Update, May 10, 2023: On Tuesday, the Texas House voted 147-0 to expel Bryan Slaton, vacating his seat until a special election can be held.

Update, April 10, 2023: On Monday, the Texas Tribune reported that an ethics complaint against Bryan Slaton had been made to the House General Investigating Committee, alleging an “inappropriate relationship” between the representative and an intern. On Monday morning, an attorney for Slaton noted “false claims” against his client in a statement. The representative returned to the House floor that afternoon, where he was one of the “no” votes in a 135–7 vote against legalizing fentanyl test strips.

The day that the state budget is debated is one of the longest events in the months-long legislative session. This year, the budget bill itself, House Bill 1, is nearly a thousand pages long, and the debate process that began on Thursday tends to stretch for many hours, often well into the morning. Lawmakers will introduce hundreds of amendments—some consequential, some frivolous, a handful downright nonsensical—in a process that’s useful both to serious representatives looking to advance their policy agenda or deliver on services for constituents, and to legislative trolls who know that the amendment process is a great way to nab some extra attention for themselves. 

On Thursday, however, state representative Bryan Slaton, a Republican who represents Royse City in North Texas—and who is one of the most active of legislative trolls—was surprisingly absent from the budget debate, with his office in the Capitol locked up and dark (when I stopped by Thursday evening, there was paper taped up over the windows). While there’s been no confirmation of the reason Slaton turned out to be a no-show, the absence of a lawmaker whose amendments have been introduced is notable. 

Slaton’s name may be familiar to a Lege-watcher; while he’s only in his second term, the Royse City representative earned himself the dubious distinction of being named “The Cockroach” in Texas Monthly’s 2021 Best and Worst Legislators issue, a title given to lawmakers “who come to Austin just to muck things up.” Because he didn’t appear in the House on Thursday, however, certain parts of the debate process will go un-mucked. One needn’t be present to prefile amendments, and Slaton did introduce 27 of those, but other ways to gum up the legislative works—repeated points of order, floor action, and so on—do require a lawmaker to be physically in the chamber. 

In order to get a better feel for the impact a single legislator can have on the workings of the institution, let’s take a closer look at what Slaton has proposed thus far this session. Some of the more than two dozen amendments he filed to HB 1 are fairly unremarkable. For instance, it’s not unusual for lawmakers of both parties to attempt to move money in or out of the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, which aims to deter pregnant Texans from seeking abortions. Slaton is one of a handful of Republicans who introduced an amendment to bolster funding for the program, attempting to buttress it with $2 million from the state’s grants for the Texas Commission on the Arts.

But that’s not the sort of amendment that makes headlines, and Slaton has filed plenty of attention-grabbers. Notably, he introduced an amendment that would ban state universities from using public funds “to host, support, or advertise a satanic ritual.” (The amendment offers no definition of “satanic,” and there are no known instances of Texas universities using state funds to promote Satanism on campus.) Other Slaton amendments would bar Texas universities (both state schools and private institutions that receive public money, which is virtually all of them) from hosting events that “support or encourage abortion,” hosting drag performances, or teaching “gender modification” procedures—which are, again, left undefined in the amendment (would mastectomy procedures count?). In addition to these attempts to carve out new exceptions to the First Amendment, there are also a bunch of amendments that would move money around—taking $50 million from the “Create Jobs and Promote Texas” fund, for example, and moving it to the Texas Railroad Commission. Slaton also proposed to dictate what the state comptroller’s annual e-newsletter must say: it would have to remind Texans of “the right to bear arms”!

Most of these measures are what lawmakers tend to refer to as a big waste of time—but without Slaton present, the amendments are unlikely to go anywhere, as other lawmakers typically don’t speak up for someone else’s troll amendments. That’s good, if you like a more efficient Legislature, but less great if you’re a member of the opposition party hoping that members of the troll caucus might yield some benefits for you. In 2021, Democratic representative Erin Zwiener, of Driftwood, tweeted her thanks to Slaton for “filing nonsense amendments,” as the time spent debating them allowed her party to slow down parts of the legislative calendar that would have otherwise advanced “awful anti-LGBT legislation,” as she put it. She included a screenshot of one such amendment from Slaton that session that would have added to Texas law the declaration that “sex means the physical condition of being mail [sic] or female.” Slaton’s continued absence today would mean there will be 27 fewer opportunities for Democrats to take advantage of his “nonsense.”

The fact that Slaton wasn’t at the Capitol on Thursday doesn’t affect other legislation that he’s introduced. Those bills are unlikely to become law for other reasons—mostly because they’re just as unserious as his amendments—but let’s take a quick look at them. Several would impose Slaton’s ideals of morality as a standard for the state; for example, House Joint Resolution 128 proposes a constitutional amendment (to be voted on in November) that would allow married couples with ten or more children to be exempt from property taxes, provided that neither spouse has ever been divorced. His HB 858 would amend part of the penal code to remove an existing defense that can be used by those prosecuted for distributing “materials harmful to a minor” if the materials were given out for scientific or educational reasons. Slaton would prefer that Texas law allow no such justification. 

Combating the “sexualization” of young people is an important legislative priority for Slaton generally; in HB 151, he would—among other things—remove an existing defense to child pornography laws that would prevent, say, a nineteen-year-old from being prosecuted for having explicit photos of her seventeen-year-old boyfriend. (Slaton’s bill does preserve an exception if the adult in possession of the photos is married to the child in question.) HB 4129, another Slaton special, amends language in the existing business and commerce code for an “erotic performance”; where it now says “an individual younger than eighteen years of age” is barred from seeing such performances, it would instead simply say “a child”— seemingly an attempt to remind Texans that seventeen-year-olds are children in the eyes of the law. 

Slaton doesn’t limit himself to particular topics when it comes to trolling, though. In HB 5212, he’d require that morgues established using funding from Operation Lone Star “post a sign indicating the designation as the Joseph R. Biden Morgue in a conspicuous place reasonably likely to be viewed by all persons” who enter. In House Concurrent Resolution 54, he’s got an arch bill that would “respectfully notif[y] the federal government of a series of alleged boating accidents” that resulted in the loss of all ammunitions and firearms in the counties his district encompasses, apparently out of fear that the feds are going to create a weapons registry. (There were no boating accidents that destroyed all weapons and ammunition in the landlocked counties.) HB 154—which Slaton coauthored with a pair of his fellow Republicans—would prevent a Texas governor from mandating face masks during a disaster, even if that disaster involves, say, a deadlier and faster-moving pathogen than COVID-19. Slaton has also filed a bunch of bills that take familiar GOP topics—such as restricting the rights of transgender Texans or the ability to obtain an abortion—and escalate them far beyond his party’s current positions. HB 2709, for example, would allow for Texas to execute anyone in the state who uses emergency contraception. 

Even if Representative Slaton returns to work at some point this session, those bills are nonetheless unlikely to become law. But if you’ve been wondering how the sausage does—and doesn’t—get made, lawmakers like Slaton are a part of the puzzle.