Last Thursday, Speaker Joe Straus finally released the list of committee assignments for each member of the Texas House of Representatives. The Legislature has formally been in session for a month without committee assignments, marking the longest delay in assigning committees in Speaker Straus’ history. In sharp contrast, the Texas Senate announced committee assignments one week into session, heard legislation deemed emergency items by the Governor in committee, and passed major bills through the entire chamber. The Texas House has done nothing.
As expected, the committee assignments by the reigning coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans do not look promising for substantive Pro-Life policies. At the helm of the Appropriations Committee, the state’s budget where Planned Parenthood and other abortion mills can be eligible for taxpayer funding, is State Representative John Zerwas (R-Richmond). Representative Zerwas achieved an abysmal 6% Pro-Life voting record in 2013, and a failing 73% Pro-Life voting record in 2015. One reason for Representative Zerwas’ low Pro-Life record is his inclination to support human cloning and taxpayer funding of embryo-destroying research at public universities. A much more watchful eye is needed on the state’s budget with Representative Zerwas at the helm.
To the ire of Pro-Life and conservative advocacy groups, State Representative Byron Cook is once again chairing the influential House Committee on State Affairs. During the previous legislative session, Chairman Cook intentionally redirected all Pro-Life bills to his committee in an effort to control which bills died and which bills had a chance to be presented to the entire Texas House of Representatives. Unfortunately for Pro-Lifers, Chairman Cook’s litmus test is limited to personalities and politics, not policy. Pro-Life Texans can expect the same games this legislative session.
Liberal “Republican” Sarah Davis of Harris County once again enjoys the favoritism of Speaker Straus and his allies. The lone Republican to vote against every major Pro-Life bill in the last six years (Sonogram Law in 2011, Pro-Life Omnibus Bill in 2013, Judicial Bypass Reform in 2015) is again serving on the House Committee on Appropriations. Ironically, the chances are high that Davis will be tapped in the coming week to head the Article II Appropriations Subcommittee, which makes critical decisions about the very specific revenue stream where abortion mills can be eligible to receive taxpayer funding. Additionally, Davis has been named, again, to the House Committee on Calendars. This particular committee operates as the top hurdle any bill must pass through in order to be discussed by the entire Texas House. Once a bill has a committee hearing and is passed through an assigned committee, the bill must also then pass the House Committee on Calendars. As a record vote is not required to strike a bill from a calendar, and through the practice of “tagging” whereby a Calendars Committee member may off-the-record request a bill not be discussed for seven days, many, many pieces of legislation are killed without fingerprints in the Calendars Committee. During the House Rules debate early in the session, several conservative members sought to change these rules to increase transparency in this dark committee, but were thwarted by the liberal Republicans allied with Speaker Straus.
Many argue that Davis is the “most Republican” candidate her district of Houston (encompassing the Montrose district) is capable of electing. Even if true, her continuous placement on such high-profile powerful committees cannot be justified. Doing so by a Republican-controlled leadership shows just how liberal those running the Texas House really are.
The only way for strong life-saving legislation to get through a rigged system like the House Committees will be for vocal and engaged Pro-Life Texans to keep a close eye on your elected officials. As events under the Dome unfold, keep up with Texas Right to Life’s lobby team by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and checking our website regularly. Prayers for hearts to be turned towards Life in the Republican Party within the Capitol are needed and appreciated.