AUSTIN (AP) — With deadlines looming and tempers flaring, Texas House members Friday argued over a litany of local bills waiting for passage amid threats that much of the legislation would be killed or delayed and left to die.
Among thousands of proposals under consideration before the legislative session ends May 28 are lawmakers’ local measures dealing with everything from water and utility lines to police and fire pension funds.
The Legislature is soon coming upon deadlines set out in its rules for voting on those bills. For days a logjam of legislation has been building in the House.
On Friday, Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick stood silently and listened with the rest of the chamber as Democratic Rep. Yvonne Davis of Dallas spoke of partisan divisions in the House and took aim at some of Craddick’s leadership team. She said there had been suggestions that some bills were being stalled in a retaliatory action by Craddick lieutenants.
“We came here as leaders. … You get into this chamber and you become little boys and little girls following and compromising your own integrity,” Davis said. “All of us ought to go home and check ourselves and ask if we were part of the problem or part of the solution.”
After her speech, many fellow lawmakers applauded. Craddick spoke privately with certain legislators and a short time later the mayhem calmed when it was announced — after requests from some Republican lawmakers seemingly trying to make peace — that additional time slots would be set aside next week to consider local bills.
Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, who chairs the committee that sets the local bill agenda, said the backlog occurred because more bills than usual are moving through the Capitol late in the five-month session.
“This week we have been deluged with bills,” he said. “I said, ‘Please get those bills over because it’s going to really get crammed up at the end.’ And it is.”
The tense confrontations occurred after House members worked until the wee hours of the morning, capping a day of debate on major pieces of legislation — a border security bill, an Indian gambling proposal and others.
Some lawmakers showed up at the Capitol on Friday with groggy voices and wet hair as though they’d just woken up and showered. One joked about wearing the same clothes as the day before.
Craddick’s leadership has been under scrutiny all session after he fended off challenges to his speakership from within his own party. Democrats and some Republicans claimed he didn’t run the House in a fair manner. Craddick assured legislators he listened to their concerns.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Houston Democrat, cautioned that even though the house managed to “avoid a blood bath on the floor” Friday, that might not be the case in the future unless lawmakers put personalities aside and work together.
“I would encourage people to use all the teeth in their mouth and smile,” responded Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, the president pro tempore of the House, as he tried to steer the 150-member chamber back on track.