Texas House to probe dispute involving Tarrant state rep.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas House ethics committee will investigate after a Democratic lawmaker accused a Republican colleague of padding the witness list for a bill the GOP member supported and had him removed from a committee meeting.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, accused state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, of participating in efforts to list witnesses who hadn’t actually come to the Capitol to testify on Stickland’s bill to ban red-light cameras.

After a heated exchange between the two, Pickett had Stickland removed from a Transportation Committee hearing, according to video of the confrontation.

Stickland’s bill was scheduled to go before Pickett’s committee Thursday, but Pickett left it pending without taking testimony, the Austin American-Statesman reported. At the time, Pickett accused Stickland of wrongdoing and had him removed from the hearing by a House sergeant.

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Now, state Rep. John Kuempel, chairman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, says his committee will investigate how electronic witness documents are used and possibly abused.

“The committee’s goal is to ensure that witness information provided to (its) members and to the public is accurate and reliable,” said Kuempel, R-Seguin.

No individual members are targeted as of now, Kuempel said.

House rules require witnesses to be present to testify before committees and provide electronic registry machines outside the committee room for that purpose. The registry requires a sworn statement, making a forged registry potentially a crime.

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Stickland denied any participation in improper registration of witnesses. Pickett, however, made a telephone call from his seat in the committee room and let those attending the hearing listen to a person who supposedly registered support for the bill say he was not at the Capitol. Then Pickett suggested that was proof that Stickland had violated rules.

“Please leave the committee room or be removed,” Pickett told Stickland. When Stickland refused, Pickett asked a House sergeant-at-arms to escort him out.

It was unclear as lawmakers left Austin at the end of the week if someone other than Stickland — like a staffer — also could face sanctions for improperly filling out committee forms to show backing of Stickland’s bill about the cameras.