Monday, May 9, 2011

Rule of Law

Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still Psalm 4:4

The Texas Legislature worked on Saturday. Let me rephrase that. The Texas Legislature was in session on Saturday.

We are at the time of session when people are operating with too much stress and too little sleep. Tempers are running high and patience is running low. Watching the activity on Saturday was painful.

To put things in perspective, let’s start with a recap. The Republicans represent 101 of the House seats. The Democrats hold 49. For business to be conducted, 100 members have to be on the House floor. Technically, Republicans could pass anything they wanted to without any Democrat vote. There is an extensive book of House Rules which dictate how the game is to be played. One of the reasons the rules are provided is to establish a clear playing field which does not allow the majority to run rough shod over a minority.

In practice, rules can be a frustrating thing. Just like in a game of baseball. If your team hits the winning run, but the ball goes out of bounds by a hair’s width, it is difficult to understand why the umpire doesn’t just give you the run. But, the solution is not to change the foul lines, it is to keep the ball in the field.

Likewise, the House rules have specifications on every detail of how committees and the activity on the House floor will run. Some of them seem trivial and nitpicking. But, they are the rules everybody adopted at the start of session. The time to change them is when they are adopted, not when the ball is in play.

So, we come to the Texas House. On one hand, Democrats have been frustrated by their lack of numbers to effectively block legislation. On the other hand, as bills have been stopped when a point of order (rule violation) has been called by the Democrats, frustrations for Republicans have mounted. There are some priority bills which are being delayed because of technicalities. But, that’s not just a Democrat tool. Anybody can use it.

Things came to a head on Saturday.

Working with only 116 members on the floor, the rumor all day was that we would drop below a quorum and not be able to continue business. Several times members made a motion for a “call on the House” to ensure enough people were there to conduct business. A call on the House is a procedure where the doors are locked and members who are not on the floor can be compelled to return. (Think nuclear option.) Each time the motion was withdrawn.

A bill was brought to the floor for consideration. A point of order was called. It was overruled. Then, motions were made to suspend all rules. Tempers flared.

It is a common motion to suspend all necessary rules to take up and consider a particular bill. That motion means none of the rules of procedure apply, and it is generally made to bring up simple resolutions that do not need to go through the committee process. On Saturday, the motions were to suspend all rules for everything, meaning there could be no procedural points of order called on any bill on the calendar.

Now, since a motion to suspend the rules is a legitimate motion, I suppose that means that one of the rules is that you can change the rules in the middle of the game. But, choosing to win by changing the rules in the middle of the game because you are frustrated does nothing to improve the climate on the House floor. After several hours of bickering and negotiations, the House adjourned until 10:am this morning.

So, this morning my prayer is that:

1) The players will show up to continue the game. We are not finished yet.
2) Tempers will be checked at the door. We can be angry, but we do not want to sin.
3) The business of the State of Texas will proceed.

Lord, by your grace and mercy our leaders can move forward an accomplish the purposes for which they have come to Austin. I pray that Your presence will be with them on the House floor today. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment