The announcement from Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) that he intended to call lawmakers back for a Special Session on July 18 came as no surprise to most people.
But what many weren't expecting was for the governor to lay out an ambitious special call agenda of 20 items.
"A special session was entirely avoidable, and there was plenty of time for the legislature to forge compromises to avoid the time and taxpayer expense of a special session," Abbott said Tuesday. "As Governor, if I am going to call a special session, I intend to make it count."
The special session agenda items include:
- Sunset legislation
- Teacher pay increase of $1,000
- Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
- School finance reform commission
- School choice for special needs students
- Property tax reform
- Caps on state and local spending
- Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
- Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
- Speeding up local government permitting process
- Municipal annexation reform
- Texting while driving preemption
- Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
- Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
- Pro-life insurance reform
- Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
- Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
- Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
- Extending maternal mortality task force
"He's basically asking them to do in 30 days 20 issues they couldn't handle in 140 days," said Ross Ramsey, Executive Editor of The Texas Tribune.
"Thirty days seems like a lot when you start, but it doesn't last very long at all. It's very quick and these things are going to happen very quickly," Ramsey added.
The legislative process will work the same during a special session. Lawmakers file bills, the bills are assigned to committees, are the subject of public hearings and if they're voted out, go to the full House or Senate for a vote. Once a bill is passed, it's sent to the other chamber where the process starts over.
While the governor has a set list of topics, lawmakers do have some freedom in what they file.
"They can file all the bills they want," Ramsey explained, "the only bills they can kind of legally consider are the ones the governor has put on the call."
Of course there's a catch; the call can change.
"If you file a bill and the governor sees that you've got some momentum for it and they've got time for it or something else, the governor can swoop in at any time and say add this item, add that item," said Ramsey.
Some lawmakers have already took to Twitter to announce plans to file bills not listed on the call. But even with no additional call items, lawmakers will have their hands full.
"Twenty issues is a lot. Even if the legislature is in a really good mood and everybody is getting along, and everyone's running in the same direction at the same pace, 20 is a lot to do in 30 days. I think some of these issues are not going to see the light of day," said Ramsey.
And he added that is by design to benefit Abbott.
"I think part of the reason for putting this many things on the agenda was to say if you fail to do any of these things it's not on me, it's on you," said Ramsey.
And if that's the case, the question becomes will Governor Abbott call lawmakers back again for a second special session.
While Abbott made the items priorities by adding them to the call, he's not been extremely vocal about where he stands on several of the issues, including bathroom privacy. He did, however, say that since he has to call lawmakers back for a special session to pass a sunset bill related to the Texas Medical Board, he wants to make the taxpayers' money count.
Lawmakers each get a per diem of $190 a day. With 182 lawmakers for 30 days, a special session will cost more than $1,000,000, not including overhead costs like printing and utilities.
The special session starts July 18.
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