Special Session Specs

The basics of what’s coming in this special session

What's a special session? A special session is when the governor – in this case, Greg Abbott – decides the Legislature has more business to attend to after the conclusion of its regular session.

How do they work? The governor issues a call and sets a date (this year, July 18) to reconvene the Legislature. Lawmakers then have up to 30 days to deliberate on agenda items.

Are special sessions common? That depends on the governor. While neither Ann Richards nor George W. Bush called any specials between 1993 and 2002, Bush's successor Rick Perry famously called a full dozen. Specials generally deal with major issues like school finance, or controversial and high-profile issues like voter ID or abortion restrictions.

What's on the call this session? Primarily, sunset legislation to keep the Texas Medical Board and several other state agencies operating.

That sounds essential. Why didn't it pass during the regular session? Because the Senate, under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, sabotaged House measures in revenge for representatives refusing to pass the infamous bathroom bill and measures for school vouchers.

Is that it? Yes and no. Abbott has stated that he will issue a staggered call. Once the sunset bill has passed out of the Senate, he'll add another 19 items, listed below in Abbott's official language (with our layman's understanding of each item's intent in parentheticals):

2) Teacher pay increase by $1,000 (to be done without allocating any additional state funds)

3) Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices (making it easier to hire and fire experienced staff)

4) School finance reform commission (establishes a commission, kicking the can down the road yet again)

5) School choice for special needs students (aka "school vouchers")

6) Property tax reform (which would cripple a city or county's ability to cover operating costs, like police and EMS)

7) Caps on state and local spending (see above: linking spending to population growth and inflation, not actual cost)

8) Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land (an attack on Austin's Heritage Tree ordinance)

9) Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects (pandering to the construction industry)

10) Speeding up local government permitting process (more pandering)

11) Municipal annexation reform (limiting a city's ability to annex unincorporated areas that lack services)

12) Texting while driving pre-emption (setting the new state standards as the ceiling, not the floor, for local safety regulations)

13) Privacy (Abbott's one-word description for the bathroom bill)

14) Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues (an attack on workers organizing)

15) Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion pro­viders (a specific attack on Planned Parenthood)

16) Pro-life insurance reform (ditto)

17) Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise (ditto ditto)

18) Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders (Making families jump through more hoops as their loved ones suffer)

19) Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud (Abbott's hobby horse since his days as attorney general)

20) Extending maternal mortality task force (as essential as the sunset bill)

Can lawmakers file other, off-topic bills? Yes. But even if they pass (which they never do), Abbott can still veto them.

Do lawmakers have to pass these bills? No. They could conceivably just pass sunset, call sine die, and go home. If they do, it'll be up to Abbott to weigh the political risk of calling them back again.

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