On Thursday, the Texas House debated and passed the rules they will follow for the rest of the session. The rulesgoverning the organization of the House and administrative structure may seem boring and pointless at first glance.However, there are several provisions and rules that hugely impact Pro-Life legislative efforts and advocacy.
Here are a few specific areas we were watching for during the rules debate:
- Every time a Pro-Life bill or amendment is on the House floor, and since a majority of representatives vote Pro-Life, the main tool the opposition has (and likes to use a lot) is called Points of Order. One of the proposed rule changes this week was lowering the standard the parliamentarian uses when deciding whether a point of order is valid and if the bill or amendment is out of order. A point of order is the claim that a bill or anamendment has broken a specific rule in some way or another. The violation could be the smallest and most technical mistake, but the bill or amendment then cannot be considered any further and most times is effectively killed by the order. Changing standard gives anti-Life representatives less firing power when it comes to Pro-Life bills or amendments.
- Also dictated by the rules is how citizens are able to testify on proposed legislation in committee hearings. In 2013, when the Pro-Life Omnibus bill was being heard, more than 2000 Pro-Life Texans registered to give their testimony in support of the bill. The power the committee has to limit debate, cut off debate, or close registration is all governed by the house rules. We were disappointed that new rules about the discretion the committee chairs have were not clarified by a proposed amendment.
- Thankfully, a harmful amendment to the rule was defeated. The incindiary rule change would have required floor amendments for certain bills to be heard in a committee before being offered on the floor for a vote. Whenever Pro-Life legislation is blocked or bottled necked in committee, or the elusive calendar’s committee, Pro-Life legislators look for opportunities to achieve Pro-Life victories through amending other bills on the House floor. This has been a sound strategy and has lead to substantial accomplishments. The proposed amendment would have jeopardized that option.
- Lastly, and most importantly, Representative David Simpson offered an amendment to the rules to create transparency in the backroom where very secretive Conference Committee meetings take place. When a piece of legislation is passed by both legislative chambers, more times than not, the two versions of the bills do not match. A conference committee is then called to settle the differences. Usually, these conference committees do not have public meetings, but discuss and make changes to legislation without explanation, justification, or even an opportunity for stakeholders to offer input. This is an especially dangerous process for Pro-Life amendments. This has happened numerous times in the last two sessions. There is no accountability for Senators or Representatives who remove Pro-Life amendments in conference. Even though almost 2/3rds of the House may have supported the legislation, Pro-Life bills and amendments can be totally gutted of substance. Unfortunately, while Representative Simpson’s amendment to the rules was not accepted, several leaders at least gave lip service to more implementing transparency in conference committees. The Texas Right to Life team will be pushing for more open discussions and transparency especially when Pro-Life amendments are at stake.
Not every day of the session is marked by rabid abortion supporters storming the capitol trying to thwart the will of Texans. Yet, even the small, tedious details of offering and establishing House rules is a place to ward off unwanted and damaging precedents. Precedents that could hold untold consequences for our efforts to restore justice for pregnant women, the preborn, and vulnerable patients.