State of Texas: In Depth – Specter of a special session

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Legislature ended with shouting, a scuffle, and the specter of a special session. The decision rests with Gov. Greg Abbott. “We will be, if we have a special session, convening only on the topic that I choose at the time of my choosing,” Abbott told reporters last week. His office indicated that a decision could be announced later this week.

For now, state lawmakers are waiting for the Governor’s decision. “I’m sure he and his consultants are looking at what’s to his political advantage to do,” Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said. She spoke Sunday morning on KXAN’s State of Texas. Rep. Howard referred to  Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s push to get the Governor to put the bathroom bill and property tax reform on a special session call. “There’s really no reason to deal with bathrooms and there’s no reason to deal with the property tax issue,” Howard said.

Rep. Howard claims the Senate’s property tax proposal would do little to help Texas taxpayers. “Your property taxes, more than half of them are schools,” Howard explained, noting that the state has cut its share of school funding. “We’re pushing more and more onto local property tax payers, Howard said. “If we’re really concerned about local property taxes, the way to address that is for the state to put more funding into public education.”

The talk of a special session, potentially covering divisive issues, underscores what Howard sees as a higher level of tension this legislative session. “There’s always a divide there, but it seemed to be greater than usual this time.” The emotion hit Rep. Howard on May 19th, when she made a tearful speech against a bill to add restrictions to abortions in Texas. Despite her plea, the bill passed. “We are diverted all the time to these social wedge issues,” Howard said, noting how the abortion restrictions passed, while lawmakers blocked additional funding for schools.

Lawmakers did come together to make changes to the state’s Child Protective Services. Members of both parties backed and passed legislation to pay for more case workers and maintain salary increases to reduce turnover. “This was a bipartisan priority,” Howard said. “We all showed that we could work together on something here. Though it’s not perfect, and though we had some disagreements about part of it, the fact is we mad a significant improvement.”

“I think many of us who come to the legislature are coming hoping to do the work and business of the citizens and address the things that are going to make a difference in the daily lives of Texans,” Howard said. “But at the same time, the divisions are pretty deep right now. It remains to be seen how we’ll move forward.”

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