A week after a dramatic committee hearing that culminated in state Rep. Joe Pickett accusing fellow Rep. Jonathan Stickland of breaking the law and then having Stickland thrown out of the committee room, video of the hearing was posted online late Thursday evening.
Normally, the Texas House posts video of a committee hearing online within hours of the hearing’s conclusion. In a rare move, the video of last week's House Transportation Committee hearing was withheld because of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee’s decision to launch an investigation into it after Pickett, D-El Paso, had expressed concerns to that committee’s chairman, state Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin.
Kuempel’s committee voted late Thursday to refer the investigation to the Texas Rangers and allow for the video to be posted as soon as possible.
At issue is whether people supportive of a bill or bills on the hearing’s agenda illegally registered witnesses who weren’t at the Capitol that day. Legislative rules require witnesses who want to participate in a hearing to be physically in the room. They must register through electronic kiosks outside the hearing rooms. Witnesses invited by the committee can arrange to testify remotely.
Stickland called Pickett's actions an "ambush" and has stood by his own actions. Earlier that day, the two lawmakers had a tense exchange on the House floor when Stickland used a procedural tactic to delay a separate bill from Pickett.
The Transportation Committee hearing video shows an escalating dialogue between Pickett, the committee’s chairman, and Stickland, R-Bedford, that was over in five minutes. It began with Stickland introducing his bill, House Bill 142, which would ban red light cameras in Texas.
“Members, because it’s late at night, what I’d like to do, with y’all’s permission, is just kind of open this up and let the witnesses talk first and I will close and answer any questions,” Stickland began.
“If you’ll hold that thought,” Pickett said while fiddling with his phone. “Okay, hold on just a second.”
Pickett then put his phone on speaker and held it up to his microphone. The committee room heard it ring four times.
“Hi, you’ve reached Aaron,” the room heard. “Leave me a message after the beep. Thank you.”
Pickett left a short message asking for Aaron to call him back. He remained focused on his phone, quickly setting up another call.
“Mr. Chairman?” Stickland asked. The phone began to ring again. “Mr. Chairman?”
“Excuse me,” Pickett said to Stickland.
Finally, someone picked up.
"Mr. Simpson?” Pickett asked.
‘This is Rep. Joe Pickett. I’m sorry it’s so late. May I get a few moments of your time?”
Pickett mentioned HB 142. “I understand you registered for the bill,” Pickett said.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Simpson said. “You know what, I’m for that bill, by the way. That may have been my wife.”
Pickett asked Simpson if he had come to the Capitol earlier that day to register for the bill. Simpson said he had not. Pickett asked if he could speak to Simpson’s wife. She wasn’t home.
Pickett thanked Simpson for his time and apologized again for calling so late.
After ending the call, Pickett returned his attention to Stickland.
“Rep. Stickland, there seems to be a problem,” Pickett said. “In our House rules, it requires witnesses to be present in the Capitol to register on, for, against any legislation.”
Calls to Hugh Simpson and Aaron Harris, as well as others, suggested that those witnesses did not register themselves in support of Stickland’s bill, Pickett said.
“We seem to have a big discrepancy here, Mr. Stickland, and we’ll take up that issue probably another date,” Pickett said.
Stickland tried to talk over Pickett, prompting Pickett to raise his voice.
“The chair leaves House Bill 142 pending,” Pickett said. “You may go.”
“Mr. Chairman…” Stickland began.
“You may go,” Pickett said. “You. May. Leave. There are people that may have been perjured here tonight, and you have broken the rules.”
“Are you accusing me of doing that?” Stickland said.
“Mr. Stickland, you may leave, or be removed,” Pickett said. “Which one do you prefer?”
“This is the most disrespectful thing that I have seen,” Stickland said.
After some more arguing, Pickett said, “I’m going to give you two seconds. You know why, Mr. Stickland? You are breaking the rules. You are breaking the law,”
“That’s a big accusation, Chairman,” Stickland said.
The two continued to talk over each other. Stickland asked how Pickett could accuse him of being involved in improperly registering witnesses when Stickland was on the House floor all day. Pickett suggested Stickland or his staff was involved.
“I hope you have the gall to apologize to the people who have spent their time and money supporting this bill.” Stickland told Pickett.
Pickett stood up and asked the House sergeant in the room to remove Stickland from the room.
The House sergeant and Stickland walked out of the room together. Pickett advised those who were actually in the Capitol to testify on Stickland’s bill to stay and testify on House Bill 1131, from state Rep. Gary Elkins, which is similar to Stickland’s HB 142.
The committee heard testimony on Elkins’ bill, as well as several others, before adjourning for the night nearly four hours later.
In a statement to supporters this week, 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."