Responding to claims that he improperly registered witnesses at a committee hearing, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland released a statement Monday standing by his actions.
During a Thursday night hearing of the House Transportation Committee, Stickland, R-Bedford, and state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the committee's chairman, got into an argument as Stickland presented House Bill 142, which would ban red light cameras. Pickett ordered Stickland to leave the hearing and accused Stickland of listing witnesses who were not in Austin as supporters of his legislation.
"Unfortunately, when I went to lay out my bill, I was prevented from doing so in a very deliberate and dramatic way," Stickland said in Monday's statement. "It was what I can only characterize as an ambush by a political opponent. "
Stickland said that his attorneys had reviewed applicable laws, rules and legislative manuals and "have been unable to locate anything that commands that a person must be present in the Capitol to register their support or opposition to a bill."
On Thursday, before the Transportation Committee hearing, the two lawmakers had a testy exchange on the House floor when Stickland used a procedural tactic to delay a separate bill from Pickett. In his statement, Stickland implied that his earlier action had motivated Pickett to attack his bill in the hearing.
"Tensions run high at this point of the session, and I am not surprised that Mr. Pickett would be upset with me for knocking his bill off of the local and consent calendar," he said. "However, there is no reason that he could not have discussed his concerns with me in advance of the hearing."
Referencing the prosecution of elected officials like Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, Stickland said attempts to criminalize political differences were an "unfortunate trend in this nation and in this state."
"I will not tolerate the use of the criminal justice system or the civil courts as a means of suppressing the speech of those who the powerful may disagree with or don’t like. I will not tolerate it, and I hope you in the public and my colleagues in the legislature will stand with me," he said.
State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, the chairman of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics, said Friday he plans to investigate allegations that witnesses were signed up improperly to speak at the transportation committee meeting. He said the investigation would not target a specific member or bill.