For the second time in a row, we must say, “What a week!” You remember all that great action we reported April 24? The news was so much better by April 28.
Of those seven bills that had hearings between April 17-24, six ended last week approved by their committee of origin and at least eligible for subsequent approval by the whole chamber, though for the House bills, still needing a Calendars Committee OK before actually being “floor worthy.” Here is the latest on those Design-Construction industry favored items—
HB 2121, relating to the recovery of attorney fees in state breach-of-contract suits of $250,000 or less…voted favorably by House Judiciary & Criminal Jurisprudence on 4/27;
HB 2128, relating to the recovery of attorney fees in state breach-of-contract suits and oral directives… voted favorably by the House JCJ on 4/27;
HB 2343, relating to a “Right to Repair” as a condition of pursuing a construction lawsuit…voted favorably by House Business & Industry on 4/27;
HB 2473, relating to reporting requirements for entities contracting with the state (to correct errors from last session’s HB 23)…voted favorably from House General Investigating & Ethics on 4/27;
HB 3021, relating to eliminating “Duty to Defend” clauses in state contracts…voted favorably from House JCJ on 4/27; and,
SB 807, relating to establishing venue for construction lawsuits in Texas…voted favorably from Senate State Affairs on 4/25. (The companion bill is HB 1844.)
Two other bills (HBs 1844 and 3434) are poised to receive committee approval early next week, leaving only two priority items (HBs 1053 and 3020) currently considered “mostly dead.”
Now, as to the bigger picture, there are big changes coming. We previously said that frayed dynamics between the House and Senate have had, and are likely to continue having, greater potential impact than partisan differences in either chamber. As of Wednesday, April 26, things changed dramatically in that regard, if not affecting this session’s relationships, certainly impacting future elections.
SB 4, the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” bill, one of Governor Abbott’s four emergency items, hit the House floor that day, and things got very political and often quite personal. There were about 60 amendments proposed for which Record Votes were taken, most of them offered by Ds.
The partisan composition of the Texas House is currently 95 Rs and 55 Ds, so it’s easy to appreciate the significance of more than 50 of the amendments going down by votes of low-90s against versus low-50s for. With painfully few exceptions, these were pure party-line votes with only an occasional few Rs not voting with their party. Despite there being three Republican representatives, it was hard not to see such a consistent string of losing votes and not think “Republican Party versus Latinos.”
I can’t help but believe that video clips of Wednesday’s (and on into Thursday morning around 3 am) debate will become part of a concerted campaign painting Republicans as anti-Latino. The number of times an amendment was passionately offered as being something: 1) to lessen widespread anxiety within local communities; 2) to reduce family separation fears (especially those of children born in the US seeing parents and grandparents deported); or, 3) as a way to avoid stigmatizing or victimizing Latinos (and other ethnicities and people of color), only to see that same party line vote repeated again and again—denying virtually all those impassioned pleas—was brutal. It’s imaginable that it could spur Latinos not only to increase the numbers registered to vote, but dramatically increase the number of Latino voters, too. Even if it takes several more elections for Latino participation numbers to increase significantly, a “Republicans don’t care about us, maybe don’t like us” story line likely has already become part of state Latino lore. What happened in Austin Wednesday only compounds nationally created perceptions repeatedly broadcast during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Maybe some Democratic strategist came up with this Pyrrhic political plan to try discrediting Rs, who knows. I can understand why the House leadership stressed a need for voting discipline; Speaker Straus knows that more conservative forces will use many of the votes as proof of “apostates (RINOs) who must be purged during the next primary.” It’s easy to view this as the Straus team doing everything it could to protect business Republican members from “hard-right” Rs—but at what cost to the Team Straus policy message that Texas is an inclusive state, with a legislature focused on “infrastructure, education funding and business, rather than ‘bathrooms’ and other social-conservative ‘red meat’ (i.e., non-economic) issues?”
Where conflicts were previously perceived primarily in terms of House vs. Senate, “Business Rs vs. Liberty Rs,” the historically more traditional partisan divide will soon vividly color things far more than before in the Texas House. It’s sad, but true.
And if a cultural ‘alienation of affection,’ especially one lasting more than a single generation, becomes a reality, that cannot bode well for Republicans. Among the 36 current state Representatives with Latino surnames, 33 are Ds, three are Rs. (Another way to look at it is: 60% of all Democratic reps are Latino, only three percent of the Republican total is.)
It was sad to watch as the bipartisan tenor of the House took such a hard hit this week. It’s sad that so many personal relationships between House members on both sides of the partisan aisle suffered as a result. It would be sadder still if such sadness makes Texas leaders look or act more like their Beltway counterparts, causing the Texas body politic to gridlock much as the national one has. It’s sad, but after Wednesday, I’m very much afraid it’s inevitable.