AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A raucous end to a divisive Texas legislative session erupted Monday when a large protest over a “sanctuary cities” crackdown provoked a heated scuffle between lawmakers on the House floor, including a Republican lawmaker saying he told a Democratic colleague he would “shoot him in self-defense.”
The animus was a fitting finish to a combative 140-day session splintered by tensions over immigration, transgender rights and an escalating power grab within the Texas GOP between uncompromising social conservatives and Republican moderates.
They probably won’t get the summer to cool off.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signaled Monday he might quickly order lawmakers back to Austin for unfinished business — which could include reviving a so-called “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people — instead of letting the Legislature adjourn until 2019 as scheduled. Abbott said he will announce a decision later this week.
Here’s what else to know as the Texas Legislature calls it quits for now:
‘BATHROOM BILL’ DEAD FOR NOW
Social conservatives who drive Texas politics fell short of placing North Carolina-style bathroom restrictions on transgender people. It was torpedoed by House Republicans, who heeded direct appeals from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and others from companies that panned the proposed law as discriminatory and bad for business.
Abbott went against other GOP governors nationwide in calling for a “bathroom bill.” But it’s unclear whether he will put it on lawmakers’ to-do list if he hauls them back for a special session.
This is Abbott’s last chance to make a mark before facing re-election in 2018. On Monday, Abbott said he felt no pressure to revive a “bathroom bill” from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who championed the issue and has denied speculation that he might go after Abbott’s job next year.
Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi acknowledged on Facebook that he called federal immigration agents on some demonstrators in the Capitol protesting a “sanctuary cities” ban, which lets police inquire about immigration status during routine stops.
Rinaldi alleged he was “physically assaulted” by Democrat Ramon Romero over making the phone call and said he told Democratic state Rep. Pancho Nevarez that he would defend himself with a gun after Nevarez allegedly threatened him.
Democrats say the so-called sanctuary ban and commitment to a voter ID law was part of a racial undercurrent that marred the session. Republicans said they never tried to intentionally discriminate, despite rulings by judges over Texas voting rights laws, and defended the “sanctuary city” crackdown as necessary to keep communities safe.
LEAN BUDGET FOLLOWS OIL SLUMP
A new $217 billion budget better funds Texas’ beleaguered child welfare system but puts little new money into public schools and doesn’t fully restore Medicaid therapy cuts for disabled children. Republicans say a prolonged energy slump demanded touch choices and they refused to raid $11 billion that is in Texas’ emergency coffer.
WEAKENED ‘SANDRA BLAND ACT’
A “Sandra Bland Act” that was softened to remove police accountability measures disappointed the family of the black Chicago-area woman who died in a Texas jail in 2015 following a traffic stop in which she had a confrontation with a white state trooper. Texas police officers will get $25 million worth of new bulletproof vests.
NO SCHOOL OVERHAUL
The Texas Legislature remained unfriendly to supporters of vouchers, which give public money to private schools, despite having a prominent new cheerleader in U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Lawmakers also left without tinkering with a widely derided school finance system that the Texas Supreme Court lukewarmly upheld last year as constitutional but flawed.
Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Texas Republicans responded by moving to let county clerks refuse to sign marriage licenses on religious grounds, but only if someone else in their office can fill in. A federal judge blocked a similar law in Mississippi last year.
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