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As Tensions Run High, We Continue The Fight

May 4, 2015

I want to address an unfortunate incident that took place last Thursday evening. I was set to lay out HB 142, which would eliminate red light cameras, in front of the Transportation Committee. Because our floor activity went so long that day, my layout was delayed until well into the evening. Many supporters of the bill had waited all day – some for twelve hours – to testify and were still waiting. Thank you all for coming out to support the bill.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, I objected to a bill carried by the Democrat Chairman of Transportation on the local and consent calendar, which would have given powers of arrest, search, and seizure to Federal Reserve security guards. Because of that confrontation, I approached Chairman Pickett of El Paso before his committee reconvened to make sure that my bill was still set for a hearing. I was informed that it was, and there was no discussion with me of any concerns on his part about the bill or the witness registration process.

Unfortunately, when I went to lay out my bill, I was prevented from doing so in a very deliberate and dramatic way. It was what I can only characterize as an ambush by a political opponent. Pickett hurled accusations at me and then refused to hear the bill, cutting off all of the members of the public from testifying on the legislation.

Let me make something clear. At that time, I had no idea what Mr. Pickett was referring to, and still have no firsthand knowledge of the facts related to his accusations.

Tensions run high at this point of the session, and I am not surprised that Mr. Pickett would be upset with me for knocking his bill off of the local and consent calendar. However, there is no reason that he could not have discussed his concerns with me in advance of the hearing. I would have gladly worked with him to resolve them.

As best as I can tell, the accusation Chairman Pickett leveled is that some people were registered in support of my bill who were not present in the Capitol building. My attorneys and I have reviewed the laws, the rules, the witness affirmation forms, and the House personnel manual and have been unable to locate anything that commands that a person must be present in the capitol to register their support or opposition to a bill. In fact there are rules which suggest exactly the opposite.

I appreciate that the House General Investigating Committee will take a look at our committee registration process and that they are not targeting me or any other member or member’s office in that investigation. There is no harm in exploring these issues. But it is my hope that the House will not take any action that will make it harder for the public to express their opinion and participate in the legislative process.

On day three of this session, some of you may recall that I worked to adjust our rules to ensure that committee substitutes were available to the public online before hearings took place. Our current practice requires you to drive from around the state to give your opinion about legislation. You should at least be fully informed when bills have been changed, so that we don’t waste your time by making you drive to Austin.

On that same point, there is simply no reason that members of the public should not be able to register their position on legislation from anywhere in this state. Right now we give an advantage to Austin insiders, and make it very difficult and costly for people like you, in every other corner of this state, to weigh-in on legislation. I think we should put the system online, and I hope that both the General Investigating Committee and the Committee on House Affairs will look seriously at that reform before next session.

Finally, let me say something about a growing problem in politics in this country, and particularly in this state. On Thursday evening, some people, particularly some in the media, jumped to make accusations that crimes had taken place before they had any facts about the situation whatsoever.

I challenge anyone making those accusations to show where someone in the capitol has done anything dishonest or wrong.

There is an unfortunate trend in this nation and in this state, of some in the political class attempting to criminalize political differences rather than air them in open debate. It started with Tom Delay, and now we’ve seen Governor Perry and Wallace Hall threatened with prosecution over political differences. Elsewhere, in Wisconsin, it has gotten even worse – with paramilitary raids on the houses of political activists because of political disputes in that state.

I will not tolerate the use of the criminal justice system or the civil courts as a means of suppressing the speech of those who the powerful may disagree with or don’t like. I will not tolerate it, and I hope you in the public and my colleagues in the legislature will stand with me.

Thank you all for your support and prayers. In my last campaign, I told all of you that I am not down here to make friends but to defend life, liberty, and fight for limited government. My voting record and actions prove that I have made good on that promise. It is an honor to serve you.



HB2346 Rep. Jonathan Stickland vs. Chairman Joe Pickett 4/30/2015



Legal Analysis of Witness Registration