The Texas Legislature was working late into the summer this year. Greg Abbott, governor of Texas, determined that the state legislature didn’t get enough done during the regular session, so he called them back to get more work done in a special session. Abbott had 20 agenda items for the special session. Normally, the Texas legislature meets for 140 regular calendar days and is considered a part-time legislature, as it only meets bi-annually.
A major reason for the special session was that the ‘Sunset legislation’ had not been passed and was thus going to expire. The Sunset legislation reauthorizes The Texas Sunset Advisory Committee. This committee is essentially the government watchdog for Texas’ state-funded agencies. The committee determines whether or not the agencies should be shut down, or reformed, or changed in other ways. As a result of the failure to pass the sunset legislation, a number of vital state medical boards were going to be automatically shut down, making it impossible for Texas to license vital medical professionals.
The reason this vital piece of legislation was not passed during the special session was due to the hostile relationship between the Texas House and the Texas Senate. Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, who holds what is arguably the most powerful position in the Texas government, was upset at the lack of conservative legislation coming from Joe Straus’ House and held the Sunset bill hostage as the regular session ended.
The underlying reason for Abbott’s call for a special session was to ward off a strong primary opponent. A number of grassroots activists were upset at what they perceived as the hands-off approach Abbott had taken when dealing with the state legislature, thus allowing all of the issues between the House and the Senate to transpire. Abbott put those concerns to rest at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation for the special session. At that event, he promised that he would keep and publish a list of legislators who opposed his agenda, which is essentially a naughty list. This list, when released, will make for red meat in the primary, because an effective way to obtain office in Texas is to run to the right of most elected Republicans.
After the special session was gaveled in, both the House and the Senate worked very quickly to pass the Sunset legislation. Once the bill was passed, and medical professions across the state were saved, Abbott then proceeded to open the call to the rest of his special session priorities. His priorities focused on education reform, property taxes, privacy, abortion restrictions, union dues and city issues.
The Senate then proceeded to race through Abbott’s agenda. This is largely due to the much more conservative nature of the state Senate compared to the state House. The reason for this difference is the size of the districts. All of the conservative senate districts contain the red meat of conservative candidates in suburban Texas.
The House, on the other hand, has much smaller districts, thus resulting in small primary turnout, in which cross-over Democrats can swing the primary election in favor of the more moderate candidate. This results in the House having more moderate Republicans than the Senate. The House is also controlled by Straus, a man who could be described as a moderate. Compared to Patrick, Democrats in this state much prefer Straus. Straus acted the opposite of Patrick; the House operated much slower than the Senate as a result.
The special session ended in controversy as the House ended its session before its dedicated time, and as a result property tax reform and the privacy bill failed to become law. The final night was a take-it-or-leave-it situation for the Senate as the House had gaveled out and gone home, leaving a compromise out of the question.
However, Abbott still was able to get about 10 of his legislative priorities passed. All things considered, conservatives should be very happy about the outcome of the special session.