Texas House Speaker defends game plan for special session

The Texas house got underway Thursday with very little on the agenda. The reading of the governor's proclamation, expanding the special session, was the main order a business. As expected the amended call includes 19 items - like property tax reform, new abortion restrictions and voter fraud. Some additional education items were also added which speaker Joe Straus told me was a pleasant surprise.

"So I’m very encouraged that we can actually do some good work in this special session on the most important priorities of the Texas House and I think the biggest issues and priorities in the state,” said Speaker Straus.

When house members return to Austin Monday, Straus will first have them make a final vote on their sunset bill. The legislation - which is needed to keep open several agencies like the medical board - was the main objective of the special session.

"This isn't a race, and the House is going to give full consideration to the priorities, here, we are making Bill referrals today and I think you'll see the committees begin to meet next week,” said Straus.

It may not be a race but the Senate, after a midnight vote, is already several steps ahead of the house. Committee hearings for the additional call items are now scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Well sure we are methodical over here, we try to be,” said Straus.

The contrasting pace has transformed the house into a plodding turtle and the senate into a speedy rabbit. It’s as if the capitol has become an adaptation of an old fable -- with few moral victories and mostly political conflict.

Speaker Straus makes no apologies for his management style, that slow, methodical, pace. But the criticism of it, and the pressure have ramped up lately and a lot of it is coming from the Lt. Governor.

"He is a Republican the last time I checked, and so I don’t want this to be a battle,” said Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

That comment was made Monday while Patrick was speaking at a special session kickoff event sponsored by a conservative think tank.

"You can't take it personally, and there has been a lot of incoming from the Senate and frankly a small fraction of House members, but I do my job,” said Straus.

Much of the recent stress about Straus is his lack of support for legislation to limit access to bathrooms. The proposed restrictions in SB 3 are based on a person's gender at birth and not gender identity. Thursday- the Speaker made it clear to me - bathrooms are not high on the house to do list.

"I think if we, in the House can continue to  focus on the issues that really matter the most to Texans, and stay away from the divisive harmful stuff  I think we'll have a good 30 days here,” said Straus.

Some of the most controversial items in the call get their first Senate Committee hearings Friday morning. They include abortion restrictions and the bathroom bill.