Coarse correction: How the Freedom Caucus changed the session’s trajectory.

Good day Austin:

I guess that’s what’s known as a coarse course correction.

But I like the original, which is truer to Stickland’s rough and tumble style.

Stickland had entered the House chamber for yesterday afternoon’s session with pride in his stride.

“They thought we were idiots,” he told me, referring to himself and other member of the House Freedom Caucus – a dozen strong.

But, Stickland said yesterday, thanks to the Freedom Caucus’ strategic gambit, I was now witnessing the “end of the regime.”

From Chuck Lindell in today’s Statesman:

Launching an unusually public and pointed exchange between the Legislature’s top two Republicans, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called reporters to the Capitol on Wednesday to issue an ultimatum to House Speaker Joe Straus.

Unless the House passes two of his priorities — limits on transgender-friendly bathroom policies and changes to the property tax system — Patrick said he would hold up a sunset bill needed to keep some state agencies operating, all but ensuring the need for a special session after the regular session ends May 29.

What’s more, Patrick said, if the House fails to pass either priority, he will press Gov. Greg Abbott to call as many special sessions as necessary to gain their approval.

“Whether we have a special session is now in the hands of the speaker,” said Patrick, who presides over the Senate.

What does this have to do with Freedom Caucus?

From Chuck’s story:

Patrick said he was inspired to take his disagreement with Straus public after the House speaker sent him a letter Monday, then released it to the media, on end-of-session issues.

The Straus letter asked Patrick for action on SB 310, a version of a House sunset bill that was killed by a calendar deadline. Patrick sensed an opportunity.

RELATED: Lawmakers fear agency closures at risk without special session

“It’s very late, but we can still get it out,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We have less than 48 hours, probably, to pass it to avoid the need for a special session. Before we move Senate Bill 310, I must see action by the House to pass several key bills.”

And, from the Statesman’s Sean Collins Walsh on Tuesday.

State lawmakers are worried that last week’s insurrection by tea party-aligned Republicans, which killed hundreds of House bills, might have jeopardized a procedural measure needed to keep some state agencies open.

The struggle to pass what is known as the Sunset Commission scheduling bill is the epitome of legislative inside baseball, but it could play a key role in negotiations over such high-profile issues as transgender bathroom access and the state budget.

With the House version of the sunset bill now dead, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Monday asked fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to resurrect it by having the Senate quickly pass its version and send it to the House before a procedural deadline arrives at the end of the week.

Conservatives, however, are urging Patrick to use his power over the bill as leverage to either extract concessions from the more moderate Straus on issues important to the socially conservative wing of the GOP or to force Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session when those issues could take center stage. The regular session ends on Memorial Day.

House Bill 3302, which would have extended the life of some state agencies set to expire soon under Texas’ Sunset Commission review process, was one casualty of what became known as the “Mother’s Day Massacre,” in which members of the self-styled Freedom Caucus killed hundreds of their colleagues’ proposals by slowing down the House’s work as key bill-passing deadlines passed.

The only hope for the measure is now Senate Bill 310 by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano. The Senate, which initially planned to wait for the House bill to be approved before taking up the measure, hasn’t held a hearing on the bill.

xxxxxxxxxxx

The Texas Sunset Commission periodically reviews all state agencies to decide whether they should continue to exist and, if so, make recommendations for improving them.

The Sunset scheduling measure, called the “safety net” bill, extends the charter of agencies that are set to expire but haven’t yet been reviewed and recommended for continuation.

Most major agencies get their own Sunset reauthorization bills. The House, for instance, on Tuesday approved one for the Texas Department of Transportation.

But some smaller state entities, like the Texas Real Estate Commission, could fall through the cracks if the Sunset scheduling bill fails.

In holding up the House agenda last week, the Freedom Caucus specifically targeted the Sunset bill, said Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, a member of the caucus.

“We accomplished our mission,” he said.

Leach said he hoped the wrench the caucus has thrown in the end-of-session negotiations will bring the House to the table on Patrick-prioritized bills that limit local government’s ability to raise property taxes, prohibit transgender Texans from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities and make it harder to get abortions.

On Wednesday, Patrick did exactly what the Freedom Caucus hoped he would do and the Freedom Caucus was recast from hopeless outcasts to The Dirty Dozen, a grizzled and fearless band who had gone behind enemy lines and taken the hostage needed to carry the day.

A Major with an attitude problem and a history of getting things done is told to interview military prisoners with death sentences or long terms for a dangerous mission; To parachute behind enemy lines and cause havoc for the German Generals at a rest house on the eve of D-Day.

I guess, amid the all-star cast, the closest to Stickland would be Charles Bronson as Wladislaw.

The last guy in the world you’d expect to be a hero.

I won’t attempt to connect any other members of Freedom Caucus to particular characters in The Dirty Dozen,

Especially not Telly Savalas as Archer Maggot.

Maggot is a maniac, says Savalas. His religious fanaticism could never be moderated or quelled.

It is a constant danger.

Train them. Arm them. Excite them. And turn them loose on the Nazi high command Straus leadership team.

As yesterday’s session broke up, I put the question to another key member of the Freedom Caucus – Rep. Matt Rinaldi of Irving.

Q – Jonathan says you all know what you were doing. Can that be true?

Rinaldi:

We actually do.

It was an audible but it was extremely well executed at about 9 o’clock (last Thursday night). We saw the sunset safety net about ten (bills) away. We knew (keeping it from passing) would strengthen the hand of the lieutenant governor and would considerably increase the chance that property tax reform happens, that the Women’s Privacy Act happens.

A little bit earlier that night, the Texas Freedom Caucus had held a press conference at which they promised to take the Local and Consent Calendar down, but without any mention of the sunset safety net because, Rinaldi said, they were not even aware that it was the prize at that moment.

The two were not linked in any way. The press conference was a direct response  to what happened to the Local Calendar and some other things that happened, that had nothing to do with what happened later. What happened later was strategic and had to do specifically with the sunset safety net and passing conservative legislation

With a midnight deadline for bills to pass or die looming, Stickland said:

At about 11:25 the leadership picked up on what we were doing and then went and asked a series of questions about what happens if we don’t pass this, and I think, was it (Rep. Byron) Cook?

Rinaldi:

Cook figured it out about 10:30 or 11.

The Freedom Caucus had not that night or since directly coordinated with Patrick, but, as events unfolded, they realized what they had wrought.

Stickland:

Yeah, when we realized the power that it could transfer to the conservative movement I think we all, went, “All right. This is our big goal.”

Rinaldi:

We knew it would strengthen (Patrick’s) hand. and he used what he was given, so that’s good, that’s all we needed.

Our goal is to pass property tax relief. Our goal is to pass women’s privacy.

Stickland:

Straus gets to pick now. We can either do it in this session or we can do in a special.

They consistently underestimate us and I’m good with that.

A few hours earlier I was among a handful of reporters who met with Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

I asked whether the Freedom Caucus had, in fact, demonstrated some strategic genius.

Turner:

I don’t know. Strategic is not a word I usually associate with that group. Perhaps it was. Only they can answer that, whether it was strictly coincidence or whether it was intentional.

Anchia offered a more generous appraisal of the Freedom Caucuses’ strategery.

I don’t think it was a coincidence at all.

It was very obvious that they were chubbing to stop us from getting to that bill and if you looked at the consequences of not passing safety net bill – two things. Some people call it a scheduling bill and some people call it a safety net because it does both of those things.

It’s a safety net because if you have an important administrative agency whose sunset bill does not pass, you don’t want that agency to go away. TxDOT for example.  You want to catch that in the safety net of this bill.

Second, you want to schedule other things, as problems arise with agencies … you might want to accelerate a sunset on, Dallas County schools, for instance, which is an organ of state statutes … I’m very interested in putting that in some kind of review. I served on Sunset. It’s a very important function.

So by putting that on page 8 of what was going to be already a contentious calendar, it was a self-inflicted wound by the House, and the Freedom Caucus saw leverage there, and their whole goal is to exert their leverage where they can. It was just a kind of gratuitous opportunity for them.

Was the vulnerable placement of the sunset safety net bill on the calendar simply an oversight by the leadership?

Anchia:

I don’t know. All I can tell you is that when I was on Sunset, every sunset was on Major State (Calendar). Period. Full stop. Even lowly little sunset bills that wouldn’t have impacted a lot of folks if they had gone away were on Major State.

Turner:

It was a horrific unforced error. Why it was done that way I don’t know, but it was a really serious unforced error.

Anchia:

You will recall Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) went to the back microphone making parliamentary inquiries, and he asked the speaker point-blank when the speaker was in the chair, “Why was this on Page 8 and not on Major State, and the Speaker simply pointed to the back of the hall and said, “You must ask the chairman of Calendars.”

And I don’t know if any of you had a chance to talk to the chairman of Calendars.

I spoke with Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, the veteran chairman of Calendars, and he was not at all defensive and that, thanks to his long experience, his blood pressure does not spike in situations like this.

The bill was placed on the calendar in a spot that should not have been a problem, and, he said, if the governor wants a special session – or if either the lieutenant governor or the speaker wants to try to force a special session – they hardly need a hostage like this to work their will.

That said, Turner said, the only vehicle for a sunset safety net is the Senate bill, which the lieutenant governor said this morning he is going to hold hostage until he gets a bathroom bill, which is just the height of irresponsibility.

Turner:

I think the House needs to push back. The Senate is not superior to the House. Both are equal chambers. Just because the Senate or lieutenant governor wants something, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I don’t think the House or the Speaker should capitulate to what the lieutenant governor demands, and I don’t think we should capitulate to the governor either.

xxxxx

A special session, that is a decision only the governor can make. So, if there’s a special session it’s on the governor. But the House, and the members of the House and the Speaker of the House should not be blackmailed into passing policies that we know are harmful to our constituents and the state’s economy simply because the lieutenant governor wants it. That’s the bottom line.

Here, thanks to Texas Monthly’s R.G. Ratcliffe,  is Straus responding to Patrick yesterday.

I was encouraged by much of what Governor Patrick said today. I was especially glad to hear that Governor Patrick wants to start passing bills that are priorities of the House, such as mental health reforms, fixing the broken A-F rating system and cybersecurity. These are not poll-tested priorities, but they can make a very real difference in Texans’ lives. I am grateful that the Senate will work with us to address them.

Budget negotiations are going well but are far from finished. The Senate has indicated a willingness to use part of the $12 billion Economic Stabilization Fund. In addition, the two sides, along with the Comptroller’s office, are working through concerns about the use of Proposition 7 funds to certify the budget. I’m optimistic that we will produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget. I appreciate the work of the Senate conferees and Governor Patrick on these issues.

As I said in my letter to Governor Patrick, the House has worked diligently to pass priorities that are important to him. Senate Bill 2 has been scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House tomorrow. The House has already acted on a number of issues that are important to the Lieutenant Governor and will continue to do so. I’m glad that the Senate is beginning to extend the same courtesy.

Governor Patrick talked about the importance of property tax relief. The Texas House is also concerned about property taxes, which is why we approved House Bill 21 to address the major cause of rising property-tax bills: local school taxes. As it passed the House, this legislation would begin to reduce our reliance on local property taxes in funding education. Nobody can claim to be serious about property-tax relief while consistently reducing the state’s share of education funding. The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour. The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April. The House is also serious about providing extra and targeted assistance for students with disabilities. This is why we put extra money in House Bill 21 to help students with dyslexia. We also overwhelmingly passed House Bill 23 to provide grants for schools that work with students who have autism and other disabilities. The Lieutenant Governor has not referred that bill to a Senate committee.

Governor Patrick’s threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope that he reconsiders. The best way to end this session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want. But we can come together on many issues and end this session knowing that we have positively addressed priorities that matter to Texas.

In response to a question from Lauren McGaughy of the Dallas Morning News, Straus said, “I think it was unfortunate that they delayed getting to the sunset which gave the lieutenant governor  the possibility to make a threat.”

But, Straus said, “I’m not sure it gave anyone positive momentum.”

Whatever the long-term effect (as in a day or two or a week from now), Patrick got the headlines he wanted yesterday.

From R.G. Ratcliffe at Texas Monthly: Patrick Backs Straus Into a Corner

The Freedom Caucus opposes Straus but have generally been an ineffective annoyance.

That changed on April 27, when the House endured sixteen hours of debate on an anti-immigration bill to address so-called sanctuary cities. In the course of the debate, Schaefer offered an amendment to prevent police chiefs from restricting their officers from asking people who have been detained about their immigration status. In a moment of conciliation, Schaefer offered to pull down his amendment if Democrats would stop offering their own amendments designed to make Republicans look heartless and cruel. Some Democrats wanted to take the deal, but Representatives Armando Walle of Houston, Cesar Blanco of El Paso and Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio argued against it. By refusing to compromise, the three guaranteed that the so-called “show me your papers” amendment would become part of the bill that Abbott eventually signed into law.

But undeniably, Straus had an opportunity to affect the outcome of that bill. He could have kept it bottled up as he was doing with the bathroom bill, though he had allowed a similar sanctuary cities bill to go through the House in 2011. Straus also could have demanded discipline out of his chairs to vote against Schaefer. The amendment went on the bill by a vote of 81-64, with fourteen of Straus’s committee chairs voting for the Schaefer amendment, while three other members of his leadership team were away at a conference committee on the budget. Straus needed to switch only a dozen votes to keep the most controversial language out of the bill.

The Freedom Caucus was empowered, at least in perception.

In the days that followed, caucus members got an amendment on a foster care bill to prevent the vaccination of children who have been removed from their homes until a court ordered the child’s permanent removal. And last week they used maneuvers to slow down the House calendar so that a “safety net” bill failed to pass to keep agencies subject to the sunset review process alive even if their reauthorization legislation failed. And finally, they won passage of an amendment to a State Bar of Texas bill to make it an affirmative defense for a lawyer under disciplinary review to claim he or she acted because of a sincerely held religious belief—an amendment that Democrats viewed as giving lawyers the ability to discriminate against the LGBT community.

After the religious beliefs amendment passed on a vote of 85-59, Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas blurted out, “Last session these guys couldn’t pass gas. Now they’re running the floor.”

Several senior Republican members of the Straus leadership team have told me they don’t feel like anyone is in charge in the House. One called it a rudderless ship. None said they are ready to abandon Straus or revolt against him, though the frustration is rising.

I asked Turner and Anchia if the Speaker was losing his hold on the House.

Anchia cited Zedler’s successful vaccination amendment to Democratic Rep. Gene Wu’s foster care bill.

From Julie Chang Statesman story  last week: How a Texas foster care bill discussion veered into vaccination debate

The Texas House tentatively passed a bill Wednesday that would address major problems in the state’s troubled child welfare system, including overburdened caseworkers and timely health screenings of foster children.

Before the vote, however, discussion on House Bill 39 filed by Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, detoured into a passionate debate about whether the state should allow foster care children to be vaccinated before a judge terminates the rights of the child’s parents.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who tacked on an amendment to keep such children from being vaccinated, said in some cases a doctor wouldn’t know if a child is allergic to a vaccine. He and others also said it’s a matter of personal liberty.

“Listen, I’m not against vaccinations,” said Zedler. “I am against … the vaccine schedule. We’re treated like automobiles, like you get your oil change every 3,000 miles, well we’re going to give you this vaccine at birth … and so on down the line.”

Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, unsuccessfully tried to change Zedler’s measure to require foster care children be given the human papillomavirus vaccination, which can prevent certain types of cancers.

“I don’t know how many times I have to say this, I don’t know how many people I have to say it to but we can eradicate cancer with a vaccine,” said Davis, a breast cancer survivor. “I’m equally dumbfounded how this body can vote against wanting to eradicate cancer in the foster care system.”

It was the second time this week that a vaccine measure was attached to a foster care bill that has passed the House. House members on Monday approved an amendment on HB 7 that would prohibit the state from removing children from their parents if they choose not to vaccinate their children.

Anchia:

So you had a majority of the House Republicans capitulating to an anti-vaxxer amendment to Gene Wu’s House Bill 39.

So you had Dr. (J.D.) Sheffield, (R-Gatesville) who has administered vaccines throughout the entirety of his career as a physician, a family doctor, and you have (Rep.) Sarah Davis (R-Houston), who is a cancer survivor, who is arguing in favor of vaccinating kids in DFPS against different forms of cancer and so these weren’t Democrats up there, these were Republicans and subject matter expertise – experts in the subject matter – and they just got rolled.

And you would have thought that Sarah Davis who was a valued member of the Speaker’s leadership team would have carried the day, but they lost to Bill Zedler. and I will tell you that in sessions in the past, Bill Zedler, regardless of whether he was going up against a Republican or a Democrat, would have a hundred votes thrown up against him routinely, and now he’s beating a doctor and a cancer survivor on an anti-vaccine issue, and that to me was shocking.

Something’s changed.

I asked Turner and Anchia whether the session had tarnished the relationship between the Democratic caucus and Speaker Straus.

Turner:

Yeah, I think so.

It goes back to SB 4.

That Schaefer Amendment getting onto SB 4 when it could have been stopped has made a lot of people reconsider where we are on things.

You know, i think the Democrats have understood all along, Joe Straus is a conservative Republican. We understand that. Democrats have supported him with the understanding the House isn’t going to be the Senate, and those distinctions are a lot harder to see right now in light of especially SB 4, some other things, but that’s the most egregious example.

Anchia:

Attacks on SB 4 from the right were entirely foreseeable. That should not have been news to anybody. If you’re speaker of the House and one of your top lieutenants (Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Forth Worth) is carrying a bill that is a different version of SB 4 that’s still offensive but certainly less bad and you cannot whip your leadership team to stick with your top lieutenant as author that’s a problem.

The Speaker has control of virtually every lever in the House. As the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, we went to the Speaker, our executive committee, all six of us, went to the Speaker and said, “We are concerned that this is going to get out of control on the House floor. We are very concerned. Please don’t bring it to the House floor.” Every member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who was a committee chair, save one or two, sent a letter to him saying, “This is offensive, please don’t bring it to the House floor, we’re worried.”

When it came to the House floor – we’re not the backstop, we can control 55 votes. We need the author of the bill, the chair of the committee, the Speaker’s leadership team to at least set the tone so that we can at least get 76 votes against (Schaefer). We need 21 (Republicans.)

Turner:

We can be two-thirds of the backstop, but we have got to have some help.

And we can’t pretend, no one should pretend that the Speaker or committee chairs or people in the majority leadership are just bystanders to the legislative process. They are leaders in the process.

Anchia:

(On the Schaefer amendment) Charlie (Geren) said it would be the will of the House, but he’d be voting “no.”

When the Speaker Pro Tempore votes for it (Rep. Dennis Bonnen), that’s Exhibit A, that’s a prime indicator.

Turner:

The point about Geren, in the past on things like this you would typically see committee chairs sticking with the committee chair and bill author on an amendment. That happened in a few cases, so there were nine total Republicans who voted against it, but most of them did not stick with him. That’s unusual.

Which is why this man is smiling.

Stickland:

Straus has lost control of the House.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

0 comments