Bayou City

Special Session Comes to Abrupt End Without Top Priority Legislation

Governor Greg Abbott only got a few of his priorities passed during the special session.
Governor Greg Abbott only got a few of his priorities passed during the special session. Abbott Photo by World Travel & Tourism Council/Flickr, Straus Photo by David Martin Davies/Flickr, , Patrick Photo by David Martin Davies/Flickr
Coming to an abrupt finish late Tuesday night, the Texas Legislature's 2017 special session has adjourned, passing a total of 12 bills that addressed just ten of Governor Greg Abbott's 20 priorities on the agenda.

The curtain came down after the House reached a dissatisfactory compromise with the Senate on school finance. The House grudgingly voted to adopt the Senate's plan: infusing public schools with $350 million, mostly going to smaller school districts and to kids with disabilities such as dyslexia and autism. It's a whopping $1.5 billion less than the House wanted. The package of two bills, HB21 and HB30, also boosts the retired teachers' health care benefits fund by $212 million.

But the House essentially dashed before any compromise had been made on property-tax reform — Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's top priority for the special session. That left the Senate in a lurch: The chamber could either take the House's version, one that would require voters to approve property tax hikes higher than 6 percent rather than the Senate's desired 4 percent, or, it could leave it.

Senators chose to leave it. And with that, the session was over. The bathroom bill never even saw the light of day in the House.

At a post-session press conference around 10:30 p.m.., Patrick had sharp words for House reps.

"The members who didn’t vote for 4 percent [property tax] or killed all these bills, who signed up for privacy [the bathroom bill] the first time but not the second time, let them go home and face the voters." He vowed that the bathroom bill would return, saying, "You know why it’s gonna be back next session? Because the people will demand it."

It's unclear whether the Legislature's failure to pass property-tax reform will trigger a second special session, given Abbott repeatedly pressed that it was must-pass legislation this year. Certainly, it won't be the bathroom bill's failure that creates the need for another session, as the business community, law enforcement and various non-mega-church pastors deluged it with protest. Abbott's spokesman, John Wittman, indicated to the Texas Tribune that the governor was satisfied with the session: "Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before."

The 2017 special session was marked mostly by abortion-related bills (surprise) and a clash with municipal authority. On the women's reproductive health end, the Lege passed bills to increase reporting requirements about how a minor obtained consent for an abortion and to require women to pay a separate insurance premium if they want the procedure covered — even if the abortion is the result of rape. One women's health bill everyone could get behind was the bill to create a commission to study the state's alarming maternal mortality rate, which doubled between 2010 and 2014 and is among the worst in the Western world.

Bills that irked Texas mayors, who said they infringed on cities' authority, included one to limit cities' annexation powers and another to override, of all things, local tree removal ordinances, which limits when and how cities can impose fees when homeowners cut down trees on their properties.

Among other things, the Legislature passed bills creating additional patient or guardian consent procedures before a resuscitate order is issued and cracking down on mail-in voter fraud with enhanced criminal penalties.

Somehow, lawmakers also managed to repeal a bill that Abbott had just signed into law in June, a bipartisan measure that would have increased access to voting at nursing homes.

Perhaps it's no surprise that lawmakers couldn't manage to work together swimmingly and quickly enough in order to pass all 20 items on Governor Abbott's wish list.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn