10 Best Moments From the 2015 Texas Legislature
The 84th session of the Texas Legislature was weird, man. The most conservative body of representatives ever elected by the people of Texas killed the two-thirds rule — the way the minority party had retained a small amount of power in the Texas Senate for almost a century — cut taxes and was generally rancorous. Democrats didn't get anything done, but they weren't completely steamrolled either, using parliamentary procedure to stave off a bill that would've prevented any state funds from being used to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Let's take a look at the 10 best moments from the 2015 Legislature.
Jonathan Stickland and the Cookie
There are three Jonathan Stickland moments on this list. It may seem like turning over a third of a best of list to one guy is too much. Quite frankly though, it was hard limiting Stick's mentions to just three. He's the fascinating, maddening id of the Texas House's Republican caucus and he was especially good during the last session. He fought quixotic crusades against no-knock warrants, NSA surveillance in the state and red light cameras while managing to piss off colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
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The animus he stirred up was best exemplified when Charlie Geren, one of Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss' closest allies, reportedly tried to lure the portly Stickland away from a back-microphone jeremiad with a cookie tied to a string. Stickland didn't budge.
Dallas Representative Rafael Anchia Stands Up for His District
The 2015 session was Rafael Anchia's sixth representing his Oak Cliff-centered house district. It was also the first time Anchia exercised his personal privilege to make a speech on the House floor. Anchia didn't make the speech with any hope of actually getting something done — the 84th Legislature had already made its antipathy toward any LGBTQ-friendly legislation clear. He did it because his bill to make it easier for the adopted kids of same-sex parents to get a birth certificate that lists both of their parents, the one that withered without so much as getting a vote, was one of the most important things he'd ever worked on.
“This is [an issue] that hits close to home for a lot of the families in the community that I live in, whether we’re talking about North Oak Cliff or the Oak Lawn/Cedar Springs area, really all around Dallas,” Anchia said this summer. “I find the statute so cruel because it ignores the needs of children and the loving families that they live in.”
The Watkins Gang Scares Pancho
In January, just as the Legislature was getting rolling for 2015, Open Carry Tarrant County leader Kory Watkins led a group of armed gun-rights activists on an impromptu tour of the capitol building. One of their stops was state Representative Pancho Nevarez's office. When the rep said he wouldn't be supporting constitutional carry legislation — that's open carry without a license — Watkins called him a "tyrant to the constitution" and refused to leave the office when asked.
The incident led to the Legislature making it easier for members to install panic buttons in their offices and members wearing "I'm Pancho" stickers around the capitol building. Nevarez joked that maybe the stickers should read "I'm Not Pancho."
Throughout the rest of the session, Watkins would continue to make threatening comments whenever legislators seemed to be moving in a direction he didn't like. He insisted multiple times that the wayward officials were committing treason, an offense punishable by death.
Tossing the Stick
Stickland was physically removed from a House Transportation Committee hearing in May. He was there to introduce his red light camera bill, but things got testy when committee chair Joe Pickett started calling witnesses Stickland had signed up to testify on the bill. The witnesses weren't in the room and, after a couple of phone calls, it was determined that many of them weren't even in Austin. Pickett essentially accused Stickland of causing the people he'd signed up on the witness list to commit perjury and had Stickland tossed from the hearing by a House sergeant.
When the Texas Rangers investigated the matter, they found that Stickland had violated the rules when, knowing they wouldn't be in town, he signed the witnesses up to testify anyway. Stickland was not punished.
David Simpson Tries to Legalize Weed Because God Wants Him To
East Texas state Representative David Simpson, who is, as Ted Cruz would say, severely conservative, wants the full, unequivocal legalization of marijuana. Because God made pot, and God doesn't make mistakes.
"All that God created is good, including marijuana. God did not make a mistake when he made marijuana that the government needs to fix," he said in March. "Let's allow the plant to be utilized for good — helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products — or simply for beauty and enjoyment. Government prohibition should be for violent actions that harm your neighbor — not of the possession, cultivation and responsible use of plants."
Simpson's legalization proposal didn't go anywhere but his idea — treating marijuana like any other plant — lives on.
"I am proposing that this plant be regulated like tomatoes, jalapeños or coffee," Simpson said. "Current marijuana policies are not based on science or sound evidence, but rather misinformation and fear."
Jason Villalba Blocks Student Journalist on Twitter, Has Bad Time
Kate Rhoads, a journalism student at Brookhaven Community College in Farmers Branch and the managing editor of the Brookhaven Courier, asked Dallas state Representative Jason Villalba a pretty innocuous question about some legislation he'd filed that would've made it illegal for non-credentialed media to film police activity.
@JasonVillalba If Title 8, Ch. 38 of the TX Penal Code already makes it illegal to impede police activity, why is HB 2918 needed?— Kate Rhoads (@katejrhoads) March 20, 2015
Villalba, or whichever member of his staff runs his Twitter account, took exception and blocked Rhoads on the social media platform.
"I wanted to get Representative Villalba's take on the issue as well. I was fulfilling my journalistic duty to give voice to both sides of the issue, and he responded by blocking me on Twitter. I was taken aback that a lawmaker — someone who is supposed to be serving his constituents — would resort to such a petty tactic to avoid answering to a bill he introduced to the Texas Legislature. As a student of photojournalism and an editor of a college newspaper, I am extremely interested in how this law would affect the world of photojournalism and the First Amendment freedoms it restricts. I asked him the question out of sincerity and in a way I considered to be not rude or inappropriate at all," Rhoads told us on Facebook in the midst of the incident.
The story has a happy ending, though. Within a couple days, Villalba unblocked Rhoads and promised to give her an exclusive interview after his filming bill had its committee hearing. He fulfilled that promise, and the bill didn't pass.
Vonciel Jones Hill's "Once More, With Feeling" Moment
Former Dallas City Council Member Vonciel Jones Hill has long been one of the Trinity toll road's most stalwart supporters. She seethes at those who don't think putting a high-speed freeway next to a park in the middle of flood plain is a fantastic idea. In April, two months before term limits forced her out of her District 3 council seat, she got the chance to take her show on the road, testifying against two Rafael Anchia bills that would've hamstrung the toll road project from getting state funding.
"It is strange to me that when we were building roads to the north we didn't argue about how to cobble together the funding. It is only now that we are building a road that benefits the south and the southeast where the demographic is primarily African-American and Hispanic," she said. "I hear a lot about how the parkway is going to ruin our park. Well, there is no park down there. 'It will interfere with our lakes,' well there are no lakes down there. It is a big ditch. People care about lakes, and I'm glad. People care about a park, and I'm glad, but the people in southern Dallas and southeast Dallas need an additional transportation artery to get to work. That's what this is about, getting people to their jobs."
Anchia's bills didn't make it out of the committee stage, leaving the toll road fight to the city of Dallas, same as it ever was.
Molly White Asks Muslims to Pledge Allegiance
Ahead of Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin, Molly White, a state Representative from Belton, told her constituents that, though she wouldn't be at the capitol herself, she was leaving an Israeli flag in a prominent spot in her office and had instructed her staff to ask all Muslim visitors to "renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws."
Konni Burton Takes Over for Wendy Davis in Style
As she was sworn into the Texas Senate seat that used to be occupied by former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Colleyville Republican Konni Burton left no doubt as to where she stood. She took the oath of office standing in a pair of "Stand for Life" branded boots. The boots became a bit of a sensation after they were tweeted out by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
What's Your Sign, Stick?
For a brief time in March, Stickland's office sported an official looking sign that declared the representative a "former fetus." Stickland addressed the sign in a statement:
"Today Planned Parenthood is visiting and lobbying the Capitol. In honor of their visit, I put this sign up on my office door. Organizations that murder children are not welcome in my office. #prolifeandproudofit," he said.
His old nemesis Geren ended up taking the sign down, much to Stickland's consternation.
Signs are not allowed to be posted in the walls of the building they were removed and placed in the office of the members— Charlie Geren (@charliegeren) March 11, 2015
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