Session Wraps up with Fight on House Floor

KAMC Weather

AUSTIN, TX— A brawl nearly broke out on the floor of the Texas House Monday, the 140th and final day of the session.

On what’s typically a ceremonious day, kids were on the floor to watch their parents make history on the last day of the legislative session, when chaos erupted after one lawmaker called immigration authorities on protesters.

Hundreds of people filled the Capitol to protest the state’s ban on sanctuary cities, filling the rotunda and circling the second and third floors above.

Even though Senate Bill 4 has already been signed by the governor, protesters promise to fight the law, in court and at the ballot box.

Chants of ‘no justice, no peace,’ filled the House chamber just before the scuffle started on the floor. 

A group of Hispanic Democrats who were involved said things got physical after Republican State Rep. Matt Rinaldi said he called U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, on the protesters.

“The guy made a comment, a very stupid comment, he’s a racist,” said State. Rep.  Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez. The Eagle Pass Democrat, who was in the middle of the altercation, Nevarez said, “We’re not going to allow people like that to get away with saying comments like that.”

Rep. Rinaldi confirmed he did call ICE on protesters with signs that read, ‘I’m illegal and here to stay,’ he said. 

The Irving Republican took to Facebook to offer his account of what happened. Rinaldi wrote, “Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me and other Democrats were held back by colleagues.”

Rinaldi also said he’s currently under the Department of Public Safety’s protection after Rep. Nevarez “threatened my life on the House floor.” Rinaldi added several of his colleagues heard threats made against him and witnessed Rep. Ramon “assaulting me,” he wrote.

Many Representatives seemed relieved when the House adjourned on the final day of the regular session Monday afternoon.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said, “This session has been so difficult and being divided along social lines is not anything that any of us like, so we’re glad that it’s over.”

But lawmakers could be headed into overtime, Gov. Greg Abbott said he will make an announcement on whether he will call a special session later this week.

“We will be, if we have a special session, convening only on the topics that I choose, at the time of my choosing,” Abbott said.

Only the governor can call a special session, which can last up to 30 days, with the governor setting the agenda.

Georgetown Republican, State Sen. Charles Schwertner said, “There is a strong feeling, on the part of the Senate at least, that’s there is some unfinished business regarding property taxes and privacy rights in Texas.”

Those are two issues—property tax reform and bathroom restrictions— promoted by the state’s top leaders, Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that failed to pass this session.

Under Speaker Joe Straus, the Texas House rejected two proposals that called for restrictions on public restrooms that would have impacted transgender Texans.

Abbott had asked legislators to prioritize Texas’ version of a so-called bathroom bill in the homestretch of the session, but the State Senate, led by Patrick, did not move on the House’s compromise that would restrict public school bathrooms only.

“I think it should be extended to governmental buildings as well,” Sen. Schwertner said, “I’d like to see that in a special session.”

Schwertner hopes to be back at the Capitol soon because without a special session, the orthopedic surgeon will lose his medical license before 2019.

The Texas Medical Board is among a handful of state agencies that would cease operation on the first day of September, if no other action is taken.

Gov. Abbott said his biggest disappointment this session is inaction on the sunset bill to reauthorize state agencies that are now as risk of being dissolved.

“This is something that is incredibly easy to achieve, that members could have very easily gotten together to agree upon, but simply was not done,” Abbott said.

The House blames the Senate, claiming the higher chamber held the sunset bill hostage in an attempt to get the House to approve its bathroom and property tax reform bills.

Since the two sides remain far from agreement on those two issues, Democrats and Republicans in the House are skeptical those items will be on the governor’s agenda, if Abbott calls a special session.

“It will be exclusively limited to one issue, sunset,” said State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas.

If the Texas Medical Board starts to dissolve in September, physicians of all types will have no legal authority to sanction shady doctors.

From a legal standpoint, Sen. Schwertner said the sunset bill is the most pressing issue and he’s ready to return for a special session.

He and other senators seem to be preparing to go into overtime while many House representatives hope they are finished for now.

Austin Democrat, Rep. Israel said, “Today is a good day to say ‘I love you but I’m glad that we’re going to be away for a while.’” 

She added, “I hope that we don’t come back because I don’t think it will reflect well on our state.”

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