The topic for debate Tuesday morning in the House Chamber was pretty straightforward. HB 1818, which re-authorizes the Texas Railroad Commission, was up for what should have been a quick discussion. That didn’t happen Tuesday morning. The agency currently regulates the oil and gas industry and no longer deals with trains.
The name has caused some confusion, which is why the debate opened with attempt at renaming the commission. The idea was tabled and left for another day, but it didn't stop a different attempt to sidetrack HB 1818.
The political maneuvering that took place involved trying to force a floor debate on SB6. The legislation would regulate access to bathrooms by a person’s gender at birth. Earlier in the session the controversial legislation quickly moved out of the Senate but it currently remains in limbo on the House side. Supporters of SB6 spent the morning urging lawmakers to force the issue, by bringing it up through the amendment process.
"It is clear that everybody is talking about this issue so why can't the house members talk about it on the floor and so I don't think anybody should be surprised by this and this is a part of the process,” said Jonathan Saenz with Texas Values.
Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer made the first shot at hooking up SB6 to the railroad commission bill. Speaker Joe Straus ruled the amendment is not germane to HB1818. Other efforts were also derailed. Even a challenge to the Speaker’s authority was brushed aside.
"We have a right to vote on this bill, but we do not have the right to put forth an amendment that you decided that apparently is unchallengeable,” said State Rep Jonathan Stickland.
Speaker Straus responded by saying, “ Mr. Stickland I believe we've answered your question."
Supporters of SB 6 are worried it may now never come up for a vote.
"I also can assure you that if it happens there is a lot more support on this floor than people realize and I think there are a lot of efforts going on behind the scenes to continue to push to bring this to the floor for an upper down vote that's what I've asked for that's what grassroots Texans around the state are asking for. That's what many pastors, many nonprofit organizations are asking for is an up or down vote on the floor,” said Rep Schafer.
Schafer didn't rule out trying to tack SB6 onto other bills. But with the session winding down - time seems to be running out on the Bathroom Bill.
A major change to the Railroad Commission bill did happen. It was the result of a political jab that appeared to have backfire on the state lawmaker who threw it. Representative Rafael Anchia filed an amendment to hold oil companies accountable if they hire undocumented immigrants. To the surprise of the Dallas Democrat, his idea passed. Representative Anchia voted against his own amendment and later said he was actually trying to make a statement; not hurt immigrant workers.
"I think it worked, I think ultimately calling out the hypocrisy ... calling out the hypocrisy of people in the GOP that wanted only to attack immigrants and not focus on employer sanctions, I think it ultimately worked, and they had to step up to the plate afterwards and put E- Verify on the Oil and Gas Industry. Now let’s, I think we need to be honest here, let’s see if it stays on through the end of the entire process,” said Rep. Anchia.
The Anchia Amendment not only requires the Railroad Commission make sure all the businesses that they regulate go through the E-Verify process. It also requires subcontractors in the oil and gas industry to verify all their employees.