After a bombshell revelation last week that Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass) dropped an envelope containing over two grams of cocaine at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, questions surrounding the speaker’s ability to remove Nevárez from his committee chairmanship have been raised.
Nevárez, in a bit of irony, chairs the pivotal Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.
The nature of his chairmanship has come under scrutiny, as, according to the Texas House Rules, the committee exercises “jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to” law enforcement, criminal apprehension, crime prevention, private security, and homeland security.
This means Nevárez’s committee directly oversees agencies including, but not limited to, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the Texas Military Preparedness Commission, the Texas Crime Stoppers Council, and the Department of Public Safety — the very agency that has been involved in the investigation surrounding Nevárez.
Last week, three of Nevárez’s fellow chairmen called for embattled Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) to remove Nevárez from his positions of leadership in the Texas House.
Reps. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Phil King (R-Weatherford), and James White (R-Hillister) released a letter, in which they stated, “It is clear to us that he should no longer continue as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, and we respectfully request that immediate steps be taken to not only remove him as Chairman but as a Member of this Committee. Further, we also request that Representative Nevárez be removed as Vice Chairman and Member of the Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.”
In response, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who appoints each chair to their position, said, “Under House Rules, the Speaker does not have the authority to remove members from any House committee.”
The Speaker cited Rule 1 Section 15 as his reasoning for this inaction, though concerns were soon raised over the fact that the portion Bonnen cited was specifically meant to enumerate what a new speaker can or can’t do if they were elected after the committee appointments have already been made.
Rule 4 Section 2 of the House Rules, a portion of the rules which summarizes the “Organization, Powers, and Duties” of House committees, asserts that “The speaker shall designate the chair and vice-chair from the total membership of the committee.”
Committee membership is determined by a combination of seniority and appointment by the speaker, and outside of voluntary action by a House member, the speaker has the sole authority to dictate who serves on which committees.
Though there isn’t an explicit portion of the House Rules which addresses how a committee chair might be removed from their position, they do stipulate that there are other legislative guides that can be considered authoritative “if the rules are silent or inexplicit” — specifically the Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress and Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure.
The U.S. House of Representatives is somewhat complicated in that a speaker usually goes through his or her party’s steering committee to remove members from standing committee assignments. Mason’s Manual, on the other hand, states that, “It is a general principle of parliamentary procedure that the appointing authority has the right to remove a chair or a committee member.”
In spite of calling for the stripping of his leadership roles, the three chairmen stated that their colleague “is prepared to accept responsibility for his actions and we are hopeful that he is fully committed to getting any physical, mental, and spiritual help that he needs.”
Additionally, they requested Nevárez’s incident be reported to the General Investigating Committee for further inquiry.
Unless action is taken, Nevárez will remain chairman of the influential committee and technically maintain oversight over these law enforcement entities.
Nevárez also serves as vice-chair of the Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention & Community Safety, which was formed in response to the shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa earlier this year.
On September 6, Texas Department of Transportation employees found the envelope, marked by Nevárez’s official state letterhead, containing cocaine and turned the evidence over to DPS.
According to an affidavit detailing the ordeal, a search warrant was later requested by DPS on October 25 to confirm the DNA sample found on the envelope.
Last week, Nevárez turned himself into authorities after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He posted bail the same day.
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McKenzie Taylor serves as Interim Editor and resident plate-spinner for The Texan. Previously, she worked as State Representative Kyle Biedermann’s Capitol Director during the 85th legislative session before moving to Fort Worth to manage Senator Konni Burton’s campaign. In her free time, you might find her enjoying dog memes, staring at mountains, or proctoring personality tests.