Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report ; Courtesy Headshot
Of the five Texas House committees considered to be the most powerful, three will have new chairs this session. San Antonio representatives got two chair and two vice-chair appointments.
State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) will again head the budget-planning Appropriations Committee, the House announced Wednesday. State Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) will retain his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee.
Two other committees – Ways & Means and State Affairs – were already guaranteed new chairmen due to departures. Bonnen, who chaired the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee in 2017, has tapped State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) to fill his shoes. Burrows also chairs the Texas House Republican Caucus. And State Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) will oversee the State Affairs Committee, replacing former State Rep. Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican who did not seek re-election. Phelan will oversee a committee that will have even more jurisdiction over some of the House’s most high-profile legislation this session, thanks to a new set of rules the lower chamber passed earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the Calendars Committee will have a new chair this session. State Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) will replace State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) at Calendars, leading the committee that handles the timeline and order for which bills will – and won’t – reach the entire chamber for consideration.
San Antonio representatives will hold four positions among the 68 chairs and vice chairs: Democratic State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a 15-year House veteran who returned to the Texas Legislature to represent District 116 after a decisive win in the November midterms, will chair the Business and Industry Committee; State Rep. Lyle Larson, the Republican representing District 122, will resume his duties as chair of the Natural Resources Committee; Democratic State Rep. Diego Bernal, of District 123, will continue to serve as vice chair of the Public Education Committee; and Philip Cortez, a Democrat and lifelong resident of District 117, will serve in his first vice-chair role on the Elections Committee.
“I don’t want a single member to feel apart from this House after these committee assignments are made,” Bonnen told House members before assignments were announced on the floor of the lower chamber. “I’m certain there are errors that will be found. … It’s not because we intended them to occur.”
These assignments are among the first major glimpses into who Bonnen considers top allies in the House. And now that assignments have been announced, legislation can begin to move through the lower chamber as bills are referred to committees.
In another shift, Bonnen tapped State Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat, to serve as speaker pro tem, a position that Bonnen himself held under former House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
In total, Democrats, fresh off a 12-seat pickup during the November elections, also made considerable gains with House committee assignments. Twelve Democrats were either appointed or retained chairmanships to the House’s 34 standing committees. Some of the more notable appointments happened on the Higher Education and Transportation Committees, where two Democrats – Chris Turner of Grand Prairie and Terry Canales of Edinburg – replaced Republicans J.M. Lozano of Kingsville and Geanie Morrison of Victoria as chair, respectively.
During the 2017 session under Straus, 13 Democrats held chairmanships on the lower chamber’s 38 standing committees.
Beyond partisan lines, Bonnen’s office said Wednesday that of the 34 standing committees this session, 19 chairs and 22 vice-chairs are women, black, Hispanic or Asian-American. Additionally, 15 chairs will be serving in that capacity for the first time.
A number of other chairmen also retained their posts, including State Rep. Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican who will again head the Public Education Committee. That committee will all but certainly play a central role in the debate over school finance – an item the Legislature has billed as a must-do issue this session. Bernal, a Democrat from San Antonio, will also continue to serve as vice-chair of the committee.
In another announcement Wednesday, State Rep. Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican who was House speaker from 2003 to 2009, was appointed chair of the Land & Resource Management Committee. It will be Craddick’s first time serving as a committee chair since the 1997 session. Craddick, who began serving in the House in 1969, is the longest-serving member in the lower chamber.