This Indecision’s Buggin’ Me…

This indecision’s buggin’ me (Indecisión me molesta)
If you don’t want me, set me free (Si no me quieres, librame)
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be (Dime! ¿Qué tengo ser?)
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me? (¿Sabes que ropa me quedar?)
Come on and let me know (Pero tienes que decir)
Should I cool it or should I blow? (¿Me debo ir o quedarme?)

“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
The Clash

The 1981 hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” from the British punk rock band, The Clash, offers a fitting tribute to the 84th Texas Legislative Session: The lyrics of this song repeatedly beg for some sort of direction, even imploring in Spanish. Today’s missive is not specific to the HCHA agenda, but more of an observation on the entire legislative process this year that is impacting bills of all stripes.

Case in point is the disjointed committee process that has become the rule rather than the exception in both the House and Senate, i.e. leaving bills pending after a public hearing and discussion by the members of the committee. Traditionally, bills that had strong support were heard, discussed, and then voted on at the committee hearing, all on the same day. Bills that were not quite clear to the members or ones that were controversial where the sponsor wanted to continue to work on amendments were left pending for a week or two and then the Chair would bring the bill back up for a vote, usually with amendments from the interested parties to address specific concerns. This session, every bill has been left pending in every committee in both the House and Senate, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for weeks, and often when they are brought back up for a vote there are no amendments or substitutions.

The other interesting observation from the House, in particular, is the number of bills that have been brought up for a vote and then voted down. Again, traditionally, a Chair or the Speaker would ask the sponsor if they had enough votes to move the bill, and if the answer was no, the bill was simply left to die a quiet death. When House members have a hard time getting a “yes” or “no” when polling their bill (because the respondent’s answer is unclear or obtuse), they may mistakenly believe that there are enough votes to bring the bill up for passage. This miscommunication has occurred 29 times so far this session either in committee or on the floor of the House, often to the embarrassment of the author(s) and sponsor(s).

The last observation relating to the song title “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” has to do with the differences in bills passed from both the House and the Senate on virtually everything that is substantive. This observation is not unique to this Legislature, but what remains to be seen in the next couple of weeks is how they will come together on several pieces of legislation to address their differences. This process, when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, is either solved quickly when one body concurs with the changes made by the other, or more slowly when they appoint a conference committee of 5 members from each body to work out the differences. It happens every session with the budget, and we expect numerous bills will be sent to conference committee in the coming weeks, but the question still remains as to whether or not these conference committees will be able to find enough common ground to fix the bills.

The logic behind parliamentary procedure creates a clear process for diverse groups to reach some sort of decision, and indecision slows and distracts progress. At some point, each committee, and even the full House and Senate, must hold a vote where the members choose to support or oppose a bill. Since the Texas Legislative session only lasts 140 days every other year, the indecision and delayed decision-making can literally kill numerous pieces of legislation, both good and bad. My prediction at this point in the session, thanks to the indecision, is that Governor Abbott and his staff will be significantly less busy in the first 20 days of June reviewing bills for either a signature or veto. There simply won’t be that many bills that make it to his desk this year.