I looked through the House rules yesterday in search of information pertaining to a motion to vacate the chair. I did not find it. This is because it does not exist. There is no such motion.
End of story? Not exactly. My quest led me eventually to Hugh L. Brady, editor of “Texas House Practice,” 2nd Edition, newly revised for the Eightieth Legislature. Brady pointed me to Rule 5, Sec. 35, “Questions of Privilege Defined.”
Questions of privilege shall be:
(1) those affecting the rights of the house collectively; its safety and dignity, and the integrity of its proceedings; and
(2) those affecting the rights, reputation, and conduct of members individually, in their respective capacity only.
Following the this rule is a lengthy discussion of precedents. The ensuing discussion makes no mention of any legislative precedents. There is, however, a lengthy discussion of congressional precedents. Paragraph 403 reads (omitting citations, which are represented by ellipses):
PRIVILEGE OF THE HOUSE; ORGANIZATION OF THE HOUSE AND THE SEATING OF MEMBERS. Questions of privileges of the House include questions relating to the organization of the House …; the rights of Members to their seats …; and questions relating thereto …. A proposition declaring the Office of Speaker vacant presents a question of the privilege of the House ….
Rule 5, Sec. 36 is also relevant:
PRECEDENCE OF QUESTIONS OF PRIVILEGE. Questions of privilege shall have precedence over all other questions except motions to adjourn. When in order, a member may address the house on a question of privilege, or may at any time print it in the journal, provided it contains no reflection on any member of the house.
Having been through these rules, I still can’t determine what the “trigger” is for vacating the chair. Is the process initiated by a motion? Or perhaps by a resolution? In the discussion of congressional precedents, the aforementioned Paragraph 403 concludes, “But resolutions authorizing attendants for the Members’ restroom or providing a new lunchroom for Members were held not to raise such a question [of privileges of the House].
The operative question is whether congressional precedents carry any weight in the Texas Legislature. I can envision a situation in which a member of the Resistance goes to the back microphone to raise a matter of privilege to declare the chair vacant, and the speaker responds that the House rules have no provision for such a procedure and the member is not recognized. The member refers to the congressional precedent and the speaker says that the House is not bound by congressional precedent. (Close watchers of the House may recall that Dunnam raised an issue earlier this week to which the speaker responded that he was citing a congressional precedent.) Then what? Does the Resistance challenge the ruling of the chair? Or perhaps the Resistance files a resolution and Craddick declines to accept it on the grounds that the rules are silent on the subject. Pandemonium will break out.
I believe that these questions will be answered on the floor of the House before sine die.