Railroad Commission debate can’t escape bathroom battle
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.
House Parliamentarian Chris Griesel (left) talks Tuesday to Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, in the House chamber. Stickland wanted Speaker Joe Straus overruled.