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Special Session Drama Escalates

00:03:26

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House members praised House Speaker Dade Phelan on the last day of the legislative session. Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
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The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature closed out its biennial 140-day session Monday with sniping among the state’s top political leaders — and with lawmakers already well aware they will be back this year for an overtime round. Talk of a special session — and questions about how soon one may happen or what additional issues Gov. Greg Abbott could task legislators with — has largely defined the last weekend of the session after lawmakers left a number of GOP priorities unfinished.

After three of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priorities missed a key deadline and died in the House last week, the Senate’s presiding officer called for an immediate special session to pass them this summer. Those dead Senate priorities included a bill that would’ve barred transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity. 

Afterward, Abbott indicated he was not on board with Patrick’s demand, given that there was still time in the session for the chambers to work out their differences and get legislation to the governor’s desk. Then Patrick gave himself leverage to force a special legislative session when he neglected to pass a bill to extend the life of the regulating agency for Texas law enforcement. But after blowback from the governor, Patrick said he wouldn’t use that leverage

The drama among leadership and between the two chambers reached new highs Sunday night when House Democrats staged a walkout and broke quorum, making it impossible to give final approval to Senate Bill 7, a massive GOP priority voting bill that would tighten the state’s election laws, before the midnight deadline. Abbott quickly made clear that the bill, along with another priority bill that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash, “STILL must pass” — and said that the two issues “will be added to the special session agenda.”

The governor, who is the only official who holds the power to convene a special session, has not yet specified when he plans to order one. An overtime round is already planned for the fall to handle the redrawing of Texas’ political maps. But before lawmakers adjourned, Abbott made clear he intends to reprimand the Legislature over its unfinished business by vetoing the section of the state budget that funds the legislative branch, threatening lawmakers’ salaries.

Shortly after, Abbott released a statement in which he doubled down on his demands that lawmakers pass voting and bail legislation. But the governor also left open the possibility that other topics could be added to the agenda for the special session. Read the full story by the Tribune’s Cassandra Pollock and Shawn Mulcahy.

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