88th LegislatureState HouseStatewide NewsHouse Republicans Pass ESG ‘Blocker Bill’ Minutes to Midnight, Outmaneuvering Democratic ‘Chubbing’

Tensions boiled over on Tuesday evening as 75 bills perished at the stroke of midnight.
May 24, 2023
When the clock struck midnight, a sigh of relief emanated from the ranks of House Republicans who’d sat through hours of time-wasting tactics by Democrats — passing a GOP bill with only minutes to spare.

Senate Bill (SB) 833, sponsored by Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) in the lower chamber, would prohibit any insurer operating in the state from adopting or enforcing internal policies related to the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) movement. ESG is the moniker for the left-wing campaign to drive capital toward certain political and social causes — namely, a transition to renewable energy and support of progressive social issues like abortion and gun restrictions.

Beginning with SB 13 in 2021 — a prohibition against state pension dollars going to companies that “boycott fossil fuels” — Texas Republicans have increasingly emphasized a desire to push back against the formidable movement in the world of capital.

There were two other ESG-related bills that perished at last night’s midnight deadline, both placed very low on the chamber’s 13-page calendar.

All day Democrats had been “chubbing” — legislative slang for deploying an array of delay tactics — bringing the body to a glacially slow pace. When the clock approached midnight, it became clear Democrats wished to prevent consideration of SB 833, making it the “blocker bill.”

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While Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) spoke on her proposed amendment to SB 833 that would have struck the enacting clause and neutered it entirely, making her intent clear to run out the clock, Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) raised a motion instead to call the question on the bill.

That motion requires 25 signatures and summarily ends debate, triggering a vote. The Zwiener amendment was voted down and followed up with a point of order by Democrats, all with minutes to spare before midnight expiration. After an expedited dismissal of the point of order by the parliamentarians, the motion for the previous question was approved and the bill was voted on — passing along party lines.

Calling the question is not done frequently, in fact, it’s rarely used as it’s frowned upon by members for bypassing debate on the issue at hand. However, in this case, it was clearly deployed by Republicans to avoid spending more time than the lengthy amount they already had on the bill.

On the next bill, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) laid out an amendment as the clock struck midnight. He then called a point of order on himself from the front microphone — points of order are supposed to be called on the back microphone — citing the deadline’s expiration.

Upwards of 75 bills all perished at the stroke of midnight.

On Wednesday, SB 833 passed again on third reading, though Republicans’ decision to call the question last night on that bill caused retaliation during the Local & Consent (L&C) Calendar.

To kick a bill off the L&C calendar, which is intended for noncontroversial bills or those limited in geographical scope, a member only needs to speak for 10 minutes or five members must sign their intent to remove it.

In an exchange on a bill carried by Rep. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton), Zwiener barbed him for “circulat[ing] the petition” the previous night that moved the question on SB 833. Zwiener then proceeded to speak on Vasut’s bill — very slowly — for 10 minutes, killing it.

A legislative tit-for-tat in the session’s last days, it was relatively lighthearted following what was a tense night on Tuesday.

On a different bill, SB 9, members got into a verbal tiff.

SB 9 is one of the Senate’s education funding bills. During consideration on Tuesday, House Democrats loaded it up with various amendments, including one that raised the per-pupil allotment by $1,000. It was an apparent response to the Senate’s addition of education savings account language to HB 100 in the opposite chamber, a last-ditch effort to pass some form of school choice legislation this session.

Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) attempted to ask questions of Dutton, the bill’s sponsor, but was momentarily denied as the body was considering amendments. After some time and several amendments had passed, the body took a vote on SB 9 and passed it as amended on second reading.

That sparked an argument between Schaefer, Dutton, and Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) on the floor, causing quite a stir.

Schaefer was upset with the amendments added to the bill and told The Texan that before the vote, Dutton had told him he would postpone the bill. Frequently yesterday evening, House members had been postponing Senate bills in the biennial close-of-session feud with the Senate over what passes and what doesn’t.

On Wednesday, however, Dutton postponed SB 9 past the end date of the 88th Legislative Session, killing it for the time being. That means the two chambers will hash it out on HB 100 over school funding, teacher pay raises, and school choice.

By getting SB 833 across the finish line, House Republicans bested their Democratic counterparts where they got bested two weeks ago when Democratic chubbing killed a “detransitioning” bill. Even so, a number of high-priority bills perished on the calendar at midnight, including bail reform measures, a ban on public or private COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and reforms to the state’s emergency powers granted to the governor and local governments.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.