When the Sausage Starts to Smell
By Steve Levine

 Legislature_Blog

Are you ready for some chubs? How about a little POO? 

No, we’re not talking bait fish nor a diminutive for the ‘60s Twist-master. Not a typo for a stuffed bear nor the stuff of excrement. 

It’s a civics lesson … or the warped civics that happens in Austin for precisely 140 days leading up to Memorial Day every odd-numbered year. Today in the Texas House of Representatives is not for the meek or faint of heart. Sometimes even the boldest of women and men just have to look away. 

And say you’re an important piece of legislation riding the very caboose of the train that the House Calendars Committee has assembled. Say you’re House Bill 1335, a bill to set up behavioral health centers in public schools, a bill written in the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shooting last May. Like some of the 10 students and teachers killed in that massacre, you don’t stand a chance. 

So what’s all the fuss about today? And what about those chubs and POOs? 

Well, it’s all about the rules. Yes, this seemingly chaotic sausage kitchen does have rules. Lots of rules. The House writes its own rules (most of them; some are in the constitution, but we don’t have time for that right now), and your representatives voted to adopt those rules way back in January. Way back when today's marathon calendar was but a distant foreboding. 

Most pertinent right now among those rules is this one: For a contested House bill to become law, it must at least have won preliminary approval on the House floor by the 122nd day of the 140-day session. That 122nd day ends at midnight, Central Time, on Thursday, May 9. If a bill doesn’t pass that gauntlet today, it’s curtains. (Uncontested bills get one extra day to remain in play.) 

Today’s House calendar contains exactly 158 pieces of legislation, arranged by the Calendars Committee in the order by which they’ll be considered. That list includes 67 bills leftover from yesterday’s calendar, leftover even though the House worked until a little past 11 pm yesterday. 

House Bill 1335 – you remember, the one that sets up behavioral health centers in public schools – is No. 158 on the list. Highly unlikely it would make it through by midnight even if the chamber were working efficiently. 

But the chamber isn’t working efficiently. It’s not supposed to. The rules and traditions purposefully make it easier to defeat a bill than to pass one. Ensuring that inefficiency are the chubs and the POOs. Since the easiest way to kill a bill is to prevent it from ever coming up for a vote, lawmakers who don’t like one or more bills sitting in the maybe-we’ll-get-to-it part of the calendar purposefully slow the whole train down with chubs and POOs. 

If you’re watching the session in person or via the streaming feed and you notice a lot of questions being asked about seemingly minor bills … and you notice that the questioners are taking lots of time asking and explaining their questions and then questioning the answers … and you notice the same representatives showing up over and over again to ask those questions … that’s chubbing. 

Per House rules, questioners each have 10 minutes to engage in debate with a bill’s authors or supporters. Expert chubbers know how to use every one of those minutes, all 600 seconds, asking and re-asking until the speaker slams the gavel and intones, “The gentleman’s (or gentlelady’s) time has expired.” A good tag-team chub can last a half hour or longer, sending more and more bills at the end of the calendar to the legislative graveyard. 

And then there’s a POO – or point of order. Any member of the House can “call” a point of order on a bill. Basically a POO challenges that bill’s legitimacy. A POO alleges that the bill’s route from filing to committee hearing to the calendar somehow violated a House rule. 

Quite frequently, a lawmaker will call a POO in order to kill the bill that’s actually up for debate on the House floor. Since it takes quite a bit of time from when the assassin says, “Point of order!” until the speaker and his team evaluate the claim amid the arcana of House rules and the speaker declares, “Point of order is well taken and sustained,” or “Point of order is overruled,” a well-timed and well-argued POO can turn into a champion chub. 

If all of this sounds fascinating to you, and you tune in to the House feed all the wy until midnight and then you feel as empty as when you’ve binge-watched every available episode of some nasty Netflix series, fear not.

The whole process gets a reprise on Tuesday, May 21. That’s the 134th day of the session, and every legislative junkie knows that midnight on day 134 is the very last minute for a Senate bill to win preliminary approval on the House floor. 

More chubbing. More POOs. Another nauseating visit to the Jimmy Dean processing plant.

Last Updated On

May 09, 2019

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Steve Levine

VP, Communication

(512) 370-1380
Steve Levine

A former statehouse reporter, political press secretary, and state agency spokesman, Steve Levine has directed the Communication Division at TMA since 1997. He oversees Texas Medicine, Texas Medicine Today, TMA's media and public relations activities, and the TMA Knowledge Center, website, and social media activities.

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