The Texas Legislature just became the scene of a hostage situation, in which House members are the emergency first responders and Lieutenant Dan Patrick is the assailant holding a knife.
On Thursday, Patrick gave the Texas House an ultimatum: Pass both the bathroom bill and the property tax reform bill, or else he'll force that special session to happen.
The House has 48 hours to act on his threat.
"Leadership in the Texas House has taken a different approach on big-agenda issues, holding them until down to these last few weeks. That's puts us on the precipice of a special session," Patrick said. "Unfortunately several important bills that the people have demanded have not passed the House, and time is running out."
The bills that Patrick has taken as prisoners include the state budget for 2017-2018 and what's called the "sunset scheduling bill." The bill is absolutely necessary because it allows various state agencies to keep their doors open pending review of their operations; without this bill passed, they have to close up shop.
If Patrick doesn't get his way with the bathroom bill and property tax reform, then those two bills are going to die in the next 48 hours, and a special session will be needed to revive them and ensure that they pass. Governor Greg Abbott gets to control what bills are included in the special session, and Patrick said he will urge the governor to also include the bathroom bill and property tax reform.
Abbott will almost certainly abide by Patrick's wishes if it comes to that. The governor has noted that both bills are priorities of his own, and a few weeks ago admitted to calling up megachurch pastors and asking them to please promote the bathroom bill from the pulpit and ask congregants to put pressure on their state lawmakers to pass it. Patrick said he's going to deliver a letter signed by "some of the most prominent pastors in the state from some of the biggest megachurches in the state" to House Speaker Joe Straus's desk.
Straus, a Republican, has remained rather unenthused about the bathroom bill — and so has the conservative Texas business community, which has repeatedly urged GOP lawmakers to ditch the discriminatory legislation. It would essentially relegate transgender men to women's rooms and vice versa, and is projected to cause economic losses primarily in tourism because Texas would be seen as a discriminatory state.
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Still, lawmakers just might be forced to vote whether they do it now to avoid having to work overtime or whether they do it when Governor Abbott and Patrick essentially force them to in a special session.
The property tax bill would benefit home and business owners, allowing them to keep more money in their pockets, as well as limit when local governments can hike property taxes without voter approval. But the primary snag is that local governments believe this will seriously impede their ability to raise enough revenue to fund essential services. Patrick, however, said Wednesday that "people are literally being taxed out of their homes and businesses," and that this reform is a must.
"The final bill must provide genuine property tax relief. This is not my demand. this is the demand of homeowners and business owners who are desperate for property tax relief," he said. "If not passed in this regular session, I promised the voters i would get them real property tax reform, and I intend to do so if that means going to a special session."
House members have until 11:59 p.m. Friday to make a decision.