with details about a Southlake Republican’s bill and at 9:23 p.m. to reflect the failure to pass of the bill to add taxes to e-cigarettes and vape products and at 11:33 p.m.to reflect the passage of a bill by Rep. Andrew Murr.
AUSTIN — The second Thursday of May is the day when legislators get to decide whether hundreds of House bills — good and bad — live or die.
Among the bills on the chopping block were ones that would prohibit the government from taking any “adverse action” against someone for their affiliation or support of a religious organization, require roofers to register with the state, add taxes to e-cigarettes and vape products and clarify the definition of “sexual contact” in the prosecution of illegal teacher-student relationships.
Starting the day at 10 a.m., the 150-member chamber was prepped for a long night in which it would try to pass as many bills as possible before a procedural deadline at midnight. Its calendar was 17 pages long and contained more than 200 bills, many of which were all but dead before the day even began.
This late into a session, the minority party often slows down the legislative process by extensive questioning of a bill during debate, behind-the-scenes deals with the majority party, or by calling points of order that aim to kill a bill — or, at the very least, kill more time before midnight to avoid reaching potentially divisive bills further down the calendar. The slow-down tactic is called “chubbing,” by political observers.
One bill Democrats sought to challenge was the so-called “Save Chick-fil-A” bill by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, which he said was aimed at protecting a business’s association with religious organizations but opponents decried as the “most extreme anti-LGBT bill” of the session.
Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, a lesbian lawmaker who is a member of the House LGBTQ Caucus, called a point of order that killed the bill. She said it was “an honor” to kill what she called “a very hurtful piece of legislation.”
The proposal to add taxes to e-cigarettes and vape products was also killed by a point of order from Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.
Among those, he said, was a bill that would have made it more difficult for third parties to get on state election ballots and the sales tax swap proposed by the state’s top Republican leaders, which Democrats lambasted as a tax increase that would disproportionately affect low-income Texans while providing them little property tax relief.
“Unity in the Democratic caucus killed that bill,” he said.
As evening crept in, Turner said Democrats remained focused on “doing the House’s business, but if there are bills that harm our constituents, we’ll use every tool in our toolbox to stop it.”
Another bill targeted by Democrats was a proposal by Stickland that would have changed the state’s 22-students-per-class size limits for classes from kindergarten through the fourth grade. The bill was postponed multiple times throughout the debate as Stickland dealt with opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike and tried to amend the bill to appease the bill’s detractors. Near 8 p.m., Stickland finally put the bill up for a vote before it was defeated, 97-44.
Sitting just 13 spots behind Krause’s bill on the calendar was Rep. Gio Capriglione’s proposal to require roofers to register with the state, an effort to crack down on scammers. Around 4 p.m., he said he was still trying to convince some of his colleagues to vote for the bill.
“It’s important we have a record vote on whether we stand with consumers or scammers,” the Southlake Republican said.
Around 8 p.m., the chamber took up Capriglione’s bill. Opponents decried it as a barrier of entry into the roofing business. They also said portions of the bill could potentially increase the cost of roof repairs for consumers.
Supporters said the bill was not about raising barriers, but about protecting consumers.
Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, said that he saw many “storm-chasing” roofers in his Houston-area district after Hurricane Harvey and that homeowners should “be able to contact whoever did the work on a house to be able to follow up on it.”
The argument was not enough to sway his colleagues. The bill failed to pass by a vote of 99-33.
Among the bills that survived was a proposal by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, to amend the state constitution to prohibit a state income tax. The proposal, which requires the approval of two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature, squeaked by in the House, just reaching the 100 necessary votes. It now needs to be approved by the Senate before going to the voters in November.
“Let’s give the voters an opportunity this November to ban a state income tax in our constitution,” Leach said moments before the House approved the bill.
The bill to clarify the definition of “sexual contact” in a student-teacher relationship to make it easier for prosecutors to go after perpetrators, proposed by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, also received approval around 11:30 p.m.
Several bills filed by Dallas lawmakers were declared dead earlier in the week after failing to meet another procedural deadline for pushing legislation out of committees. Among those were Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson’s bill to remove all elected officials from the awarding process for affordable housing tax credits and fellow Dallas Democrat Victoria Neave’s effort to void nondisclosure agreements that prevent employees from reporting sexual abuse in the workplace to law enforcement.
The proposals may not be completely dead, however. If a bill has accompanying legislation approved in the Senate, it can still move forward in the House. And a lawmaker could always try to tack on their proposals to another bill on the same subject as an amendment.
House bills finally approved by the chamber now move on to the Senate. They must receive that chamber’s OK before being sent to the governor’s desk for signing. The legislative session ends May 27.