Update: The morning after this story was published, the House Committee on State Affairs met again in the Capitol Agricultural Museum. The committee re-introduced Senate Bill 2627. This time, committee members were allowed to ask questions. The committee approved the bill unanimously. No reason for taking the second vote was immediately given.
A plan to use $10 billion of taxpayer money to help finance natural gas power plants in Texas was approved Monday by the Texas House Committee on State Affairs. The proposal is controversial — so is the way it was voted out of the committee.
At the time of publishing, there were even rumors it will need to return for a second vote.
The vote happened first thing in the morning — in the state Capitol Agricultural Museum. No recording was made.
How's that possible?
When a committee meeting is considered a public hearing, it typically takes place in a hearing room at the Capitol. It also must be recorded. Wednesday morning's vote was not classified as a public hearing, allowing it to take place in the agricultural museum, where no AV equipment is installed.
Because it was classified as a "formal meeting" — not a public hearing — it also did not need to be recorded. While no audio or video exists of the vote, tensions apparently ran high.
Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchía said committee members were not given enough time to read the new version of the bill before voting.
"Members of the committee didn’t even know what was in the documents because we got them at the 11th hour,” said Anchía, who opposes the plan. “And then [we] weren’t able to ask any questions.”
The bill, Senate Bill 2627, provides $10 billion in low interest loans to companies to build gas power plants in Texas.
Supporters say the plan would help bolster the Texas grid. Opponents call it a costly and unnecessary giveaway to energy companies. It passed out of the State Affairs Committee on a vote of 4 to 8, with one committee member absent.
Anchía, who has sponsored bills to improve energy efficiency in the state, said he worries SB 2627 is getting pushed through without proper consideration.
"Bills are getting cut in the dark in the Legislature,” he told KUT. "The Legislature is treating $10 billion in this cavalier fashion when that [amount] represents about a third of our budget surplus."
Later on Wednesday, two sources familiar with the legislation told KUT on background the committee will need to vote on SB 2627 again because of the way it was approved the first time around. But, at the time this story was published, the bill is still shown as “reported favorably,” from the committee.
Once it’s passed out of committee, a bill still needs to pass the full chamber to move forward.
KUT emailed Corpus Christi Republican state Rep. Todd Hunter, who chairs the committee, to ask about the bill’s status. This story will be updated with any response.