Emotions flare in Texas House of Representatives on key legislative day

While you were sleeping, majority of bills died in Texas House

AUSTIN - While most people were sleeping Thursday night, members of the Texas House of Representatives were wide awake.

It was the last day for them to vote on House bills on the regular calendar.

Emotions flared as bills died. 

"Members, I know tonight's been a long night, it's been difficult," Representative Jonathan said Stickland (R-Bedford) while giving a personal privilege speech.

Many would argue the reason the night was "difficult" was because of Stickland and his colleagues in the self-named Freedom Caucus, which is made up of conservative and tea party Republicans. 

From the time members gaveled in, Stickland and others seemed to be on a mission to keep bills from being heard by asking questions, a practice known as chubbing, and submitting amendments only to withdraw them. 

Another tactic used; giving personal privilege speeches. 

"I am sick and tired of the rules only mattering when it keeps the minority members of this house, whatever the issue is, in line," Stickland said 

"A group of people [are] getting together and deciding we want a bill. And all of a sudden your ability to offer an amendment, talk against the bill, ask questions are all silenced. It's disgusting," he yelled, "it's disgusting. And one of these days it's going to happen to something you care about."

The behavior is all par for the course, something representatives are allowed to do and that their colleagues expect. 

But in the 11th hour, it became too much for one representative to bear. Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered the representatives to sit down, calling some of them out by name, and introduced Representative Drew Springer (R-Muenster) to give a personal privilege speech. 

"I'll be damned if we don't have the chance tonight to hear the very next bill that opens up the doors of medical science to be able to be done right here in the State of Texas," Springer said.

The next bill was House Bill 810 which would allow adult Texans to undergo certain investigational stem cell treatments. It's particularly useful for people suffering from multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries. And it hits home for Springer.

"I pray to God every time I go to Mass and every time I close my eyes that one day my wife, and not for my own sake but for her sake, will have the chance to have that opportunity again to be able to walk," he said sobbing. 

Springer pleaded with his colleagues to stop the political games and move along to hear the bill before the midnight deadline.

"To know that the apple is so close and I jut can't grab it," he said crying. 

The members did move on and the bill passed.

But there were still efforts to kill bills after that, especially during the final bill heard, House Bill 3292 by Representative Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth).

"I would like to give a personal privilege speech sir," said Stickland as his colleagues booed.

Straus denied his request, telling Stickland he had already called for a vote.

"Will I be recognized to give a personal privilege speech after that," Stickland asked.

"Not at this time,"Straus replied. "We're in the middle of a vote."

But Stickland persisted. "Mr. Speaker it's a privilege motion. It takes precedent over everything else. Does it not Mr. Speaker?" he asked.

Straus simply smiled as the sound of members registering their votes filled the room. The bill passed.

And when Stickland returned to the microphone to ask to speak, he was denied. 

"It's midnight Mr. Stickland," Straus said smiling. 

With all of the political games played between 10:00 am and midnight, the representatives passed just 37 House bills out of the 295 that were on the calendar. 

Many took to Twitter to say goodbye to their dead bills, but Representative Dan Huberty (R-Houston) was recognized on the House floor. 

"I want to adjourn in memory  of Cody Stephens," Huberty said. "I had a House Bill that died tonight, House Bill 3476, as a result of everything that happened. Cody was an 18-year old young man who died of a heart condition that we could have prevented. This is the fourth time that we've tried to pass this bill."

The bill would require echocardiograms or electrocardiograms for students participating in Universal Interscholastic League (UIL) sports  to identify potential heart conditions.

"And as the Chairman of public education it was my responsibility to pass it," Huberty said pausing, "and I didn't do it. And all I can say to Scott and his family is I'm sorry. And so tonight as we go home and think about what we've done, I would ask that you pray for the Stephens family and that we adjourn tonight in the memory of Cody Stephens. Thank you Mr. Speaker," Huberty said, then walked away from the microphone. 

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