© 2017 by Kevin Stewart

What happened to Watson’s open-government amendments?

May 20, 2017

     On May 15th, Kirk Watson tweeted, “With some bipartisan maneuvering, the #TXSenate gave new life to bills that ensure Texans can access public info.” The maneuvering he was referring to was getting SB 407 and SB 408 tacked on to HB 2328 on the Senate floor. On Thursday, HB 2328 was returned to the Senate because of those nongermane amendments.

     Rule 13, Section 5A of the House Rules states:

 

When a house bill or joint resolution, other than the general appropriations bill, with senate amendments is returned to the house, the speaker, with the permission of the primary author of the bill or resolution, may return the bill or resolution to the senate if the speaker determines that the senate amendments are not germane to the house version of the bill or resolution.

 

     HB 2328 was the first bill that the Speaker returned to the Senate this session, but the move is far from unprecedented. In the 84th, the Speaker returned HB 1630 because the Senate attached SB 2048 to it as an amendment. HB 1630 limited the settlements of a claim against governmental units; SB 2048 would have prohibited governmental units from compelling disclosure of a sermon from a religious leader. The same was true for HB 1926, which related to the governance of municipal power agencies, and an amendment that would require a person to obtain a certificate from the commission to connect to the grid.  The number of returned bills has increased over time. The Speaker returned a total of five bills in the 84th, two in the 83rd, and zero in both the 82nd and 81st.

     This is not the only way to return a bill to the Senate. If the Speaker chooses not to return it, or if the author does not give permission, a member can challenge the germaneness of Senate amendments when the amended bill is laid out before the House. In the 84th, the House was considering whether to concur on HB 3405, as reported by the Senate. Representative González raised a point of order under Rule 11, Section 2 (§3.6 of the Handbook). She successfully argued that a provision of the Senate committee substitute was not germane to the bill, and the bill was sent back to the Senate.

     So, as the session winds down, keep in mind that fighting over the bill in conference is not the only way strip a bill of an unfriendly provision. You can always seek permission of the Speaker and the author, or, if that doesn’t work, try the germaneness rule.

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