At the end of a Thursday press gaggle in Fort Worth, Gov. Greg Abbott made clear he was none too pleased with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s attempt to publicly pressure him into ordering the Texas Legislature to work overtime through June to force through red-meat, right-wing legislation that died in the Texas House recently.
In fact, Abbott finds the whole idea laughable.
“That’s pretty goofy,” Abbott said of Patrick’s request that Texas lawmakers stay in town to pass the lieutenant governor’s personal priority items, “because everybody knows there’s only one person with the authority to call a special session, and that’s the governor. Only I have that ability, and only I will execute the authority.”
“Here’s the way it works: Not only am I the only one with the authority to call a special session, I get to decide when, and I get to decide what will be on this special session,” Abbott continued.
Abbott wasn’t the only powerful Texas Republican Patrick pissed off this week; Late Wednesday night, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan was reportedly barred from entering the Senate chambers because he wasn’t wearing the Patrick-mandated wristband that indicates a person has either been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19 that day.
Patrick told a slightly different version of the story via his office’s Twitter just after 1 a.m. Thursday morning “Messengers offered to get him a wristband, but the Speaker declined and left,” the tweet from Patrick’s office read.
Speaker@DadePhelan is always welcome in the TxSenate and was not denied entry tonite. He was stopped at the Gallery entrance because he was not wearing a required COVID test wristband. Messengers offered to get him a wristband, but the Speaker declined and left. #txlege”.— Office of the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (@LtGovTX) May 27, 2021
On Wednesday, Patrick tweeted his request that Abbott call a June special session of the Legislature to pass three bills he desperately wanted to pass before they were blocked by state House Democrats, who used every delay tactic at their disposal to stall the House from debating those Senate-backed measures before a key late-night deadline earlier this week.
Asking @GregAbbott_TX to call a June #SpecialSession today to pass #SB29 to save girls sports, #SB10 to end taxpayer funded lobbying and #SB12 to stop social media censorship. The TxHouse killed these conservative bills that majority of Texans in both parties support. #txlege— Dan Patrick (@DanPatrick) May 26, 2021
Patrick’s dream special session would consist of reviving Senate Bill 29, which would force transgender boys and girls to only play for the school sports teams that correspond with their biological sex; Senate Bill 10, which would prevent local governments from using taxpayer cash to hire lobbyists at the state Capitol; and Senate Bill 12, which would ban social media companies from blocking Texan users on account of their conservative views.
Some ardent Texas Lege-watchers speculated Wednesday that Patrick could force Abbott’s hand into calling a special session through some procedural trickery of his own. Patrick could have either refused to have his Senate vote on the statewide budget bill (which is technically the only legislation lawmakers absolutely have to pass every year), or he could have blocked key votes to reauthorize important statewide agencies like the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which mandates training standards for Texas cops.
Patrick did ultimately allow the state Senate to approve the final budget bill on Wednesday. But he then chose not to put the bill to reauthorize the law enforcement commission up for a vote by a Thursday afternoon deadline, which had plenty of folks thinking Patrick might be trying to hold the agency hostage toward the goal of getting Abbott to call a special session to address that issue as well as his trans sports, lobbying and social media bills.
In his remarks Thursday, Abbott threatened anyone who would dare use procedural tricks to force his hand in any way. Even though he didn’t name Patrick, the message was clear.
“If anybody tries to force this,” Abbott said, “it’s not going to be like it has been in the past, where we’ll have 40 items on a special session or whatever.”
“To make sure that bills that I want passed get passed, first: the only thing that we’ll be putting on there are things that I want to see passed,” he continued. “Second: we’re going to go one item at a time. There will be one item placed on the agenda, [and] not until they pass that item [will] we move onto another item.”
Abbott said he’d then be more than happy to use his executive authority to keep lawmakers in town for months on end if that’s what it takes to get his message across.
“If anybody tries to hold hostage this legislative session, to force a special session,” Abbott threatened, “that person will be putting their members, in the Senate or the House, potentially into a special session for another two years, until the next regular session. Because I’m going to make sure that we get things passed, not just open up some debating society.”
Still, Abbott claimed his fiery clap back didn’t mean he was opposed to Patrick’s top three priorities: “Before now, and now, and in the future, I strongly support them.”
Later Thursday afternoon, Patrick claimed in an interview with North Texas’ Fox4 News that he hadn’t heard Abbott’s threats, but he did swear up and down that he wouldn’t use any legislative tricks to coerce Abbott into calling a special session.
Patrick promised that even though he let the deadline pass for reauthorizing the state law enforcement regulation agency, he was committed to making sure that its re-authorization would be added to another bill that could still be passed through the Senate before the current session ends on May 31.
“We’re not holding anything hostage. We’re not forcing a special session. I could if I held that law back, but we need the law enforcement commission,” Patrick said Thursday, a seemingly strategic retreat from the usually pugnacious lieutenant governor.
With a slight grin, Abbott waved off a question about whether or not Texans should be worried that their state leaders might not be as unified as they could be.
“This is kind of how it happens, always, at the end of the session,” Abbott said. “It’s like the last two minutes of a football game or a basketball game. That’s where all the action takes place.”
“What I do know is if the leaders in the Legislature will stop fighting with each other and will start working together, we can get all of this across the finish line,” he said.
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