By Anna Golden
On Monday, July 10, 2017 Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an official proclamation for the commencement of the first special session of the 85th legislative session. Texas’s legislature meets biennially (every 2 years) but the Governor has the power to call as many special legislative sessions as needed to address legislation deemed necessary by the Governor.
During the regular session of the 85th Legislative Session, Lt. Gov. Patrick issued an ultimatum to House Speaker Joe Straus about passing priority legislation sent over from the Senate. Lt. Gov. Patrick let Straus know that he would keep must pass legislation from making it out of the Senate if the House didn’t address privacy and property taxes. Straus called his bluff and Patrick didn’t budge.
Abbott’s proclamation informed members of Congress that they must address the sunset legislation that extends the life of Texas Medical Board, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors, and the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners. Immediately after that proclamation, a draft of the supplemental call Gov. Abbott plans to issue was released detailing the remaining issues the Governor would like addressed by Congress.
This supplemental call has some clarifying language on some of the issues Abbott announced during his June press conference where he announced that he would call this special session. The original call to “increase teacher pay by $1000” was rather vague in terms of implementation and funding. Now we are learning that he wants legislation that increases the minimum salary and benefits teachers receive from their district that is funded through budgetary means at the district level (as opposed to an unfunded mandate). He also called for legislation that makes teacher hiring and retention more flexible. This language has evolved into “legislation to provide a more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers.” This legislation is being spearheaded through the special session by Rep. Thomas Clardy with support from Reps. Deshotel and Raymond. Thomas Clardy was named one of the most liberal Republican reps by the recent Rice University rankings. Deshotel and Raymond are Democrats.
The call language for a school finance reform commission hasn’t changed between the press conference and today’s proclamation, which is to form a commission on school finance reform. This issue has haunted Congress for a while now and is proving to be exceptionally complex to resolve. House Rep. Phil King (moderate Republican) and Senator Larry Taylor (liberal Republican) are reported be “authoring legislation” to “overhaul our outdated school finance system”. It is unclear yet if they are creating legislation to create the commission to overhaul the system, or if they’ll skip the song and dance in the middle and just draft reform legislation.
Another hot topic that has proved hard to resolve, even among a single party much less on a bi-partisan level is school choice. Gov Abbott called for the special session to address school choice for special education in his initial press conference and the language hasn’t changed with today’s proclamation draft. Sen. Larry Taylor and Rep. Ron Simmons are authoring this legislation. Representative Simmons is actually ranked the 13th most Conservative member of the Texas House just behind the 12 members of the Texas Freedom Caucus. We might be able to see legislation that Conservatives could support on this agenda item as a result.
A priority item for the Republican Party of Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Gov. Greg Abbott going into the regular session was property tax reform. It was not addressed in the House despite having many bills filed that did address the issue. This was one of the issues that Patrick included in his ultimatum to the Speaker and Abbott has included it in this call. Sen. Bettencourt and Rep. Dennis Bonnen have taken up the mantel during the special session. Both Congressmen are more conservative than not so we’ll have to see how aggressively they attack this very important issue.
In his June press conference, Gov. Abbott called for “caps on state and local spending”. Today his split these 2 items up into specific calls for legislation using population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for both state government and political subdivisions. On the local spending issue, Senator Estes and Representative Villalba will spearhead the effort while Senator Hancock and Representatives Parker and Schofield will tackle the state spending legislation. The local bill is doomed to be uselessly liberal with its current sponsors but the state bill might have a chance on the Senate side with Kelly Hancock.
An item that shouldn’t need legislation but apparently does is the call to protect “the private property rights of land owners from political subdivision rules, regulations, or ordinances that interfere with, delay, or restrict private property owners’ ability to use or enjoy their property.” This is updated language of the press conference item dealing with trees on private land. The updated language is sufficiently broad enough to be worthwhile (if they only protect trees next time we’ll have to protect shrubs and lawn furniture). On the Senate side, Bob Hall will be writing this legislation. Mr. Hall is the 3rd most conservative Senator and an excellent steward of property rights. In the House, Paul Workman is on the liberal side of moderate and probably isn’t the best choice to defend property rights.
One piece of language that has changed so much that it has become almost unrecognizable to its predecessor is the call to prevent local governments from changing the rules midway through construction projects. The revised language is a bit more descriptive by reading:” Legislation preventing political subdivisions from imposing on private property additional or enhanced regulations that did not exist at the time the property was acquired.” This legislation could be a great protection for property owners against overreaching local governments If it is written carefully. Sen. Dawn Buckingham falls in the moderate side of conservative range while Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. is fairly conservative.
The call to “speed up the local permitting process” has evolved into expediting the issuance of permits and reforming laws about the permit process. Rep. Workman is writing the House version, while Konni Burton is in charge of the Senate version. We can count on Sen. Burton to deliver solid conservative legislation.
Annexation reform and protection is a bill deal to many taxpayers in Texas so Governor Abbott made many people very hopeful when he included this on his call. The updated language calls for legislation that protects landowners in a municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction by reforming the municipality’s ability to annex, exert control over, or regulate the land in its ETJ. Once again, this important legislation has a conservative sponsor in the Senate (Donna Campbell) and a liberal Republican in the House (Dan Huberty) so we must hope the Senate serves up the bill that reaches the finish line.
Governor Abbott signed a statewide texting while driving ban into law this legislative session. Personally I thought that this was unnecessary legislation since we already have statewide laws punishing distracted driving. Then Abbott added a call to create a statewide preemption on regulating the use of mobile devices in vehicles and made up for the useless legislation a little bit. This agenda item is supposed to prevent local municipalities from creating their own rules and regulations regarding the use of electronic devices in vehicles. In a nutshell, this is legislation meant to limit government which is always a win for Texans. Senator Don Huffines is solidly conservative and Representative Craig Goldman is on the conservative side of moderate.
And now we’re at the second issue that brought us to the special session in the first place, privacy. This issue caught the national spotlight during the Obama administration due to a federal mandate to allow transgender students to use the school bathroom of their choosing. Texas legislators took up the fight during the 85th regular session in an attempt to provide state legislation protecting the privacy rights of individuals in public bathrooms and the Senate passed a very strong privacy advocacy bill. Straus killed the legislation by not allowing the House to take any action on the bill although it was received more than 2 months before the session ended. The special session legislation is being championed by Lois Kolkhorst in the Senate, the primary sponsor of the Bill that Straus allowed to die and Ron Simmons in the House, a good conservative lawmaker.
In June, the Governor called for the special session to prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues. The expanded language says that state and local entities can’t deduct unions dues or employment organization fees from the paychecks of public employees. Since those employees are paid by tax dollars and the administrative costs of collecting these monies and passing them on are also paid by taxpayers. In a right-to-work state like Texas this seems to be contradictory at best. Senator Hughes and Representative Isaac are both fairly moderate, but should do a good job on this legislation.
“Legislation prohibiting financial transactions between a governmental entity and an abortion provider or affiliate of the abortion provider.” This is the updated language of the original call to prohibit taxpayer funding for abortion providers. The premise of this is simple, taxpayers who don’t believe in abortion shouldn’t be forced to pay for abortions through their tax dollars. Neither Senator Schwertner nor Representative Springer are reliably conservative but both received a 100% score from Texas Right to Life in the 2015 legislative session.
Related to the previous abortion reform legislation, Governor Abbott also called for reforms to pro-life insurance. The updated language says that legislation should address health plan and health benefit plan coverage for abortions. Since health insurance plans are essentially risk pools, Texans who oppose abortion should be able to purchase health plans that do not pay for abortions in their risk pool. Senator Creighton and Representative Smithee both received a score of 100% from Texas Right to Life in the 2015 legislative session.
Continuing in the pro-life vein, Abbott called for strengthening reporting requirements when complications occur in relation to an abortion. Rep. Capriglione and Sen. Campbell are both moderate Republicans but are strong on pro-life legislation. This legislation is particularly unpopular with the pro-abortion crowd so it will need strong pro-life stewards to get an effective bill across the finish life.
The fact that we need legislation that protects patients from secret Do-Not-Resuscitate orders being placed upon them is appalling. But we do. The call is to strengthen the patient protections in regard to DNR order procedures and requirements. Representative Greg Bonnen is a medical doctor and probably has subject matter knowledge that will serve him well on this piece of legislation. He is mostly conservative with his voting record. Senator Charles Perry is a moderate Republican.
Direct Action Texas broke a story about massive vote harvesting in Tarrant County and made election fraud an important issue in the eyes of many Texans. Governor Abbott originally called for a crackdown on mail-in ballot fraud (the mechanism for the vote harvesting operation in Tarrant County), and the updated language clarifies that the legislation should enhance the detection, prosecution, and elimination of mail-in ballot fraud. Craig Goldman of the House and Kelly Hancock of the Senate are the stewards of this agenda item during the special session. Both can be counted on to deliver conservative legislation.
The last item on Abbott’s call was extending the maternal mortality task force. Maternal mortality rates are disproportionately high in Texas and this legislation is directed to extend the extend the operation of and enhance the duties of this task force so that Texas can take steps to address this problem. On the Senate side, conservative Lois Kolkhorst is writing the bill. On the Republican side the legislation is enjoying bipartisan support with liberal Republican Cindy Burkett being joined by ultra-liberal Reps Armando Walle and Shawn Thierry.
The rules for special sessions are unique and in many ways different from those in the regular session. Each special session lasts a maximum of 30 days, but the Governor can call as many special sessions as he wants until the next regular legislative session. While any legislation can be filed during the session, it can easily be defeated in several ways. If it somehow makes it all the way to the chamber floor and member can call a point of order that it isn’t “germane to the call” and kill it. Even legislation that has specifically been called for by the Governor can be killed by something as simple as the Speaker adjourning the session sine die. This is the strategy that Straus and his cronies are going to attempt with this session if rumors are to be believed. There are a couple of things Texans can do to promote conservative legislation during the special session. First contact your members of Congress and urge them to prevent a sine die strategy and to support the conservative legislation that is important to you. Make a trip to Austin to testify in support of good, or against bad legislation. Contact the governor and urge him to add other conservative issues, such as constitutional carry, to the call. And finally, stay informed and help to keep others informed. When government is allowed to operate in the shadows, shady legislation is brought to life.