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Bills by the handful perish as Texas House hits crucial late-session deadline

By James Barragán and Karen Brooks Harper, The Texas Tribune

Bills by the handful perish as Texas House hits crucial late-session deadline” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Some lawmakers cheered, others anguished as the Legislature zoomed past a crucial midnight deadline Thursday, leaving more than 140 House bills on the scrap pile.

Democrats had maneuvered since the start of the week to delay action in the House, dragging out debate in an effort to wear down the Republican majority, which still had multiple bills on guns and the treatment of transgender Texans awaiting passage at the deadline.

The “chubbing,” as the delaying strategy is called, continued Thursday. At one point, El Paso Democrat Joe Moody questioned Rep. Mark Dorazio, R-San Antonio, about whether he had seen the entire “Leprechaun” filmography to research his bill on linking debit card transactions to the Texas Bullion Depository, which holds silver and gold.

As some yawned at their desks as debate wore on, other lawmakers turned to humor, whistling the sound of bombs falling to indicate a bill dying.

Among the doomed GOP bills were Rep. Ellen Troxclair of Austin’s effort to move the management of her city’s electric utility away from its City Council, Rep. Richard Hayes of Denton’s bill to remove short-barreled firearms from the state’s list of prohibited weapons, and Rep. Shelby Slawson of Stephensville’s bill to extend the statute of limitations to sue a doctor for providing a young person with gender-affirming medical care.

Democrats also killed a bill that would have let people with gun licenses in other states own and carry guns in Texas without training or acquiring a Texas license to carry, and another that would have allowed school marshals to openly carry handguns on campus.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, was among several lawmakers who wore all black on the House floor Thursday.

“Today’s a funeral,” he said. “It’s a funeral for House bills.”

But killing those bills came at the cost of also torpedoing Democratic bills. Freshman Rep. Christian Manuel of Beaumont’s “ban the box” bill to prevent employers from asking about a job candidate’s criminal history on an application died on the House’s calendar Thursday night. A bill by fellow freshman Rep. Suleman Lalani of Sugar Land to protect hospital staff from liability when they forcefully respond to an attack also went down.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston’s bill to bar greyhound dog racing in the state also did not come up for a vote.

The calendar also included some obscure bills, like Rep. Terri Leo-Wilson of Galveston’s effort to create an oyster advisory committee to help manage an industry that is crucial to her district. Dorazio saw his bill to create digital coins tied to the silver and gold in the state’s bullion depository die as well.

Some bills can still find life as amendments to similar legislation. Others could have a similar Senate bill; the deadline for House action on those is less than two weeks away.

Although the mood was largely subdued as lawmakers made their way down a 20-page calendar, moments of intense floor action peppered the 14-hour day.

An attempt by House Democrats to force a vote on raising the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 produced impassioned pleas by supporters — and silence from opponents. The bill by state Rep. Tracy King, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, was voted out of a House committee on Monday but was not scheduled on the calendar in time to make Thursday’s deadline.

“I’ve been around the families from Uvalde for going on a year. Not once before that day had I ever seen any one of them smile. Not one of them had I seen shed a tear out of anything but sadness,” said Moody, who tried to tack the age limit onto a handgun safety bill by a Republican. “Not once had I hugged them and felt that there was some hope until that vote. Those folks deserve this conversation, and they deserve to have that hope.”

The amendment was ultimately killed on a technicality and without a floor vote, but it was good to have the discussion on the House floor, King said.

The somber moment shifted to celebration an hour later when lawmakers in favor of legalizing sports betting eked out a victory with 101 votes in favor — just one more than was needed to send the proposed constitutional amendment to voters. The House erupted into cheers when House Joint Resolution 102 passed.

But there were more tense moments to follow. Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd, had his effort to create a new municipal management district in Liberty County ended by a procedural tactic by Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine.

The move appeared to be in retaliation for Bailes’ move Wednesday night to block the House Committee on Public Education from meeting to vote out an 80-page substitute for a “school choice” bill, a priority for some Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott. Rural Republicans like Bailes have said the bill, which would give public dollars to parents to send their kids to private schools, would hurt funding for public schools that are frequently the only education option in those districts.

Bailes objected to the meeting because he said the committee planned to vote out the substitute bill without public input. The House ultimately voted against allowing the committee to meet Wednesday night, pushing its consideration of the school choice bill to 8 a.m. Monday, when the committee will hear only from invited witnesses.

Immediately after Bailes’ bill was killed, the House considered a very similar bill for a municipal management district in Montgomery County. That bill easily passed.

Bailes declined to comment.

The Shepherd Republican wasn’t the only one roughed up Thursday. Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, has been one of the minority party’s most aggressive lawmakers this session, trying to amend bills in committee without the author’s permission so teachers’ required contributions to retirement plans wouldn’t be increased, calling out procedural mistakes on Republican bills and trying to force votes on gun safety legislation.

His bill to remove obsolete provisions in the state’s property code was the last bill on Thursday’s calendar, making it extremely unlikely to get a vote. Asked about his bill’s placement, Bryant said, “I think it speaks for itself.”

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