A somewhat arcane, but important precedent was possibly set in the Texas Senate on Thursday during a debate on a gun bill. Appeals to the chair to table a motion were effectively shut down.
The bill in question is House Bill 2454, which would criminalize straw purchases, which is when a person lawfully buys a gun on behalf of another person who either intends to commit a crime or would be ineligible to purchase a firearm based on background checks. The bill passed the lower chamber in April with near-unanimous support.
Unsurprisingly, Democratic Senators had more they would like to add to the bill as amendments. Among those was Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), who has authored twenty gun control bills this session, none of which made it out of committee.
It is hardly surprising that amendments he offered would not be adopted in the Republican-controlled Senate under the fierce anti-gun control leadership of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. However, when Patrick ruled that the amendments were not germane to the discussion of the bill and Gutierrez appealed, Patrick immediately tabled the appeal.
Ordinarily, when a ruling from the chair is appealed, the lieutenant governor is supposed to step aside and allow another senator to rule on it as it would not be ethical for the lieutenant governor to serve as hos own appeal judge. This did not happen. Instead, Patrick ordered Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler) to table the motion and have it brought to a group vote. All 27 present senators voted for the tabling.
On the surface, the universal support for shutting down Gutierrez’s appeal seems reasonable. The legislature has only a week left to conduct business, and that includes must-pass budget bills. It’s possible that the chamber merely wanted to move on from additions that would stall the minor gun control that the legislature seems willing to pass in the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting. Even Gutierrez apologized for his strong language, citing footage for the Robb Elementary School massacre that was fresh in his mind.
However, the Democrats remain at a marked disadvantage in the legislature. Enabling the shutdown of appeals, even as a time-saving measure, invites further quashing of dissent in future sessions at the whim of the lieutenant governor. Though Patrick otherwise dealt gently with Gutierrez, offering him kind words on the trauma inflicted on his constituents by gun violence, that kindness did not extend to allowing Gutierrez to offer changes to a minor bill that only addresses some of the many changes needed on gun policy in Texas.
It’s possible that this precedent will just blow by, a product of a tight schedule and a realistic outlook on an amendment’s chances on a vote. It’s also possible that an emboldened Republican Senate will see this as an effective way to steamroll legislation over Democratic objections in the future. Time will tell.