Gov. Greg Abbott’s call on June 6 for a special session of the Legislature later this summer was not unexpected. Neither was the fact that several business and municipal leaders took issue with several items on his agenda.
During his announcement that lawmakers will be back in Austin for a 30-day special session beginning July 18, Abbott listed the 20 items he wants them to consider. First on the list is reauthorization of the Texas Medical Board and a few other state agencies that would go out of business if they are not reauthorized by Sept. 1.
Lawmakers can take up the rest of the items on Abbott’s list only after they deal with the sunset issue. The list includes the controversial so-called bathroom bill, abortion, school finance, tax rates, union dues and voter fraud.
“We expected the governor to exercise his prerogative to call a special session to pass sunset legislation to operate vital state agencies. There will need to be a much more collaborative tone in the special session to address the additional 19 items on the governor’s agenda,” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.
“The Fort Worth Chamber, representing more than 2,100 business members regionally, will continue to advocate for pro-business policies that position Texas and our individual communities to thrive and to be welcoming for all.”
The day the special session was announced, both the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Municipal League issued statements in response to the governor’s action.
“Many of the issues Governor Abbott has listed for the special session will have a positive impact on the state,” said Chris Wallace, TAB president, on behalf of the Keep Texas Open for Business Coalition.
The Fort Worth Chamber is one of several large chambers that voiced support for the Keep Texas Open for Business Coalition in January, including the Dallas Regional Chamber, Greater El Paso Chamber, Houston Partnership, Greater Austin Chamber and United Corpus Christi Chamber. The organization is opposing a proposal supported by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and several other Texas leaders that would bar transgender people in Texas from using the bathroom of their choice in most public restrooms and facilities in government buildings.
While Wallace took a majority neutral stance, TML Executive Director Bennett Sandlin expressed concern and frustration with Abbott’s call.
“The list of proposed topics for a special session represents an all-out assault on the ability of Texas voters to decide what’s best for their communities and their neighborhoods,” she said. “From proposed revenue caps, to spending caps, to tree ordinances, to texting while driving, and more, no one has ever proposed such sweeping restrictions on local voters having a voice in shaping the character of their communities,” she said.
“Seventy-four percent of Texans live in our 1,215 towns and cities and the decisions they have made at the local level have put Texas cities at the top of the nation in success. Stifling their voices through an all-powerful, overreaching state government is a recipe for disaster,” Sandlin said.
In March, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was one of several municipal leaders to voice similar concerns. “They elect us to make those decisions, and we need the flexibility to be able to govern our cities,” she said at the time.
The full list of items for the special session is as follows:
1. “Sunset” legislation to help save or sink state agencies. According to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, sunset laws answer the questions: Are an agency’s functions needed, and if so, how can the agency work better and save money for Texans
2. A teacher pay raise of $1,000.
3. Giving school administrators flexibility in teacher hiring and retention.
4. School finance reform. HB21, a bill intended to provide $1.5 billion to state public school funding and help school districts simplify money allocation, was declared “dead” after the Senate reduced funding in the bill to $530 million and added a “private school choice” program for children with disabilities.
5. School choice for special-needs students. HB1335 is the House counterpart to the Senate’s “private school choice” addition to HB21. It provides some state money for private school tuition or homeschool expenses for children with disabilities.
6. Rollback elections for property tax increases. The House and Senate have not been on the same page with how and when voters should be able to veto a city, county or other taxing district’s property tax rates.
7. Caps on state and local spending. The Legislative Budget Board projected an 8 percent growth rate for the state in December 2016, capping how much lawmakers can spend in the next 2-year budget. Critics say that figure is unrealistically high.
8. Preventing cities from enacting “tree protection” ordinances and other tree regulations on private land.
9. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects.
10. Speeding up local government permitting processes. 1.
11. Municipal annexation reform. SB715 would have required a petition or an election when a city wants to annex land or neighborhoods outside its city limits. It was killed by Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), who feared that it would affect military bases.
12. Preventing local entities from passing their own texting-while-driving bans. Abbott signed a bill into law on June 6 that creates a state-wide texting-while-driving ban.
13. Restrictions on bathroom use for transgender Texans. SB2078 would require single-occupancy facilities for transgender students in public schools who don’t want to use the facilities associated with their “biological sex.”
14. Prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues.
15. Prohibiting the use of taxpayer funding to subsidize health providers that also perform abortions.
16. Requiring women to get separate insurance policies if they want coverage for non-emergency abortions.
17. Increasing existing reporting requirements when complications arise during abortions. HB2692 and SB1602 would require all health facilities that perform abortions to send reports of complication to the Department of State Health Services.
18. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders.
19. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud.
20. Extending the state’s maternal mortality task force. During the session, two bills that aimed to study and help curb Texas’ rising maternal mortality rate were killed.
This report includes material from the Texas Tribune.