AUSTIN, Texas — On Thursday, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Resolution 4, which contained several amendments to the rules governing the administration of the House, including new restrictions on media access to the Capitol that may make it easier for elected officials to retaliate against journalists who criticize them, as well as creating new challenges for citizen journalists, bloggers, and other new media to obtain media credentials.
As Breitbart Texas reported, there were two main proposed changes to the media credentialing rules, and they were passed without amendment. First, members of the media who were applying for a Capitol media credential need to “be employed by a print, broadcast, or Internet news organization that had been published or operated continuously for 18 months and was in the principal business of periodically disseminating original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public.” This is similar to the old rule, except for the new 18 months requirement, which may prove difficult to satisfy for independent bloggers and other citizen journalists. Moreover, considering Texas’ rapid growth over the past few years, it is likely that additional media outlets may wish to move into the state, but then would be barred from Capitol media credentials for their first session. The rule does not allow any exceptions to the 18 month requirement.
Second, House members now have the power to file a complaint if they believe a member of the media “did not meet the requirements or had abused the privileges” of the media credential. The House Administration Committee will then be required to investigate the complaint, and has the power to suspend the media credential while the investigation is ongoing. The language of the rule is broad and vague, failing to define what sort of conduct could be construed as “abusing the privileges,” and arguably can be viewed as allowing elected officials to retaliate against reporters who criticize them.
H.R. 4 also included an “honest clock” proposal that was submitted by Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) that requires the House journals to record the actual time when the House convenes and recesses. Previously, the House had a practice of stopping the clock in certain situations, which led to inaccurate times being reported. This became an issue as the final minutes wound down during former State Senator Wendy Davis’ infamous filibuster of the abortion bill in 2013.
The House has also changed its committee structure. The total number of committees will remain the same, 38, but the Technology Committee will be abolished and its functions placed under the Government Transparency and Operation Committee (previously named Government Efficiency and Reform). The House will also create a new Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, which will take over the juvenile justice functions from the Corrections Committee and the civil family law issues from the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.
The debate on administrative rules took a humorous turn, when the House considered an amendment by Rep. Jason Issacs (R-Dripping Springs) to prohibit smoking in any space controlled by the House. The issue is that a number of members smoke cigarettes or cigars within their own offices and wish to continue doing so. The debate turned to complaints about members disturbing neighboring offices with loud music and an additional amendment by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (R-Austin) that would have have prohibited loud music and also snuff tobacco and alcohol. In the end, both Issacs’ and Dukes’ amendments were withdrawn and House members remain free to drink and smoke in their offices.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.