Lege Lines: Greg Abbott Brings the Lege Back for More Fun

It promises to be a very special session

Greg Abbott (Photo by John Anderson)

It seems that Gov. Greg Abbott took a recent New York Times article painting him as ineffectual to heart. After prevaricating for a week over whether he would call a special session, on Tuesday, June 6, he not only announced that he was calling lawmakers back on July 18, but that he was putting a remarkable 20 issues on the call for when they get back to Austin.

The inescapable issue is passing legislation, known as a sunset bill, to extend the life of the Texas Medical Board. If such legislation is not passed by Sept. 1, then the agency (which licenses and regulates doctors) will begin a one-year wind-up process. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick knew that when he and his allies sabotaged the actual sunset bill in the regular session, making a special session nearly inevitable. (Revisit "Lege Lines: Patrick's Hostage Play," June 2.)

What Patrick wanted was to force the Legislature to come back so that he could push through a hard-line version of the infamous and discriminatory bathroom bill, plus school vouchers and property tax restrictions for cities and counties. Abbott has seemingly pledged to go much further: During his official announcement, to the increasing bafflement of staff and the gathered press corps, he explained that passage of the sunset bill out of the Senate will trigger the addition of a conservative wish list of 19 additional items. The lineup includes a grab bag of measures that restrict local control, further undermine worker protections, set impossible school finance goals, regulate health care providers, or often a combination of all of the above:

Increase teacher pay by $1,000 without additional state or local school funding

Easier hiring and firing for school administrators

Establish a school finance reform commission

Vouchers for special needs students

Cut the ability of local governments to raise funds

Cap state and local government spending at population growth plus inflation

Overturn the Austin Heritage Tree Ordinance

Prevent changes to permit rules to affect an ongoing construction project

Require faster permit approval

Limit municipal annexation powers

Revise the recently passed texting-while-driving bill to pre-empt local regulations

The discriminatory bathroom bill

Ban paycheck deductions for union dues

Ban local funding for groups that provide abortions

Ban insurance coverage for abortions

Tougher reporting requirements for abortions

Further barriers to enacting a "do not resuscitate" order

Harsher penalties for mail-in ballot fraud

Extending the life of the Maternal Mortality Task Force

Yet there are very real questions about whether Abbott is actually serious about these measures – questions that remain unanswered, as he refused to speak to the press after rattling off his wish list. For example, the bathroom bill is euphemistically listed in his official statement as "privacy," and at the press conference Abbott said he would be happy with the House version of the bill, which only covered schools ("Texas Legislators Push Through Two Anti-LGBTQ Bills Sunday Night," May 22). Moreover, he did not say that he would call the Legislature back for additional special sessions if any of these measures failed to pass. Instead, he simply said: "If they fail, it's not for lack of time. It will be because of lack of will."

Abbott's agenda has already drawn criticism. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt called it "another round of political game-playing at the Capitol," while even fiscal conservatives like Texas Association of Busi­ness President Chris Wallace condemned any inclusion of a bathroom bill. Most significant may be the guarded response from Speaker Joe Straus, who spent much of the regular session refusing to fold to Patrick's strong-arm tactics. He simply said: "The House looks forward to resuming our work on school finance and other challenges facing this state."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More 85th Lege
The Sexist Texas Lege
The Sexist Texas Lege
The war on women continues on many fronts

Mary Tuma, Dec. 29, 2017

Lege Lines: Sine Done
Lege Lines: Sine Done
The dregs from last month’s special session

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 25, 2017

More by Richard Whittaker
Fantastic Fest Announces 2023 Jury and Audience Winners
Fantastic Fest Announces 2023 Jury and Audience Winners
Brazilian satirical thriller Property takes top award

Sept. 26, 2023

Fusebox Takes the Electricity Across the Calendar
Fusebox Takes the Electricity Across the Calendar
Arts festival rebrands, expands with year-round programming

Sept. 26, 2023


Greg Abbott, Joe Straus, Sarah Eckhardt, Dan Patrick, 85th Lege

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle