Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Who Listens To What the House Says?

Last Wednesday (May 11, 2005) the House debated Rep. Krusee’s controversial transportation bill- HB 2702 relating to the Trans Texas Corridor. After more than two hours of debate, more than 30 amendments had been proposed. The bill passed the House with 24 of the 30 amendments.

Corridor watchdog groups declared last Wednesday’s meeting a small victory. Groups like Corridor Watch and the TexasTollParty.com have been working tirelessly to amend some of the more controversial aspects of the bill. Last week, it seemed their voices hadn't gone unheard when the amended version of HB 2702 passed the House and was sent to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

Monday (May 16th) the Committee met to consider the bill. During the meeting, Chairman Todd Staples motioned to suspend Senate Rule 11.10(a) and Senate Rule 11.18(a)--rules that require at least 24 hours public notice before a committee meeting and an open public meeting before a committee or subcommittee-- before a bill can be reported to the Senate. With the rules suspended, the Committee stripped the full text of HB 2702 and replaced it with language from the Senate version, SB 1706 by Staples (already reported from committee on May 9, 2005). In doing so, the Committee was able to pass the bill to the Senate without an open meeting or public testimony on the bill.

According to the Senate Transportation Committee, the rules were suspended to keep the bill moving through the process. They say that SB 1706 had already had four public hearings, and since HB 2702 was gutted and replaced with language from SB 1706, they decided they had already provided the public plenty of opportunity for input.

But corridor watchdog groups don’t agree. They fear that without continued public input, the House version with all of the amendments they fought so hard for, will be lost. According to an alert from Corridor Watch, “the Senate has demonstrated that bills can move very fast when you suspend the rules, avoid pesky public input, and completely disregard the hard work performed by the House (who actually worked to address the concerns of their constituents).”

The stripped version of HB 2702 has been printed and distributed and placed on the intent calendar for the Senate. Once it has passed out of the Senate, the bill will be sent back to the House. According to Rep. Robby Cook’s office (the author of one of HB 2702’s amendments) most of the amendments will remain in the new version. Cook's staffer says it is hard to say what the Senate will do and whether the new version of the bill will pass the House.