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Railroad Commission Bill Passes After Amemndment Pulled

The newly named Texas Oil and Gas Commission won't be able to meet in secret to discuss contentious issues after all.

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The newly named Texas Oil and Gas Commission won't be able to meet in secret to discuss contentious issues after all.

On final approval today, the Texas House removed an amendment to the Railroad Commission Sunset bill, which it had approved Monday, that would have allowed the commission to meet behind closed doors to talk about matters, including utility rates and disputes between oil and gas producers.

During debate Monday on SB 655, an amendment by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, was approved that would allow the secret meetings. King’s amendment met no opposition and passed without a request for a record vote.

Interest groups balked at the amendment, though, and said it was a step backward for an agency that already lacks transparency. King pulled the amendment today, though he said he offered it with the best intentions.

On Monday, King had argued that commissioners should be allowed to discuss details of cases brought before them in private, and he said their inability to do so is why the current commission is “so dysfunctional.” Today, he conceded the amendment might have been misconstrued.

“I don’t want anybody ever saying that any member of this House ever voted” to conduct business in secret, he said.

SB 655 would also change the name of the Railroad Commission to the Oil and Gas Commission, would limit campaign contributions to commissioners from businesses that have issues pending before the body, and requires automatic resignation if a “commissioner announces or becomes a candidate for elected office, other than the office of commissioner."

The sticking point when the bill goes back to the Senate is likely to be how the commission is formed: The House favors the current three-member panel, while the Senate seeks only one elected commissioner.

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