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Simpson wins some, loses some in Austin

By Glenn Evans
Jan. 14, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Texas Rep. David Simpson lost an attempt Monday to force the committees that reconcile bills to be more transparent when eliminating or adding language to measures that emerge from the House and Senate approved in different versions.

Simpson, R-Longview, has had some victories after four days in Austin that began with his withdrawal from challenging House Speaker Joe Straus III, R-San Antonio.

And with Straus holding the gavel Tuesday as the House set the rules it will follow for the 140-day session, Simpson asked that conference committees be required to distribute final versions of bills 12 hours before a final vote.

Conference committees typically are five members from both the House and Senate charged with reconciling two versions of a bill that's passed both chambers in different versions.

"Because, you get on the floor and no one knows what's in the (conference committee's) report," Simpson said, noting this usually occurs in the harried final days of a session. "No one knows what's been added or taken away."

Simpson said bills sent to conference committee are ripe for lobbyist and other influences which add or subtract items they like or dislike. His failed amendment also would have forced the conference committees to meet in the open and take minutes.

That amendment to the House rules was tabled by acclamation, and was not brought up again before the final rules vote which Simpson joined in a 148-0 decision.

Of several rules amendments offered by tea party Republicans, Simpson said most failed.

"That's true, and it wasn't all of them that were good," he said, describing one that would have allowed bills to escape committees without a vote of the committee. "I couldn't support that. They meant well. The rules are done, but I do think a lot of people will want to work on the conference committee transparency issue."

Simpson had sounded more optimistic at the end of the past week, in the wake of his withdrawal from the speaker's race.

He said then many of the 43 first-time lawmakers had been very active for freshmen. He also said the House clock, which he criticized for being manually set to the statutory 10 a.m. House start time no matter what time the House actually convened, was being kept accurately.

"We've had what looks like an honest legislative clock," Simpson said this past week. On Monday, though, his rules amendment to force the House Journal to accurately record start times failed.

That amendment fell 118-25, with fellow East Texas Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, siding with Simpson. Reps. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, and Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, voted with the majority, according to the website, Legislature Online.

Simpson also had noted a win in the so-called Housekeeping measures, when the chamber agreed on a deal he'd worked on during the interim since the 2011 session.

The chairman of the House Administration Committee has the power to fire capitol staff in Simpson's or any member's office. Now chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, must have evidence of gross misconduct on the part of the staffer and the backing of the rest of the committee, Simpson said.

"It has to be for cause now," Simpson said. "And he can't do that unilaterally now. It has to be a decision of the (administration) committee."

The House convenes every day this week before taking off a week and a half for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Simpson said Straus will be occupied much of today with committee assignments. He said he hadn't decided which committee assignments he'll seek.

"I don't know yet," he said, noting that Natural Resources and Transportation should be very active this session with water and highway planning priorities in both chambers. "I need to think about it."



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