Gov. Abbott calls special session, lawmakers headed back July 18

Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session. June 6, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session. June 6, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN ) — After a divisive and at many times heated legislative session, lawmakers will have to make their way back to the Texas State Capitol for a special session.

While Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a special session, the lawmakers won’t have to report back until July 18. During a news conference on Tuesday, Abbott said one of the biggest items that was not taken care of during regular office hours was Sunset legislation regarding the Texas Medical Board. Since the Sunset legislation did not pass during regular session, it would basically shut down operations at the Texas Medical Board in September.

Abbott says the Sunset bill will be the only legislation on the special session until lawmakers pass it out of the Senate in full.

Abbott says after the Sunset legislation is passed, he will add 19 items to the agenda for the House and Senate to vote on. The most pressing items for Abbott are school finance and reining in local regulation.

In a surprise announcement during the new conference, Abbott said he signed the statewide texting while driving ban in law on Tuesday, but said he was “not satisfied with the law as it was written.” He says he wants legislation that will override city ordinance so there isn’t a “patchwork quilt” of distracted driving laws across the state.

While Abbott didn’t dwell on the so-called “bathroom bill,” he did add it to his list of agenda items, titling it “Privacy.” Abbott said the state needs to “establish a single statewide rule protecting the privacy of women and children” especially the “privacy of our children at our public schools.”

While the list might be hefty, Abbott says he is giving lawmakers plenty of time to prepare before the start of the special session.

“They have six weeks to prepare and another 30 days to pass these proposals,” says Abbott. “If they fail it’s not for lack of trying, it’ll be because of lack of will.”

In a statement, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said, “The Members of the House will return to the Capitol next month ready to put their constituents and the best interest of the state first. The House looks forward to resuming our work on school finance and other challenges facing this state.”

Special session agenda items will include:

1. Sunset legislation
2. Teacher pay increase of $1,000
3. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
4. School finance reform commission
5. School choice for special needs students
6. Property tax reform
7. Caps on state and local spending
8. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
9. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
10. Speeding up local government permitting process
11. Municipal annexation reform
12. Texting while driving preemption
13. Privacy
14. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
15. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
16. Pro-life insurance reform
17. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
18. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
19. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
20. Extending maternal mortality task force

A special session can only last for 30 days. Lawmakers can only consider issues the governor chooses, but the governor can add more issues during the session. The 84th session in 2015 ended with no special sessions being called. According to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas, in 1987, then-Gov. William Clements held a special session with an agenda that had 72 topics.

Prior to the special session being called, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told KXAN he wanted a special session to address key items that didn’t pass in the regular session, such as property tax relief and the bathroom bill. Patrick says the person who stopped those items was Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who feared a business backlash if they restricted bathroom use to biological sex.

On the last day of the regular session on Memorial Day, as protesters filled the rotunda to voice their disappointment over the sanctuary cities bill, a fight broke out on the House floor. Things got physical when State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the protesters.

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