That’s the million-dollar question buzzing around the Texas Capitol during this first week of the First Called Special Session of the Texas Legislature. And a million-dollars is likely what Republican Byron Cook from Corsicana will spend seeking re-election in his four-county rural district, House District 8 in the Corsicana area.
Cook is chairman of the powerful House Committee on State Affairs, where he has achieved a history of thwarting substantial Pro-Life bills through the committee process. Such tactics largely contributed to challenger, Thomas McNutt, the young vice-president of Collin Street Bakery, announcing a second bid to unseat the longtime incumbent. In 2016, Thomas lost to Cook by only 222 votes. (Election fraud is under investigation in that district.)
John Seago, Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life, appeared on the July 11 episode of the “Jim and Michael Show,” a webcast centered exclusively on Texas politics and policy by Texas Right to Life and Empower Texans. In response to a viewer’s question about whether the Pro-Life bills placed on the special session agenda by Governor Greg Abbott would once again be sent to the House Committee on State Affairs with Cook, Seago noted:
“Is the death grip on Pro-Life bills going to remain in Byron Cook’s hands? Pro-Life activists are asking and saying, ‘No, let’s actually do this the right way.’ Let’s send these bills to committees where they actually belong.”
All of the bills under consideration during this special session were also introduced during the regular session – their assignment to the House Committee on State Affairs allowed Cook to unnecessarily ensure their demise. But Cook doesn’t have to be given the power to kill Pro-Life bills.
Typically, assigning a bill to a committee falls into two categories: bills with no political bent or bills with a political angle. Bills with no political bent land in committees with subject-matter expertise – like an insurance bill in the insurance committee. Bills with a political angle are intentionally referred to a hostile committee, due to the bill author or to the special interest groups behind the policy.
For instance, the Pro-Life Insurance Reform bill is on the special session call. The House has a House Committee on Insurance, a most appropriate committee for that bill and the committee to which the insurance bill has been referred in sessions past, whereas referral of the insurance bill to the House Committee on State Affairs marks a purely political move.
Another example is the bill to require patient consent for a Do-Not-Resuscitate Order on a hospitalized patient. The House has a Public Health Committee and a Human Services Committee – both appropriate places for legislation dealing with health and Texas patients, and again both of these committees have heard and dealt with medical ethics bills in sessions past.
The bill to defund the abortion industry would prohibit state, city, and county governments from contracting with abortion providers. Such a measure fits in the House Committee on Appropriations, Government Transparency and Operations, or the County Affairs committee. But this bill, too, is likely to die a slow death in Byron Cook’s hands in the House Committee on State Affairs.
Lawmakers have the ability to challenge the games played by House leadership with Pro-Life bills. Every state representative who claims to be Pro-Life should and must publicly ask the office of the speaker to refer the Pro-Life bills on the call for the Special Session to their appropriate committees – and safely out of the grip of Byron Cook.
Any action short of that signals that your state representative cares more for political power in the marble halls than for saving innocent human lives.