On a desperate deadline night in the Texas House, the quality of mercy was strained

Good day Austin:

They fashion themselves as apostles of the one true conservative Christian faith and there are, as it happens, twelve member of the Texas Freedom Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives – Matt Schaefer (Tyler), Bill Zedler (Arlington), Matt Shaheen (Plano), Jeff Leach (Plano), Tony Tinderholt (Arlington), Kyle Biedermann (Fredericksburg), Briscoe Cain (Deer Park), Matt Krause (Fort Worth), Mike Lang (Granbury) Matt Rinaldi (Irving), Jonathan Stickland (Bedford), and Valoree Swanson (Spring).

They also, as often as not, present themselves as martyrs to their cause, never moreso than at about 7:30 last night, more than nine hours into yesterday’s marathon session of the Texas House, with four-and-half-hours yet to go before the deadline for House bills to get a second reading, or perish.

Just outside the chamber doors, they gathered for an impromptu press conference.

Jeff Leach began.

To cut to the chase, a few hours ago the Local and Consent Calendars Committee met behind closed doors to set a local and consent calendar for tomorrow, and when we saw what bills had been set for tomorrow – we suspended the rules on the floor earlier today to allow them to do that and set a local and consent calendar for tomorrow – and when we received word of what bills had been set for tomorrow, what all of us expected might happen had actually happened.

Many of our bills – I know there were three of mine, Rep. Sawnson, Rep. Shaheen, Rep. Cain, Rep. Lang and Rep. Sanford (who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus but is often allied with it) – had our bills removed, not set for the calendar tomorrow, but removed and referred to the general Calendars Committee.

As all of us know, today, midnight tonight, is the deadline for hearing House bills on a second reading, so referring bills to the general Calendars Committee is as good as calling them dead.

Really what this is about is another shot, another direct shot at the conservative members of this House who this session, we have had our debates, we’ve had our disagreements, we’ve had our arguments and our fights, both in public and in private, but for this caucus, for the Freedom Caucus, and for the conservative members of this House, it’s always, always been about policy, 100 percent of the time.

Our disagreements, the times when members of this caucus have knocked bills off local and consent, when we have voted yes or no on the board, it has always been about policy. What’s happened to us has been personal retribution. It’s been personal attacks, personal retribution, petty, personal politics and this caucus has had enough of it.

And so what we’ve decided to do, over the course of the last few hours, is to, as a caucus, along with our friend, Rep. Sanford, who is a conservative warrior as well who had a bill knocked off today, who is not officially part of our caucus, signed a form that we are going to, in a just a few minutes, deliver to the leadership to essentially kill the entire local and consent calendar tomorrow, and essentially what we are doing is exactly what they did to our bills. We’re just asking that they re-refer them to the Calendars Committee.

If members of this body want to hit us personally, nine times out of ten we will rise above it go on, but this has crossed a line that we cannot be silent about. and so that’s our plan.

We look forward to exposing what’s going on in this House in terms of personal politics.

Looming over the scene (he’s tall) – and proudly taking it in on his cell phone – was their spiritual leader, Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans, for whom Speaker Joe Straus is the evil despot and, it seemed Thursday, Rep. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, the head of the House Republican Caucus, the court eunuch.

At the conclusion of the press conference, MQS reported:

When one reporter questioned if conservatives were using the same tactics as those targeting them, Caucus Chairman Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) sharply disagreed, saying they were merely fighting back with the tools and abilities they had and trying to represent their constituents.

“Here we are, right before the midnight deadline,” said Schaefer. “Has a pro-life bill to save babies lives come to the floor for a vote? No. Has a strong second amendment bill come to the floor for a vote? No. Has a strong property tax reform bill come to the floor for a vote? No.”

It’s worth noting that each of the items mentioned by Schaefer haven’t fared any trouble passing the Texas Senate. In fact, two of the three have passed with strong, bipartisan support.

Of five abortion-related bills that were on the regular agenda Thursday, Schaeffer said, “They always dangle these pro-life bills out at us at the end of session and say, ‘Hey guys, behave and we’ll let you get some pro-life bills out. If you care about babies, you need to know that the leadership of the Texas House does not prioritize that issue.”

The grim mood in the House chamber grew grimmer by the hour.

By 9:30, the House Freedom Caucus was chubbing a non-controversial bill on industrial workforce training, stalling the proceedings with an endless monotony of questions, amendments and other time-wasters that had Democratic representatives marveling how adept these dissident Republicans were proving at a tactic mostly employed by the Democratic minority in recent sessions.

But, as the chub wore on, the scene at Rep. Drew Springer’s desk was growing tense, as Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, his bother, Rep. Greg Bonnen, a medical doctor from Friendswood, and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, gathered around their increasingly anxious friend. Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth, a member of the Freedom Caucus, leaned in.

Springer, form Muenster, had a bill, a very important bill for him, on the calender, a bill that would create opportunities to use adult stem cells for treating people like his wife, perhaps – he hoped and prayed – even making it possible for her to walk again.

Earlier, all had seemed on track.

Springer:

We were three bills away from it at 9 o’clock . You had to think, it’s a layup.

By 10:30, Springer’s bill was due up next after the one that was being chubbed, but it began to appear like the House might not get to it, that it would die at the stroke of midnight.

You could really see they had the abilities and the rules in order to do it.

 

The bill was HB 810.

Relating to the provision of certain investigational stem cell treatments to patients with certain severe chronic diseases or terminal illnesses and regulating the possession, use, and transfer of adult stem cells.

Springer:

Tan (Parker) had file the bill and brought it to me. He put it together.

It’s adult stem cells. It allows you – we have a ban – it’s a right-to-try situation. Today you can go to China, you can to Panama. You can go to different counties and do it but the people doing the research and understand it all live in Fort Worth their company’s in Panama.

If this bill passes they can turn it and we can have a facility going by Sept. 2.

Of his wife, Lydia, Springer said:

She was an L 1 spinal cord injury from when we were dating 28 years ago.

She has a little bit of leg movement but has a lot of body function loss and truthfully, people talk is it the perfect cure? She’ll never be like you or I, she’ll never walk exactly like us. She may one day hopefully walk, but just to gain functions over your entire body …

The problem is the way you do spinal cord injuries, you have to do a treatment every few days during that dsix-week period. So she would have to literally live in Panama, and that’s a part of the expense is. You can’t do it and go home and come back. The travel and the cost.

There’s a lot of chronic problems, with diabetes and MS, and they use stem cells out of umbilical cord, or cord blood is what it is commonly referred to. In fact my wife saved her’s with our last child and it’s been in one of these freeze banks, 16 years, waiting for this day to come because we knew there was the science and this was being developed. So we’ve known for a long time and the ability to be this close to it…

I took the seat from Rick Hardcastle when Rick retired. Rick had stem cells overseas for his MS and he said if he had known how good it was going to be, he might not have left the Legislature because he was to the point where he couldn’t walk, almost.

As the chubbing wore on, Springer called his wife.

She was watching them and saying, “What are they doing?” And i said, “They’re killing 810.”

About 10:30 ,I was getting so frustrated I was stalking (the back mic) and in fact I had gone and ripped the mic away from (Rep. Matt) Shaeheen (R Plano) to try to plead with him as a friend, “Look, you’ve got to stop this. Y’all can go all night on this bill, just let this next one go.”

They were focused on their’s and the only way to break that focus was with personal privilege.”

Chairman Bonnen helped me with that, Speaker Bonnen. He caught me running out as all get out weighing my options, which I thought was just to start a fight, which was clearly in my mind.

The next opportunity he had, Springer asked to make a statement of personal privilege, which preempts everything else.

Speaker Straus spoke:

Mr. Stickland, will you take your seat. Mr. Cain, please take your seat. Mr. Stickland, please take your seat. Please take your seat.

The chair recognizes Rep. Springer on a matter of personal privilege.

What followed was very dramatic.

I’ll be damned if we don’t have the chance tonight to hear the very next bill that opens up the doors of medical science to be able do it right here in the state of Texas..

I understand that other people are mad that their stuff hasn’t been heard, but I’ll tell you what, I’d trade every one of my bills I’ve passed, every single one of them, to get the chance to hear HB 810. Because I pray to God every time I go to Mass, every time I close my eyes that one day my wife, and not for my sake, for her sake, will have the chance to have that opportunity to be able to walk.

 

It might give somebody like my wife a chance to walk.

To know that the apple is so close and I can’t grab it.

So members, please, if you could find it in your heart I’d appreciate it. If we could move a little bit forward tonight.

Michael Quinn Sullivan and Tony McDonald, general counsel of Empower Texans were unmoved by Springer, even doubting his tears.

 

Nonetheless, HB 810 passed on second reading, 141 to 0.

The bill, however, was not without controversy.

On May 6, Sally Temple, Ph.D., president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, wrote a Letter to Texas House of Representatives, U.S., Opposing Legislation It Says Would Put Patients at Risk

In their current form, House Bill 661, House Bill 810, and House Bill 3236 will also allow companies to sell unsafe and ineffective therapies. It may sound like an appealing idea to allow seriously ill patients accelerated access to experimental therapies, however, in the absence of full clinical testing, these bills will allow snake oil salesmen to sell unproven and scientifically dubious therapies to desperate patients.

But Gov. Abbott, who like Springer’s wife, has been unable to walk since an accident when he was a young, was supportive.

After the session ended at midnight, Springer had still not spoken with his wife.

The last time he had talked to her, “She was cussing all the guys on the back mic before I did it and I didn’t tell her I was going to so I’m not sure if she turned it off or not. She does have work in the morning. I haven’t talked to her or texted her since.

On his way out of the chamber last night, Springer was approached by Waamene Yowiza, a young woman who works as a sergeant-at-arms in the House.

Yowika

I just want to tell you, I Ioved your speech, it was so touching. I was crying the whole time

Springer:

You’re sweet for saying that.

Yowika:

To just stand up there and say something that’s actually important.

Springer:

Once it gets going it gets a little easier. I was just trying not to cry.

On the way back to his office, Springer said he never intended to give a personal privilege speech.

I said I was never ever going to do one.

I think the best personal privilege speech is the guy who has been here ten years, twenty years and they say, “I’ve enjoyed it,”  look back, sort of the Craig Eiland speech (when he left the House at the end of the session in 2013). He was my idol. I said “I’m going to do a Craig Eiland speech when I’m ready.”

But having just delivered the personal privilege speech he said he never intended to give, Spring said, “I never intend to do another.”

On Friday, HB 810 passed on third reading.

 

 

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