Rail­road Com­mis­sion de­bate can’t es­cape bath­room bat­tle

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - Ken Her­man Com­men­tary

It was a Tuesday that ca­reened be­tween low rhetoric and high drama as the Texas House churned to­ward the un­likely in­ter­sec­tion of en­ergy in­dus­try reg­u­la­tion and who should go to which bath­room.

The day’s high­light was the bill needed to keep the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion in business. Lurk­ing in the back­ground were amend­ments that would have set rules for bath­room us­age at the com­mis­sion’s fa­cil­i­ties and de­clare that birth cer­tifi­cates would be the de­ter­mi­na­tive doc­u­ment in de­cid­ing who’s a wo­man when it comes to com­mis­sion con­tracts in which women-owned busi­nesses get pref­er­ence.

You never know where this trans­gen­der stuff is go­ing to come up this year at the Capi­tol. Yes, you do — ev­ery place it can.

In the end, we got a re­minder of Leg­isla­tive Rule No. 1: It’s al­ways good to be the guy with the gavel.

Dis­cus­sion on the Rail­road Com­mis­sion bill be­gan with de­bate of amend­ments.

The first pro­posed amend­ment in­volved the decades-old bat­tle about the Rail­road Com­mis­sion’s name. It doesn’t reg­u­late rail­roads. It reg­u­lates the oil and gas in­dus­try. So state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dal­las, tried to amend the bill to change the name to the Texas

Oil and Gas Com­mis­sion. Seems log­i­cal, so it failed.

A few amend­ments later state Rep. Nicole Col­lier, D-Fort Worth, moved the dis­cus­sion to gen­der, but not in the way you might think. She found it per­ti­nent to tell col­leagues, “I’m the only fe­male to file an amend­ment.”

Oops. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, pre­vi­ously had of­fered an amend­ment. Like Col­lier, Howard iden­ti­fies as fe­male.

“I’m the only straight-haired fe­male,” Col­lier joked. “She’s the curly one.”

The rhetoric per­haps reached its low when state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dal­las, and gen­er­ally one of the cham­ber’s more pol­ished or­a­tors, re­ferred to some­thing as the “800pound ele­phant in the room.” Wouldn’t that be a small ele­phant? My cur­sory re­search shows the av­er­age birth weight for a baby ele­phant is around 200 pounds.

About two hours into the de­bate (on the bill, not ele­phant weight), House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, an­nounced there were no fur­ther amend­ments. Turns out that was kind of true. What there were, were no fur­ther amend­ments Straus would let the House con­sider, a de­ci­sion that sent state Rep. Matt Schae­fer, R-Tyler, to the mi­cro­phone for a ques­tion or two or three or four for Straus.

Schae­fer wanted to know what hap­pened to his pro­posed amend­ment that would have re­quired the Rail­road Com­mis­sion to use gen­der as listed on a birth cer­tifi­cate to de­ter­mine who goes to which bath­rooms at its fa­cil­i­ties.

Straus is on record as no fan of the Se­nate-ap­proved so-called bath­room bill us­ing birth cer­tifi­cate gen­der to de­ter­mine bath­room at­ten­dance in all gov­ern­ment bath­rooms.

“Mr. Schae­fer,” the speaker said in his most speak­erly tone, “that amend­ment was not ger­mane.”

Gen­er­ally, rul­ings like that are made in re­sponse to a mo­tion from the floor when an amend­ment is pro­posed. In this case, Straus flexed his right to rule an amend­ment non-ger­mane prior to it get­ting to the floor, some­thing Schae­fer, who pre-filed the amend­ment, found out when he asked this ques­tion: “Who de­cided that amend­ment was not ger­mane?”

“The chair made that de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Straus said, as you could feel tem­per­a­ture and tem­pers rise a bit.

“Mr. Schae­fer,” Straus added, “since 1913 it’s been the prac­tice of the chair to not lay out non-ger­mane amend­ments.”

Prece­dent mat­ters in the Leg­is­la­ture.

The back-and-forth went on for a few min­utes, in­clud­ing Straus say­ing he also had dead-ended the amend­ment about the def­i­ni­tion of wo­man when it comes to con­tracts awarded to women-owned busi­nesses.

The con­fronta­tions ended with a failed at­tempt by state Rep. Jonathan Stick­land, R-Bed­ford, a Straus critic, to get a vote on over­rul­ing Straus.

“If a mem­ber dis­agrees with what the chair has ruled on, how do we chal­lenge the rul­ing of the chair?” Stick­land asked Straus. “Or is this mem­ber­ship com­pletely be­holden to your de­ci­sion?”

Straus said no chal­lenge was pos­si­ble be­cause what he had made was a “de­ter­mi­na­tion,” not a “rul­ing.” Stuff like that also mat­ters in the Leg­is­la­ture.

See above re: Leg­isla­tive Rule No. 1.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

House Par­lia­men­tar­ian Chris Griesel (left) talks Tuesday to Rep. Jonathan Stick­land, R-Bed­ford, in the House cham­ber. Stick­land wanted Speaker Joe Straus over­ruled.

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