More on the diesel tax increase, which came out of Senate committee yesterday in a speedy voice vote. Since then, Republicans have been howling that Committee Chair Linda Chesterfield did them dirty by calling for a voice vote and declaring the bill approved with only four people in the room. All agree a quorum of five was present to hold the meeting, but Republican Sen. Jake Files soon absented himself and the voice vote was held without him.
That left only Republican Sen. Bruce Holland in the room when Chesterfield waved the bill out. I still believe the Republicans understood what was up. Republicans have five seats on the eight-member committee. They only have two in place when the meeting on a big tax increase starts and one quickly leaves the room? They make no objection to the voice vote? Senate rules are clear: It takes only ONE senator to question a quorum. It takes only ONE senator to ask for a roll call. Fireball Holland was in the room. He could have stopped the train but he didn't. I don't think it was an accident, though Republicans are all rushing to their favorite mouthpieces for sympathetic retelling of the tale of dirty ol' Linda.
This hasn't prevented Republicans from looking complicit. So, today, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson tried to save face and pulled a sleight-of-hand of his own. He moved to refer the bill back to the committee. Republican Sen. Kim Hendren was presiding. He ruled the handful of ayes (Chesterfield wasn't in the chamber) had carried and sent the bill to committee. No roll call. That set off some tense exchanges because protocol is that you can't refer bills back to committee without good reason. Challenged, Hutchinson claimed he had amendments. Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, who's carrying the diesel tax for House speaker Robert Moore, moved to extract the bill. An old-fashioned rules meltdown seemed likely, until Republican Sen. Michael Lamoureux, the adult in the GOP caucus, asked for some private caucusing.
When it's over, I'm betting the diesel tax will be extracted by majority vote as rules allow and pass the Senate. Republicans will vote against it and keep their anti-tax record clean. This should be accompanied by a decrease in the heated rhetoric about dirty tricks because it's clearer than ever that some, if not all, committee Repubicans were up to their necks in the events they're now moaning about. This is bad form. It also rolls downhill. Other side deals and hidden agendas are threatened if Republicans try to have their cake and eat it, too, on things like the diesel vote.
UPDATE: Jeffress got the 19 votes needed to pull the bill from committee. But then he allowed an amendment to the bill, as requested by Hutchinson, to limit the proposal to one public vote on the diesel tax increase. As written, the bill allowed multiple votes. But ... now the bill has to go back to committee for approval of the amendments.
Groundhog Day. The process starts over. The Republicans can kill the diesel tax vote tomorrow afternoon or provide sufficient votes to enable it. But they can't have it both ways.