“I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve,” Abbott said in a statement Thursday. “Passing these Special Session agenda items will chart a course towards a stronger and brighter future for the Lone Star State."
Abbott’s new special session agenda contains all of the previous eleven items he ordered legislators to focus on during the current session, most notably his demand that lawmakers pass legislation “strengthening the integrity of elections in Texas.” He’s referring to the controversial set of GOP-backed election reforms that led the House Democrats to flee the state and send Abbott’s first special session into a state of stasis, which critics claim are unnecessary measures that will make voting more difficult for all Texans (and especially Texans of color) and that are unnecessary given the rarity of voter fraud in Texas.
Republicans including Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, however, argue that the GOP’s proposed election rule changes will only make it harder for would-be fraudsters to cheat. They and other state Republicans have sworn their insistence on passing election legislation has nothing to do with former President Donald Trump’s unceasing claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him (despite a complete lack of any evidence whatsoever to support those claims), although it’s undeniable that the Texas GOP and other state Republican governments across the country only began pushing for stricter controls on elections once Trump lost and worked his supporters into a frenzy with his false accusations that voter fraud cost him reelection.
Abbott’s agenda for special session round two includes six new items. There’s a request for new education laws that make in-person learning available for all students and that ban face mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and for legislation to change the deadlines and election dates for the upcoming 2022 primary elections (which will likely have to be adjusted due to delayed U.S. Census data that’s holding up the redistricting process).
Abbott also added items about “reforming the laws governing radioactive waste” by limiting the transportation and storage of nuclear waste in Texas, a vague call for legislation “shielding private employers and employees from political subdivision rules” that contradict with existing federal and state employment law.
In addition, Abbott has now called for lawmakers to decide how to allocate approximately $10.5 billion in federal dollars sent to Texas as part of the national COVID-19 relief packages (which pundits had predicted he would add on to the upcoming fall special session to handle redistricting once the Census data arrives).
Clearly in response to the Democratic flyout to D.C. that left the Legislature at a standstill, Abbott also added a new request for legislation “relating to legislative quorum requirements,” a request reminiscent of Patrick’s recent call for the Legislature to lower the number of lawmakers needed to conduct business at the state Capitol.
The state constitution requires two-thirds of each of the Senate and House to be present for there to be a quorum, which is why the fifty-plus House Democrats who fled the state was enough to deny the 150-member House enough members to do business. Any change to that quorum threshold would be virtually impossible to pass given the Legislature’s current makeup, as any adjustments to the state constitution have to be approved by — you guessed it — two-thirds of both members of both the House and Senate.
The new special session agenda still includes previous conservatives priorities of Abbott’s, including banning transgender Texans from participating on the sports teams that align with their gender identities and banning so-called “social media censorship” of conservatives, along with less partisan items like giving retired teachers a one-time bonus retirement benefit check.
Most importantly for the approximately 2,100 employees who work for state legislator or in non-partisan legislative support organizations like the Texas Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Library, Abbott’s new agenda includes re-funding the legislative branch of Texas’ government, which Abbott himself vetoed in a fit of rage after Democratic maneuvering killed the previous GOP election reform bill at the end of the regular session back in May.
Thanks to Abbott’s veto of legislative funding, all legislative staffers and other employees will stop receiving paychecks starting on September 1 unless a new law is passed to override the veto. It’s unclear whether or not Abbott will allow lawmakers to undo his legislative branch funding veto before tackling his long list of other priorities, but since the veto was seemingly an attempt to hold lawmakers hostage to pass Abbott’s biggest priorities like the election bill, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d let lawmakers move re-funding their branch of government to the top of the special session to-do list.
There’s also no telling when the Democrats still out of state plan to return to Austin. Initially, the House Democratic Caucus leadership said they were committed to stay out of town through the end of the first special session, but wouldn’t commit as a group to anything beyond that.
The coming days will reveal how much longer they’ll be willing to stay away from their families, businesses and their Republican colleagues before heading back to the Capitol, especially given Abbott’s promises that he doesn’t plan to stop calling special sessions any time soon unless his demands are met.
The new special session agenda can be seen in full below: