Legislation that would relocate the state’s anti-corruption unit was temporarily derailed in the House on Thursday because of a missing element in the legislation.
Discussion abruptly ended on House Bill 1690, by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, when a point of order by Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, was upheld. It was the third such objection that was raised on the bill.
"It was a very small error made in the bill analysis drafting," said King, explaining that the bill analysis wording had been too narrow. "It should have said any legislative committee, and it said a general investigative committee. I could have read that 1,000 times and I never would have caught it."
In calling her point of order, González cited an error in the final paragraph of the bill analysis, published by the Legislative Council, which did not include the entirety of the state law to which it was referring. The two previous points of order also concerned the bill analysis.
"When you are in the minority, you have to use all your tools in your tool belt," said González. "The House rules are one of those tools, and when you are knowledgeable about the rules, you can use them to address your political agenda."
The legislation now goes back to the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, which is expected to revisit the bill Thursday night. King said the legislation would probably be heard again next week on the House floor.
HB 1690 would create a special process for public officials accused of corruption. Currently, such investigations are overseen by the public integrity unit, housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office. Under HB 1690, these cases – which King said represent a mere 1.5 percent of total PIU workload – would be handled by the Texas Rangers and then referred for prosecution to the elected official's home county.
Current law "puts too much power in the hands of someone that may someday abuse that," said King, speaking to the House. "This instead takes that power, which is currently in one district attorney's hands, and diffuses to 254 counties across the state of Texas."
While the point of order allows the Democrats some time to gather votes, González believes there are larger problems with the bill that must be addressed. Speaking before the House, González cited what she believes to be a potential conflict of interest in the way that the Texas Rangers receive their funding.
"A person goes back home, and they could have a political ally or a political enemy that could hurt or help intentionally," she said, explaining that King's proposal was not going to make the process free from political influence.
González left the floor taking high-fives from party members, while King went back to the drawing board.