset review process has proven an effective legislative tool to achieve policy goals, particularly policies sabotaged by political games. For example, third trimester abortions are illegal in Texas because in 2005, former State Representative Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) successfully amended that policy to SB 419, the last sunset bill reauthorizing the TMB.
While anonymously stalling bills (including Pro-Life bills) in the committee process is easy for members, votes on amendments on the Texas House floor bypass such shenanigans, forcing fake Republicans to take a public stand. Thankfully, neither Gonzales nor any others in House leadership were able to pass House rules that would have enacted the gag on amendments or blocked Pro-Life policies and issues from consideration during this 85th session.
The forecast for the 85th Session of Texas House of Representatives is politics as usual, which makes clean victories difficult. The only way to coerce into transparency those who should work for the Texans they represent is to tell their constituents what is happening under the Pink Dome and who is blowing smoke.
Let your state representative know NOW that you are already watching his or her votes on government transparency and on protecting Life. Although some may have already tried to thwart Pro-Life efforts, officials heeded the message on this second day that they must not sell out conservatives during the 85th Legislative Session.