Thursday, May 03, 2007

How David Swinford's Bad Day Made HB 13 A Better Bill

After I called it the Governor's Great Homeland Security Power Grab this morning, the debate over HB 13 was as bizarre today as it was long and pointless (since the bill was pulled down after four hours on a point of order).

Then again, in a real sense it wasn't pointless at all. The Texas House openly rebelled against having another bad bill thrust down its throat by the leadership - in this case the Governor and Speaker Craddick. It was really quite a sight to behold.

I was sorry for David Swinford, the Chair of the State Affairs Commitee and bill sponsor, who had a really bad day. He nearly cried at the front mike as he pulled the bill down, and also later in the committee hearing afterward where he bitterly told a lobbyist for the ACLU that if the bill went down it was her fault!

On that score, I felt like Hunter Thompson when Richard Nixon's enemies list was published and he wasn't on it - I was kicking that bill, sir, before it was down! How about spreading your disapprobation a little more generously?! ;) I would think the Texas Observer would get some of the "blame," too, not to mention Jessica Farrar - she did an admirable job insisting on greater accountability in the bill.

The truth is, Mr. Swinford should be blaming Speaker Tom Craddick, if anybody, for his bill's meltdown tonight on the House floor. After sustaining a point of order four hours into the debate, the Speaker ordered Swinford to move for suspension of "all necessary rules" with a 2/3 vote to ignore the point of order and simply take back up where they left off!

For those not versed in Insider Baseball at the Texas capitol, the motion was quite unusual. Without strict rules, the 150-person House would quickly devolve into chaos, as it nearly did this afternoon. Swinford looked unhappy even asking for such an extraordinary indulgence and acknowledged (when it clearly wasn't going to fly) that he probably wouldn't usually support such a move either. If such a thing were possible it would have been done in 1997 when Arlene Wohlgemuth took down an entire day's House calendar with a single point of order. It didn't occur to anyone then, and it didn't fly today.

The Speaker was also to blame IMO, because Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer raised a similar point of order when the bill was first laid out that probably should have been sustained. The bill analysis, he noted, claimed the legislation changed a section of the code that does not and has never existed. But the Speaker, doing his best Texas Court of Criminal Appeals imitation, declared it was harmless error. Later Martinez-Fischer and Abel Herrero, after scouring the bill for hours, found additional points of order that made the case against the bill overwhelming. But the Speaker could have just honored the rules in the first place and saved everyone a lot of heartache.

Swinford actually told members as he pulled it down and re-referred it to committee that HB 13 was "not my bill"! If not, then whoever gave it to him asked him to carry a heavy, ultimately untenable load. Next time that person asks, he should decline.

That said, if Swinford takes the amendments that were offered on the floor and the other fixes proposed by the bill's critics (and he said he planned to), it will be a much better bill that deserves passage. They took away the homeland security director's law enforcement duties, including access to the controversial TDEX database, and ensconced it firmly in the Department of Public Safety. The Governor's no-oversight appointment of the homeland security director Steve McCraw, who picked a fight with the wrong Lt. Colonel, became a Senate confirmed appointee re-upped every two years. Tommy Merritt was in the process of amending the bill to have a board of four to seven members (it was up in the air) when the bill went down for the night.

During the debate it came out that the state expects up to $400 million in federal grant funds to pass through the homeland security department in the next biennium in addittion to the $100 million allocated in the House budget. If that awesome figure is even close to accurate, the agency will benefit greatly from the extra structure and accountability the House amendments will provide, and border security will only improve - even if it gave David Swinford a really bad day.

MORE: Kuff rounds up the reaction to yesterday's floor action.


Anonymous said...

This post is a complete misrepresentation of what happened. The bill had bipartisan support, from Democrats who actually represent the border. Then along came Democrats who don't represent the border playing politics - as if they have some divine wisdom to tell border members what they really need. This is a shameful misrepresentation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I disagree. Tommy Merrit's not a Democrat and he was a key floor leader criticizing the bill. I think the key vote that indicated a rebellion was when Rep. Noriega added an amendment against the wishes of the bill author that passed 100-38. That's bipartisan support alright, but AGAINST the bill sponsor, any way you cut it.

Here's the list of member who voted with Rep. Noriega to make the homeland security director accountable to the Legislature via Senate confirmation:

Allen, Alma(D); Alonzo(D); Bohac(R); Bolton(D); Bonnen(R); Brown, Betty(R); Brown, Fred(R); Callegari(R); Castro(D); Christian(R); Cohen(D); Coleman(D); Cook, Byron(R); Darby(R); Davis, John(R); Delisi(R); Driver(R); Dukes(D); Dunnam(D); Dutton(D); Eissler(R); Elkins(R); England(R); Escobar(D); Farabee(D); Farias(D); Farrar(D); Flores(D); Frost(D); Gallego(D); Garcia(D); Geren(R); Giddings(D); Gonzales(D); Gonzalez Toureilles(D); Goolsby(R); Guillen(D); Haggerty(R); Hamilton(R); Hancock(R); Hardcastle(R); Harless(R); Hartnett(R); Heflin(D); Hernandez(D); Herrero(D); Hochberg(D); Hodge(D); Homer(D); Hopson(D); Howard, Donna(D); Hughes(R); Keffer(R); King, Tracy(D); Kolkhorst(R); Kuempel(R); Leibowitz(D); Lucio(D); Mallory Caraway(D); Martinez(D); Martinez Fischer(D); McCall(R); McClendon(D); McReynolds(D); Menendez(D); Merritt(R); Miles(D); Murphy(R); Naishtat(D); Noriega(D); O'Day(R); Oliveira(D); Olivo(D); Orr(R); Ortiz(D); Otto(R); Patrick, Diane(R); Pena(D); Pickett(D); Pitts(R); Puente(D); Quintanilla(D); Raymond(D); Ritter(D); Rodriguez(D); Rose(D); Smith, Todd(R); Solomons(R); Strama(D); Straus(R); Talton(R); Taylor(R); Thompson(D); Truitt(R); Turner(D); Vaught(D); Veasey(D); Vo(D); West, Buddy(R); Zerwas(R)

That's a pretty bipartisan bunch.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there was bipartisan support for that amendment, just as there was bipartisan support for the bill as a whole. Pointing out how one amendment had bipartisan support does not negate the fact that the bill had bipartisan support.

Also, Swinford was working with members to address their concerns. That attempt was negated by Democratic members who wanted to play political games on a bill which had bipartisan support.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The bill will still have support once they fix its problems. It was a bad bill as it came to the floor. I agree Swinford was working with members, but perhaps you'l agree that if Swinford had been taking Merrit's amendments, e.g., and been more amendable to other changes, I doubt the point of order would have been called. As I wrote, if he actually accepts the amendments, it won't be a bad bill, just not a blatant gubernatorial power grab.

Anonymous said...

Hah! David Swinford, lives in Dumas!!!!! Are you really saying he "represents the border" and Rick Noriega, who just got back from a National Guard tour in Laredo, is playing politics?! OMG. Please hold that thought and save it until next year's US Senate election.

This bill had bipartisan support and also, as Grits documents, important chunks of it also had bipartisan opposition. That's because it's not a partisan issue - it's a pork issue, and also a power struggle between branches of government. It's the Governor, not Merritt, Noriega and Farrar who is playing politics with HB 13!

Anonymous said...

Everybody is playing politics with HB13. Surprise!

Welcome to the Texas Legislature. Is this your first time to join us?

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I'm sad to see anything happen to this bill and I am certainly glad to see McCraw get his butt handed to him. Having to get Senate confirmation should really beat down his holier than thou attitude.

That said, I'm not too concerned about TDEX under GDEM because a more inept group is hard to imagine. I've never seen an organization with less coordination. I won several bets after listening in on the weekly conference calls with GDEM,then making a wager on how long it would take for Colley to issue the inevitable policy reversal.

Anonymous said...

The "Memorial Day Massacre" point-of-order by Arlen Wohlgemuth occured in 1997.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ah - good catch on Arlene's Massacre. That's what I get for blogging late after listening to the House all day - my memory fades to dust! I've corrected the date in the main text, thanks.