AUSTIN, Texas - The 30 day Special Session of the Texas legislature got off to a rocky start Tuesday morning.
The trouble began right after the opening gavel. The game plan was to fast track a critical Sunset Bill, left undone during the Regular Session, before lawmakers could consider 19 other items in the Governor's Call. But slightly different Sunset Bills were drafted in the House and Senate creating an unexpected impasse.
"Your Texas House has filed exactly what the governor of Texas has asked us to file, that's House Bill1, and I filed it today, and we will proceed with HB1,” said State Representative Larry Gonzales.
The Round Rock Republican went on to say he was not surprised by the problem with the measure that developed on the Senate side. In the Senate a brief floor fight erupted over a quick fix that got difficult.
"I just want to make certain we know what the process is and what the vote requirement is and whether or not it can be suspended," said Dallas Democrat Senator Royce West.
Rules were suspended in order to immediately call a committee hearing so the Senate Sunset Bill could be amended. But there was an attempt to hit the procedural brakes by El Paso Democrat Jose Rodriguez.
"We are talking about being able to vote on the Bill on Thursday and for having an opportunity for members of the public to come up here during the regular session, I bet you most people don’t realize that this was the reason why we have to come back,” said Senator Rodriguez.
The language in the Senate Bill was eventually changed to match the House version. That move avoided a time consuming process that could have limited debate on the other 19 items in the Governor's Call.
"Well it will be very interesting to see. From the voters point of view, what we are hearing from our constituents, property tax reform is huge, voter fraud prevention is huge, the life issues are big, there are a lot of issues the voters really care about I think as in any session the priorities will rise to the surface and hopefully we'll get the best policy done for the state,” said State Senator Dawn Buckingham ( R) Lakeway.
Some House Republicans voiced concern that Democrats would try to leave town after the Sunset Bill was passed in order to prevent the other 19 items in the Call from being debated. Austin Democrat Donna Howard doubted there would be a Quorum Busting Dash out of Austin.
"There are many we'd like to see go away, that did not make it through the Regular session and don’t see any reason why they should make it through the Special Session, but we will be here to do the work that needs to be done and try to make it as beneficial to Texans as possible, we are going to focus on things that really make a difference to Texans like tying public education, school finance reform, to property tax reform,” said Representative Howard.
A vote on the first priority, the Sunset Bill, could come in the Senate Wednesday afternoon. The House version will have its first Committee hearing, also Wednesday afternoon.
Topics under the Call:
ABORTION: The governor wants to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions and to bar some insurance plans from covering the procedure. He also wants to strengthen regulations mandating that clinics and other health facilities report to state authorities all complications arising after abortions are performed, even though such complications are rare.
BATHROOM BILL: Abbott wants legislation that "protects the privacy of our children" in public schools. The Republican-led Texas House passed such a measure doing that during the regular, 140-day session that ended May 29 — but it died in the GOP-controlled state Senate, which was holding out far broader restrictions applying to most public restrooms and facilities in government buildings.
EDUCATION REFORM: Abbott endorsed legislation that would increase teacher pay statewide by $1,000 and proposals giving school administrators more flexibility in hiring and retaining teachers. He also wants Texas to create a commission to study ways to fix its troubled school finance system after a bill that would have begun an actual revamp died during the regular session amid a House-Senate battle over vouchers.
END OF LIFE CARE: Abbott wants to bring back a bill that failed to pass during the regular session seeking to restrict when do-not-resuscitate orders can be carried out on terminally ill patients.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT LIMITS: A proposed cap on state and local spending without a public vote, prevent cities from restricting tree-cutting practices on private land and bar local governments from modifying rules on construction projects once they've begun, faster permitting, limits on cities' ability to annex and expand an already approved statewide ban on texting while driving to supersede a "patchwork" of existing local prohibitions previously adopted around Texas.
MATERNAL MORTALITY: The governor wants to revive a bill that seeks to extend a special task force on maternal mortality from 2019 to 2023. A recent, University of Maryland-led study found that Texas' maternal mortality rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 and remains the highest in the nation — though it offered few explanations as to why.
PROPERTY TAX CUTS: The governor wants reductions in property taxes statewide and backed a plan that would require local governments to put proposals for hefty tax increase to voters.
SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Abbott revived a voucher proposal offering taxpayer funding so some special education students can attend private school. The bill passed during the regular session in the Senate — which for years has championed school vouchers — but stalled in the House. There, Democrats and rural Republicans, who represent small districts where private schools are scarce and public ones are social and cultural hubs, have long teamed up to oppose vouchers in any form.
UNION DUES: The governor is reviving an effort stalled during the regular session to end voluntary payroll deductions of union dues from state and public employee paychecks.
VOTER FRAUD: Abbott wants lawmakers to take another try at cracking down on what he called "mail-in ballot fraud."
*The AP contributed to the list.