AUSTIN, Texas - Friday the Texas house chamber was empty. And those who came to the Texas Capitol to visit with their representative, like Shawn Flanagan, found most were gone.
"We were a little disappointed when we heard they closed up at the same time we got to meet with a lot of the staff, had some really good conversations, and was a little more relaxed than it would be ordinarily," said Flanagan.
House members walked out Thursday and will not return until Sunday. The state Senate was in session Friday, but the House going MIA was a clear message according to political analyst Brian Smith
"There are lots of ways to kill legislation in the Texas legislature but the easiest way to do it is let the clock expire, what the house has done is put us three days closer to 140-day deadline, so this is the House‘s way of saying to the Senate now you’re gonna play on our terms if you want your legislation passed you are gonna have to move on it," said Smith.
The last day the Senate can take up bills is Wednesday, putting several at risk of dying like expanding the use of medical marijuana and Bail reform.
The deadline in the House is tighter with Senate legislation needing, at least initial approval, by Tuesday.
This game of political chicken according to Smith can create unique cross-party team-ups.
"There is a lot of institutional loyalty within the House of Representatives, especially if you’re going up against a strong lieutenant governor like Dan Patrick, they realize they don’t want to be Dan Patrick’s rubber-stamps, Democrats and Republicans in the house are going to unite on some issues to advance legislation or more specifically to kill the legislation, they think is being pushed on them," said Smith.
Smith believes many things will pass or be resolved in conference committees like, the permitless gun bill which reached a compromise Friday afternoon.
Other bills expected to move forward deal with election reform, power plant winterization, and expanding access to broadband.
Bills that end up dying could still be resurrected; and not just during this session. There will be a special session this fall to deal with redistricting.
Thursday night governor Greg Abbott opened the door to the idea of taking up other items.
In a statement, Abbott said he also wanted lawmakers to use the special session to disperse billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid. Mending political fences is the possible motivation for doing that according to Smith.
"Republicans like Governor Abbott but they don’t love Governor Abbott, people are already saying I might run for governor so I’m doing that he’s realizing I have to be as popular as possible and also as transparent as possible," said Smith.
With time still left on the Regular Session clock, people like Sean Flanagan are not looking ahead. And not yet willing to throw in the towel.
"I coached college track for 40 years and when I get in later in the race, And things are going well I’d be yelling to the kids, keep going, we’re winning, just finished we are going to win and that’s how I feel like we are here we are near the finish line we’re winning, all we Gotta do is carry-on.," said Flanagan.
Walk-outs by state lawmakers have been done before. But in the past, it’s usually been part of a dispute down party lines. The last big bolt happened in 2003 when Texas Democrats ran to Oklahoma in an attempt to stop the GOP lead redistricting process.