Keep Austin Weird — The Sequel
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This is one bizarre session. The light-speed journey of SCR 20, the authorization to bust the constitutional spending cap, through the legislative process had the potential to generate a huge brouhaha, and while there was some skirmishing in both chambers, and undoubtedly will be more when the resolution comes to the House floor next week, neither the Rs or the Ds had an appetite for a bare-knuckles brawl. What makes this weird is that they fight over things that don’t matter and don’t fight over things that do matter.
At the end of the House session on Thursday, Appropriations chairman Chisum moved to request that the committee be allowed to meet during the reading and referral of bills in the Agriculture Museum to take up the resolution and another bill. The Ag museum? Does anybody even go into the Ag museum? I did a story in the February issue on sightseeing in the Capitol and I couldn’t find a single thing there to recommend. Of course, it didn’t occur to me that visitors might get to see the Appropriations committee in action.
Then Dunnam went to the back mike to question Chisum. Did the measure receive a public hearing in the Senate? Wasn’t it filed and passed on the same day? Chisum said, “The Senate operates like that sometimes.” Dunnam shot back, “But we don’t normally operate like that.”
But they were just sparring. There was no intensity. As Dunnam conceded, nothing was at stake except whether the committee would meet during the reading and referral period or afterward. He argued that there ought to be a public hearing, as did Talton. Chisum said, “It’s just a procedural matter. We don’t allow the public to comment on our procedures.” Eiland asked, reasonably enough, Why meet in the Ag museum, where people can’t watch on TV or the Internet? Chisum said it was the most convenient place. He said something about hoping he had a quorum, and since the House was adjourning for the weekend, maybe he had a point. Moments later, he withdrew his motion and switched the meeting to the Appropriations committee room, where the meeting can be televised. Dunnam asked, “Will the chair recognize me for a motion to hold a public hearing on SCR 20?” “I will not,” Craddick said. If the process is being accelerated, that’s a pretty good indication that the speaker has the votes. And so the meeting took place in the Appropriations room, where everybody could watch on TV.
Except the cameras were off.