Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Tort reform passes House in spite of temporary gridlock

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In a rare Saturday meeting, and with Mother’s Day on the horizon, House lawmakers were less than nurturing toward their counterparts across the aisle.

Shortly after the morning call to order, it became clear that only 113 members were present, meaning just a handful of Democrats would need to walk out in order to break quorum.

To prevent the tactic, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, recommended to House Speaker Joe Straus that the chamber be locked down, but outcry from Democrats quickly nixed the effort.

Instead, Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi proposed a temporary suspension of parliamentary procedures, which would allow lawmakers to vote on several controversial bills without recognizing points of order Monday. Democrats quickly lined up on the back bench to protest the move, saying it set an ugly precedent.

One Democratic lawmaker called for the day’s meeting to be adjourned in light of the increasingly hostile mood in the chamber.

Instead, Republicans pushed forward, and Rep. Brandon Creighton to use House rules to force a vote on a bill that would make it harder to bring a civil lawsuit. The tort reform bill, which would allow defendants to collect costs if they prevail in cases of breach of an oral or written contract, passed without amendments or debate.

Creighton said amendments could be considered during a final procedural vote on the legislation.

Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, released a statement defending Straus' actions.

"It has become obvious over the past week that House Democrats are attempting tactics to stall, delay and prevent action on important legislative matters," he said.

Speaking as the chairman of the House Republican caucus, Taylor described Democrats' complaints about respect for House rules as "disingenuous," and said his efforts toward compromise have been refused.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, attributed some of the tension to the approaching holiday and week's worth of late nights, but said the day was more about theatrics than policy.

"When they forced a vote without debate or amendments on that bill, I think it looks bad and it is bad for the policy. I don't think that does the people of Texas any favors," he said.

The house stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Full statement by Rep. Larry Taylor:

“Republican members of the Texas House are supportive of open and honest debate. We place tremendous value in good-faith policymaking discussions that are rooted in respect and truthfulness. That is why I’m very disappointed by the actions on the part of some of my Democratic colleagues. I personally reached out to them on numerous occasions today to work toward a consensus but unfortunately the Democrats refused all efforts toward a resolution.

It has become obvious over the past week that House Democrats are attempting tactics to stall, delay and prevent action on important legislative matters. The 'chubbing' stunt perpetrated by the Democratic Caucus last session killed many important legislative items and that fiasco is still fresh on our minds.

The arguments on the part of the Democratic house members about ‘respecting the House and respecting our rules’ have become shrill and extremely disingenuous. Raising Points of Order after hours of debate reveal the tactics of the Democrats for exactly what they are – blatant attempts to stifle legislative debate and waste the valuable time of the Texas Legislature. Simply put, we are done playing games. We have parliamentary options to counter these tactics and the majority of the Texas House of Representatives will not sit idly by while the Democrats attempt to make a mockery of this session.

Texas voters spoke loud and clear last November by sending 101 Republicans to the Texas House of Representatives. They gave the Texas Legislature a mandate for government reform, prudent fiscal discipline and respect for the rule of law. We’ve been sent here by the voters to do a job, and we intend to do it.”

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