You’d think (if you go by perception rather than reality) that Texas would have the most unrestrictive gun laws in the nation. And you’d be wrong. But there are those who keep trying to fix this, one bill at a time. Witness the tireless efforts of one Texas State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R – San Antonio) who authored a bill to allow those who hold a Concealed Handgun License to carry on Texas college campuses. The bill, which was unable to muster enough votes to get reported out of committee, looked as if it was D.O.A. But that was apparently just what (almost) everyone thought. The rest of the story offers the intrigue of the Borgias, the Machieavelian machinations of De Medicis, and the comic stylings of S. Baldrick from BBC TV’s Blackadder.
Seems Senator Wentworth was both unwilling to have his bill-child stillborn in committee, and was wise to ways of the legislative world. Now you’d think that once you craft a bill, it’s referred to committee, and it dies there, that the bill will remain dead. And you’d be wrong. Again. Nope. In LegislationWorld, a “bill” is just a starting point. For some ideas, a bill is all you need. If you’re an idealist (which means you wouldn’t last five minutes inside a Legislature), you write a bill, it goes to committee, everyone loves it and it’s passed, by acclimation, to the floor of the House or Senate. There, it meets with little to no opposition and is passed. A sister-bill does the same in the other chamber, and the two bills are reconciled by committee. A final bill with identical language is passed by both chambers and the bill is sent on to the Governor for his or her signature.
That’s the way they teach you it works in the Civics textbooks. In reality? Um…not so much.
Once a bill leaves the author’s hands it gets debated. Amended. Changed. Some people add/change/delete provisions on it, as they want to mark their territory. (Dog – meet fireplug. Fireplug – meet dog.) Others want to gut it like a fish, so if it does see the light of day, it will be a mere shadow of its former self. Others use Roberts Rules of Order, wielding it like a rapier (or a club, depending) to force the bill into an image acceptable to their own agendas. So…once the bill gets out of committee – providing it does get out of committee – the amendment process starts all over again. Think of it this way: an amended bill is like a camel, i.e.: a horse, designed by committee.
Now let’s say for the sake of argument, your bill dies in committee. In pace requiescat. But nooooo – like Christopher Lee in any one of the Hammer-produced Dracula films of the 70s, your bill can rise to live again, through the miracle of the amendment process.
Yep. What was once your bill can come rise again, reincarnated as an amendment to a completely-unrelated piece of legislation. (This, along with legislativese, is why our laws make no bloody sense to anyone outside the legislature.) So let’s say your nice, pristine bill dies. It can become a remora fish to some other bill’s shark. Which is what’s happened to the College Carry bill. Wentworth attached it to a bill, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, (D – Laredo), to eliminate college reporting requirements and reduce their administrative costs. But after Wentworth’s amendment passed, Zaffirini administered ritualistic Seppuku to her own bill. Not to be deterred, Wentworth was finally able to get his campus carry bill tacked onto legislation — in this case a bill by Sen. Steve Ogden, (R – Bryan), that reforms finance methods for public and higher education institutions. Wentworth is not alone in going after Ogden’s bill. The measure is playing “Christmas Tree” to a blizzard of amendments/ornaments.
Stay with me here, because we’re wading into Legislative waters that are filled with every kind of flesh-eating predator. The anti-gun Zaffirini tried to resurrect her school reporting bill (that she killed herself to defeat Wentworth’s amendment) to Ogden’s bill, before Wentworth tacked on his own amendment. Then the two Senators went at it, in the State Capitol edition of Legislative Death Match. Zaffirini dredged up the ghost of Charles Whittman and the Tower shooting. Wentworth counter-punched by stating that he was there, on-campus when the tragedy went down. Zaffirini countered that she was there too. Wentworth shot back with a sucker punch to the solar plexus, citing the Virginia Tech shooting as an example whereby campus carry could have ended that tragedy with fewer dead bodies.
Bloodied but un-bowed, Zaffirini parried with the old “unfunded mandate” defense, claiming that the bill would potentially cost the state millions for weapons storage, insurance, and increased security. But Wentworth was ready, stating that his amendment would make the state – not the Universities – liable, and at most, the Universities would have to pay for additional storage space. Advantage: Wentworth.
Here’s where it gets good. Senatore Wendy Davis (D – Ft. Worth) brought up a point of order, namely how in the Sam Hill Wentworth’s amendment was applicable to the fiscal matters which are the core of Ogden’s bill. This triggered a 30-minute recess. The decision by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R) was that Wentworth’s amendment was permissible because Zaffirini’s amendment had made it so.
Davis then offered an amendment to Wentworth’s amendment (stay with me) that would give permission to any universities’ boards of regents to opt-in or -out of allowing concealed carry on campus. Not to be denied, Wentworth was able to table her amendment with a 19-12 vote. Time for the climax: Wentworth’s amendment then prevailed with a 21-10 vote.
In a last-minute Austin Arabesque, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., (D – Brownsville), tried to reconsider Zaffirini’s amendment, but because Wentworth’s had already passed, Lucio ended up pulling it down.
Ogden’s bill passed 19-12 with the campus carry amendment intact. This is (naturally) not the end of the story. We’re still waiting, with minnows on our tongues (bated breath) for the end of the intrigue, culminating with the Governor’s signature. But Campus Carry in Texas has lived to see another day. Two things to keep in mind – as the legislative session is drawing to a close, this will be the last chance for Campus Carry for the next two years. The Texas Constitution mandates that the Legislature meet for 140 days every two years. (Some wags insist that it’s supposed to read meet for two days every 140 years, but I suspect that’s wishful thinking.) So it’s now or never (“never” being two years from now) for Campus Carry. The other is that the bill will really only affect grad students and faculty that hold CHLs. By law, no one under the age of 21 can obtain a conceal carry license, so the idea of drunken freshmen shooting up the campus is completely bogus. Oh, and the bill only covers concealed handguns – it wouldn’t have had any effect whatsoever on the UT Clock Tower shooting, since Whittman’s weapon of choice was a high-powered rifle.
It’s been said that the two things you never want to see made are laws and sausages. I can’t speak for sausages, but if this is the way Legislatures work, it’s a wonder the Legislature ever passes anything. Which, come to think of it, may be our only saving grace. You’d think that the people we elect to write our laws would have a cunning plan to deal with things. And again, like Baldrick – you’d be wrong.