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TX Sen. Nelson Warns on Suspension of Rules on Amendment Process For HB 3

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

In spite of a warning by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), the Senate today approved a motion by Senate Finance Chair Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) that would suspend Senate rules relating to committee hearing of amendments to proposed tax bills.

HB 3, the property tax reduction bill passed by the House today, arrived in the Senate late this afternoon. Trying to expedite the process of getting the bill to the Senate floor, Ogden offered a motion to suspend the Senate posting rule to allow the Finance Committee (to which the bill was referred today) to hear the bill today, and tomorrow if necessary. He also offered a motion to suspend the Senate rule that prohibits the offering of floor amendments on second reading of a tax bill if those amendments have not been heard in committee.

Cautioning her fellow senators, Nelson said this would set a precedent not only for tax bills, but also for sunset bills, which come under the same prohibition in Senate rules.

Nelson said not having amendments go through the committee process allows for no opportunity for public input and no opportunity for members to find out the costs of proposed amendments.

"I'd like to have the opportunity to examine those amendments and put them through the committee process," said Nelson.

Saying he understood her concerns, Ogden said that since the Senate is not likely to consider the bill on the floor before Sunday, he will set a time certain to ask members to submit proposed amendments to the Senate Parliamentarian so they can be printed and made available to all members.

"That would certainly help alleviate my concern," said Nelson. However, she asked Ogden if he would also agree then not to take any amendments "not submitted to you and distributed."

Saying it is his intention to ask senators to respect the Senate rule, Ogden said he could not prevent a senator from offering an amendment if he or she so chose.

"Our Senate rules are set up for a reason," said Nelson again, noting the rules prevent amendments from coming up on the floor on tax and sunset bills if they do not first go through the committee process. If that rule it not upheld, she said, she would vote against Ogden's motion to suspend that rule.

Ogden reiterated that he would set a deadline for pre-filing of the amendments that would give members and their staff plenty of time to go over them.

Nelson again asked Ogden for his assurance "you wouldn't accept even a motherhood and apple pie amendment" that was not pre-filed per his deadline.

"No, I'm not going to do that," said Ogden, indicating he could not prohibit a member from bringing up a floor amendment that was not pre-filed by his deadline.

"I would caution you, members," said Nelson again. "We're setting a precedent for future tax bills and sunset bills."

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) asked Ogden if he intended to have a tax equity note on the bill and Ogden said no. He did, however, say he would have a fiscal note on the bill prior to its being taken up on Sunday.

When Shapleigh asked why there would be no tax equity note, Ogden responded, "Because it's not required and I don't' think it's needed." When Shapleigh asked if Ogden did not think it was necessary to let people know the impact the bill is going to have on them, Ogden said they could determine that impact by reading the bill.

Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) asked if an amendment is brought up in committee and does not pass, does that prohibit the amendment from being offered on the floor.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst explained that suspending the rule on the amendments would permit the bill to be moved along faster in committee but would not mean amendments could not be brought up. He reminded Gallegos that Ogden said he would set a deadline for pre-filing amendments and that he will oppose amendments not turned in before that deadline.

Ogden said he expects to offer a proposal to the Senate on Friday to set a deadline for pre-filing of amendments to the tax bill.

Ogden's motion to suspend rules, including the rule regarding the committee process for amendments on tax bills, was approved, with Nelson casting the lone "no" vote.