By Anna Golden
Conservatives across Texas began calling for a special session even before the regular session ended. Vitally needed legislation, including legislative priorities set forth by the Republican Party of Texas, was slow-walked or killed by House leadership loyal to liberal Republican Joe Straus. The more conservative senate, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick saw what was happening and issued an ultimatum to Straus pass legislation addressing property tax relief and bathroom privacy or he would keep critical sunset legislation from passing out of the Senate before the end of the session.
On June 6th, Conservatives got their wish when Gov. Abbott announced that a special session would convene on July 18. Legislative priority number one is the sunset legislation. Once that legislation passes out of the Senate, 19 more items are on the agenda for the 30-day session. During the press conference Gov. Abbott said “a special session was entirely avoidable. There was plenty of time for the House and Senate to forge compromises, to avoid the time and taxpayer expense of a special session.” He went on to say, “If I’m going to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a special session, I intend to make it count”.
Here are the agenda items Governor Abbott included for this special session (editorial commentary on each is my own, not the Governor’s):
1. Increase in teacher pay – While most of us can agree that teachers in general are grossly underpaid, I can’t imagine that a mere $1000 will be considered significant by anyone. This is feel good legislation that will look good as a bullet point on campaign literature for re-election.
2. Administrative flexibility in hiring and retention at public schools – This is very vague and lacks direction; although it sounds good on the surface, I’m afraid that it could go in the wrong direction in a very liberal house. I’m hopeful that the Texas Freedom Caucus will make sure that this legislation doesn’t get wonky.
3. Commission on school finance reform – I think the point of this is to have strong reforms either in place, or ready for the next legislative session. Conservatives can score some major wins here, both in the creation of the commission and with the work the commission does.
4. School Choice for special needs students – The school choice issue is a thorny one, even among people who support the idea of school choice. The devil is in the details and I hope that Conservative voices are heard during the debate on this to make sure that the children in question are the ones who benefit from this legislation.
5. Property tax reform – When you read that this is on the agenda you want to holler “Hallelujah!” and as best I can tell, that is the appropriate response. This issue is going to need a lot of activist and grassroots support to make sure that strong legislation comes out of it, but I’m confident that we have members in both the House and the Senate who will fight tooth and nail for good, conservative, and meaningful property tax reform.
6. Caps on state and local spending – This seems to be one of Abbott’s pet projects and he got excited about explaining it. I’m all about anything that reigns in government spending at any level.
7. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on their land – I’m sure there is something that happened that prompted this and I’m just unaware of it. Private land is just that, private land so I’m all for legislation that reinforces land owner’s rights.
8. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects – I’m certain this stems from a desire to keep taxpayers from paying more than they agreed upon or where notified of. I’m also all for legislation that is pro-taxpayer.
9. Speeding up the local government permitting process – Another piece of pro-taxpayer legislation that I can support.
10. Municipal annexation reform – This is another loud “Hallelujah!” for Conservatives. Abbott called the process of annexation without a vote by those affected “piracy by government” and he is correct. Land owners who have chosen their property location so that they don’t have to live under choking city ordinances and taxes should be able to fight tooth and nail to keep it that way. Government shouldn’t be allowed to take something just because they want it and then start charging the original owner rent just to use it. This legislation will be a home run for Conservatives in my opinion.
11. Texting while driving preemption – I was against the texting while driving ban in the first place. We already had laws on the books about reckless and distracted driving. We did not need another. This proposed legislation seems to have the potential of being good. We’re going to have to count on the Conservative members of Congress to make sure that it doesn’t restrict personal liberty.
12. Privacy – It’s cute that the Governor’s press release just had that one word. This is essentially SB6, a bill that so many Conservatives have fought so hard for, even though the Governor mentioned HB2899 in his speech. It’s heartening to know it has another chance at life during this special session.
13. Prohibition of using taxpayer dollars to collect union dues – The legislation made it to the House, but died there. Since many unions end up working against taxpayers’ interests in favor of their own, I can’t disagree with the direction of this legislation.
14. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers – We need a sentiment stronger than “Hallelujah!” for this one. Banning or limiting abortion in Texas is going to be a long, hard, uphill battle. At the very minimum we need to make sure that Texans who are opposed to abortion aren’t forced to pay to support the practice.
15. Pro-life insurance reform – If we are going to protect pro-life taxpayers from inadvertently paying for abortions through tax dollars, it only makes sense that we would allow them the opt out of paying for abortions through group insurance plans.
16. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise – If abortion is going to be performed, it is in the best interest of individuals to know what the complications are.
17. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders – This is critical legislation that would prohibit medical providers from placing DNR orders on a patient without their consent.
18. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud – I cheered aloud when he announced this one. I sincerely hope that whatever legislation passes ends up with stiff penalties for those who are caught participating in ballot fraud.
19. Extending maternal mortality task force – Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates. If this task force is still doing important work to track and prevent maternal mortality I’m happy to see it continue.
Overall, the legislative agenda laid out by Gov. Abbott has the potential to give Conservatives some big wins that they were resigned to losing during the regular session. That means that we are going to have to continue mobilizing the Conservative grassroots movement in Texas through the summer to ensure that we keep this legislation within the bounds Conservative principles like limited government and individual liberty.