On a party-line, 5-4 vote, the House Elections Committee passed Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) after a committee substitute replaced all of the bill’s provisions with the text of House Bill 6 by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park). The bill passed after the committee re-convened following the end of the House floor session. An effort to pass the bill before the House session without recognizing objections or amendments failed when a Republican committee member said he would “pass” on voting on it.

Prior to passing the substituted bill, the committee rejected a series of Democratic amendments on party-line votes, including provisions to permit online applications for absentee ballots, permit election judges to remove poll watchers, require a study of the impacts of the bill on minority groups and address voter intimidation.

The provisions of Senate Bill 7 could be restored either on the floor of the House or by a conference committee, assuming the Senate does not concur in House amendments.

Earlier Story

Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), without any apparent prior public announcement, brought Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) up for a vote in the Elections Committee, which he chairs, with the intent that public testimony not be taken on it. Over Democratic members’ objections, a roll call vote was called but interrupted by a Republican member’s decision to “pass” on the vote and the need to recess for the House floor session.

As it passed the Senate, this comprehensive election bill had no recognized House companion.

Cain laid out a committee substitute identical to House Bill 6 by Cain, which was approved by the committee on a 5-4, party-line vote on April 8.

After Rep. John Bucy (D-Cedar Park) said that the committee should hold a hearing on the measure, Cain replied, “I agree, but we are doing a committee substitute to match it to House Bill 6, and we’ve already heard a complete hearing on that exact language.” House committees are not required to post bills on their agendas if public testimony is not taken. Typically, only pending business – bills previously heard and left pending – are brought up for a vote without following the five-day posting rule for public testimony.

Rep. Jessica González (D-Dallas) contended that Cain has repeatedly described the two bills as being “completely different” and objected to consideration of the substitute. She indicated she would offer three committee amendments [Note: Committee amendments apply only to an original bill, not a committee substitute. If a substitute is to be amended, the amendment(s) must be incorporated into a new substitute. A committee cannot send a substitute with amendments to the full House.]

“This is absolute crap,” said Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) after it was noted that the committee took many hours of testimony on House Bill 6 and the substitute was identical. Beckley and González indicated they had just received the substitute and did not know, beyond Cain’s word, if it was identical.

Cain said he heard no objection to the adoption of the substitute, and declared it adopted. González repeated her desire to offer three committee amendments. “Okay,” Cain said, then he proceeded to move passage of Senate Bill 7 as substituted. As González voted “nay,” she repeated the desire to offer committee amendments. “We’re in the middle of voting,” Cain said. González again protested. The clerk continued to call the roll, and Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) said he would “pass” on voting, which would mean that the bill did not have a majority vote had the roll call concluded. Cain stopped it moments the committee had to recess for the floor session. “We’ll be doing this after the floor,” Cain said, withdrawing the substitute during the vote and leaving it pending.

Notable is the fact that the committee substitute to House Bill 6, along with its supporting documents, was not readily available to the public online three weeks after it was approved by the committee. It can be found, if one knows where to look, on the committee’s meetings page as part of the “Handouts” for the April 8 hearing (PDF). The bill analysis and fiscal note do not appear to be available online.

The committee is expected to reconvene on recess or after the end of the House session, or during the reading and referring of bills if authorized to meet during the session. Senate Bill 7 could again be called up as pending business.

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