Lege Lines: Patrick’s Hostage Play

How the Lt. Gov. held the 85th Lege for ransom

"Bring me more bigoted language in these bills, or the Goddess of Liberty gets it!" (by The Chronicle Art Staff)

When Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed Senate Bill 1929 in early March, no one really noticed, and no one could predict that the bill would send the 85th Legislature into bloody carnage between the House and Senate – all just so Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick could get another shot at passing his rejected agenda in a special session.

The Legislature didn't officially call sine die (Latin for "without a day," and legislative speak for "screw it, we're done") and end the regular session until Monday, May 29. But the session collapsed over the weekend, when the Senate sabotaged Sunset provisions for several key state agencies. Without such a law signed by Sept. 1, the agencies would close within a year. This was Patrick's ultimatum to Gov. Greg Abbott, forcing the governor to call a special session (all but inevitable). Bar­ring any surprises, he'll use that as an excuse to bring back his hobbyhorses: bathroom bills, school vouchers, and damaging local property tax caps.

The bitter truth is that the House had already given Pat­rick some form of what he wanted. (Remember the bathroom bill that only covered public schools, not all public buildings?) But Patrick doesn't want any old bill: He wants the most restrictive version of property tax reform; the most divisive version of the bathroom bill; the most liquid version of school vouchers.

So it took some carefully crafted sabotage to derail the session. First, Senate Educa­tion Committee Chair Larry Taylor, R-Friends­wood, rewrote the House's carefully crafted school finance reform measure (House Bill 21) and turned it into a voucher bill, knowing full well the House would never accept it. Then, last Wednesday, May 24, Patrick said he would not move on SB 310 – a key Sunset bill – unless the House agreed to his versions of the transgender bathroom bill and a strict revenue cap on cities and counties. The House was not interested in either, and tacked on language needed to keep bodies like the Texas Medical Board onto two pieces of legislation: SB 80, covering reporting criteria for various agencies, and Kolk­horst's SB 1929, extending the Mater­nal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force until 2023. Patrick then dispatched Sen. Van Tay­lor, R-Plano, to inform the House (by then furious) that the Senate would not concur with that language, making a special session all but inevitable.

Think on that. Patrick actually sabotaged research saving pregnant mothers just to try to pass school vouchers. That's some ruthless pro-life politicking.

Special sessions aren't really that "special" in Texas these days. Since 2000, only three Legislatures got all their business done within the 140-day window for regular sessions. If – or rather, when – Abbott recalls the legislators, it will be the 13th special since 2003. And it is Abbott's decision, even though Patrick is acting like he's holding the whip hand. Technically, a special session is subject to a specific call, and the two chambers have 30 days to pass just what the governor asked for. They can and do file other bills, and even if something is on the call, it doesn't mean that they will pass it. In 2013, it took three goes before they got transportation financing agreed.

So the question now becomes: Does Greg Abbott, who has said he will make a final decision on a special this week, really want to risk a whole summer of House and Senate discord, just to placate Dan Patrick?

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Dan Patrick, Lois Kolkhorst, Larry Taylor, Van Taylor, 85th Lege

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