It happened during the routine Local and Consent calendar last Friday. Speaker Turner laid out HB 3170 by Swinford, “relating to the authority of certain counties to impose a hotel occupancy tax.” Swinford said, “This authorizes the commissioners court of Midland County to impose a tax of no more than 1% on hotel-motel in the county of Midland County.” Before Turner asked if there was objection to the consideration of the bill, Talton spoke up from the back mike: “Mr. Speaker, I have objection.” Turner asked if Talton intended to speak [for the ten minutes that kills local bills] and Talton said that he did. And Turner announced that the bill was withdrawn from the calendar.
In past Ten Best/Ten Worst articles, I have had some harsh words for Talton, but I have nothing but admiration for him this session. Most of the members who were active in trying to unseat Speaker Craddick have been quiet this session. Not Talton. He has been a one-man insurgency, calling points of order on bills major and minor, wreaking havoc on the calendar. He alone is carrying on the fight. I realize that some folks will take a different view of Talton’s actions; they’ll say he is a sore loser, that he accomplishes nothing by throwing bombs and blowing up bills. Frankly, the House could use a few more sore losers. Talton’s tactics have a purpose. He is trying to undermine the speaker and loosen his hold on the House. He is saying, “You can beat me, but you can’t ignore me.” Talton joined the opposition to Craddick because he believed that the House belongs to the members, not to the speaker, and he is showing the members that they can take it back, if they want to. He works hard, he does his homework, and he uses the rules. That’s fair play.
As it happened, Talton had a good reason to oppose Craddick’s bill. Local bills must be drafted so that they have general application. For example, it is OK to have a bill apply to counties within 50 miles of the Gulf of Mexico and a population exceeding 2 million. Even though that description applies only to Harris County, it is conceivable that some day another county could reach that figure. It is not OK to say, “counties with a population exceeding 2 million according to the 2000 census.” That description will forever apply to only one county. When I first went to work as a staffer in the House, local bills used to be written that way. That’s unconstitutional. The rule is, as a friend who is a parliamentary expert explained to me, “You can drag your net so that it catches only one fish, but you can’t drag your net so that it can never catch more than one fish.”
Here is the net of Craddick’s bill: “… a county the entire border of which is located within 250 miles of New Mexico, that has a population of more than 100,000, that includes one municipality with a population of more than 100,000 but less than 120,000, and that includes within its borders an international airport….” Is the bracketing so specific that it is clearly crafted to cover Midland County and exclude all others?
We may find out today. The Calendars committee placed HB 3170 on the general state calendar. All eyes will be on Talton. Especially the speaker’s.
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