State Politics

House panel refers Stickland witness-list inquiry to Texas Rangers

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, wearing a gun lapel pin, smiles during debate of HB 910, an open carry bill, in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, Friday, April 17. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Rep. Jonathan Stickland, wearing a gun lapel pin, smiles during debate of HB 910, an open carry bill, in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, Friday, April 17. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP) AP

The Texas Rangers will investigate allegations that witnesses were improperly registered to testify last week at a House Transportation Committee hearing on a bill to ban red-light cameras.

The House General Investigating and Ethics Committee voted Thursday evening to refer the investigation to the Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Last week, the committee’s chairman, Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, announced plans to look into the situation.

“The integrity of our committee process depends on reliable and accurate witness information,” Kuempel said Thursday evening.

During an April 30 hearing of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the committee’s chairman, and Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, got into an argument as Stickland presented House Bill 142, which would ban red-light cameras. Pickett ordered Stickland to leave the hearing and accused Stickland of listing witnesses who were not in Austin as supporters of his legislation.

Stickland, who has said he did nothing wrong, said Friday that the committee’s decision is “news to me.”

“Nobody has sent me an email, called me or come to my office,” he said. “No one has said anything to me.

“I asked what’s going on and I was told I’m not being investigated, my staff isn’t being investigated and it’s all about” the witness affirmation forms.

After last week’s hearing, Pickett expressed concerns about “the integrity of the process” to Kuempel.

The ethics committee met for about two hours in executive session Thursday, and Kuempel moved for the Texas Rangers to investigate the allegations and report to the committee. The committee approved the motion.

“I have offered to come before the committee and talk to them,” Stickland said. “I don’t know what they are doing. I don’t know what rules may have been broken.

“I’m ready to do whatever they want,” he said. “But apparently they don’t want that.”

Turning to Rangers

The move represents the latest effort by lawmakers to give the Texas Rangers more authority into investigating allegations of impropriety in state government. The Legislature has also considered a proposal to move the state’s public integrity unit, which investigates corruption cases, from the Travis County district attorney’s office to the Rangers.

Legislative rules require witnesses who want to participate in a hearing to be in the room. They must register through electronic kiosks outside the hearing rooms. Witnesses invited by the committee can arrange to testify remotely.

The committee hearing at issue was held hours after Stickland temporarily derailed a Pickett bill, House Bill 2346, from consideration. His move to get the bill off the House local and consent calendar sent the measure back to the Calendars Committee, where it waits to return to the House floor.

“So far, I’m not under investigation,” Stickland said. “So this is about one guy who was mad I killed his bill who took the opportunity to attack me in public and kill my bill.”

Stickland said he plans to move forward with his legislative agenda.

“It’s business as usual for me,” he said.

Staff writer Anna M. Tinsley contributed to this report.

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