Speaker Tom Craddick took the unprecedented move, at least for him, of asking the House Wednesday night to override its own rules to save the border security bill.
"This is a priority for the state and the whole country," Craddick told reporters, explaining his rare manuver. "This was a real bi-partisan bill. It wasn't a political bill and (is) a true need for the state."
Yet Craddick's move was so rare -- and the tensions on the House so acute -- that it never came to a vote.
Instead, a teary sponsor, Rep. David Swinford, relented and watched his bill be returned to committee over a technicality.
"I do think this rule is sort of over the top," Swinford said of Craddick's effort. But he added: "I've never been so disappointed in this body."
The bill returns to committee where Craddick, from the podium, said he "hoped" it could return to the House floor by Monday or Tuesday.
Afterwards, however, the speaker raised the prospect that the only homeland security bill of the session could be killed by the delay. Thursday is the last day for the House to pass its bills on second reading, and there is no Senate equivalent dealing with homeland security and the border.
"I'm not sure we can get it back," Craddick said.
On Thursday, May 3, HB 13 by Chairman Swinford (R-Dumas) was heard by the full House. Speaker Craddick (R-Midland) rejected an initial point of order raised by Rep. Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) which pointed out that the bill analysis referenced a section of the Government Code that does not exist. Despite the fact that this could cause a problem in the future if the referenced section of the Government Code is ever actually created, Speaker Craddick overruled Rep. Martinez Fischer's point of order.
After several hours of debate, Speaker Craddick sustained a point of order raised by Rep. Herrero (D-Robstown). Chairman Swinford, with the support of Speaker Craddick, then asked the House to vote to suspend all necessary rules to ignore the point of order and continue with the debate. This was despite the fact that the rules of the House exist to protect the public's interest. "I can't remember that having happened at any time in the 13 years I have served in the House. We have rules and procedures for a reason, and it is inappropriate for the Speaker to encourage the House to ignore those rules in the manner that he did," said Rep. Farrar.
Rather than have the House vote on the motion to suspend the rules, Chairman Swinford decided to recommit HB 13 to the House Committee on State Affairs. The committee met immediately afterwards to once again consider the bill. "I appreciate the fact that Chairman Swinford was willing to go back and confer with us in committee. As legislators, we have a duty to address the concerns that both we and the public have regarding every bill, and HB 13 is not an exception to that."
Chief among Rep. Farrar's concerns with HB 13 are the placement of the State Office of Homeland Security in the Governor's Office, the granting of program management of the Texas Data Center (TDEx) to the Governor's Division of Emergency Management, and the placement of the Texas Fusion Center in the State Office of Homeland Security. She has also questioned the granting of authority to the State Office of Homeland Security to allocate border and homeland security funding and to develop, administer, and evaluate border and homeland security programs even though it is not a law enforcement agency.
"Border and homeland security are extremely important issues, and I think House members demonstrated their commitment to addressing those issues today. We should not vote out a bill that is not up to par just to be able to say we voted something out. In the interest of what is best for the state of Texas, we should make sure that the final product that leaves the House is what it should be and does not give the public a false sense of security," stated Rep. Farrar.
HB 13 is expected to be reconsidered by the full House on Monday or Tuesday of next week, as it was once again voted out of the House Committee on State Affairs on Thursday evening. The language in the version of HB 13 that will be sent to the floor is much the same as what was considered on the floor today. While Chairman Swinford recommitted the bill, he chose not to change the language except for minor changes and instead prefers to have it amended on the floor.
The two amendments that were passed on the floor on Thursday will need to be re-considered when HB 13 is heard again. The first amendment, by Rep. Raymond (D-Laredo), would have completely moved TDEx to the Texas Department of Public Safety without program management by the Governor's Division of Emergency Management. The second amendment, by Rep. Noriega (D-Houston), would have subjected the Director of the State Office of Homeland Security to confirmation by the Senate.
Grits has a lot more on this. He notes that Rep. Swinford snapped at an ACLU lobbyist on his way out of the chamber, saying it would be on them if the bill failed. The only place I saw any coverage of that was in the subscription-only Rio Grande Guardian. I've got an excerpt here:
With aides by his side, Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, was leaving an impromptu meeting of the State Affairs Committee that, just before 9 p.m., had rewritten, for the third time, HB 13.
Out of the corner of his eye Swinford noticed Rebecca Bernhardt, the ACLU's immigration, border and national security policy director, huddled with legislative staff.
Swinford turned on his heels, pointed a finger at Bernhardt and said: "If this bill dies, it will be on your conscience." He then turned and trudged off.
The ACLU has had serious reservations about HB 13, particularly a provision that allows the Governor's Office to oversee the state's intelligence operations. Asked what she thought of Swinford's remark, Bernhardt said: "I think he exaggerates my or my organization's influence over the process."
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, a leading critic of HB 13, said it was folly to blame the ACLU for the fact that the legislation was derailed.
"I think the whole bill has been flawed throughout," said Farrar, the only Hispanic on the State Affairs Committee. "The reason we have had three major revisions is thanks to you (media) guys that have aired this. But there has been resistance."