Gov. Greg Abbott has set a special session of the Texas Legislature starting July 8, his office announced Tuesday.
Abbott’s office did not specify what legislative priorities will be included on the special session agenda and said in an advisory that such items “will be announced prior to the convening of the special session.”
Abbott has already said that he plans to ask state lawmakers to work on two priority elections and bail bills that died in the final hours of the regular legislative session after House Democrats walked out of the chamber. This comes on the heels of Republicans in the United States Senate blocking a sweeping voting rights bill, that sought to counter the rash of voter suppression bills in GOP control state legislatures.
More recently, Abbott has said the agenda for the Legislature’s overtime round will also include further restricting in schools the teaching of critical race theory, which refers to an academic discipline that explores the role racism plays in institutions and structures of governance. And during a teletownhall with supporters Tuesday evening, Abbott said he would add a call for legislation that would prevent certain social media companies from blocking or banning users based on their viewpoints. Legislation that sought to do so died during the regular session.
The GOP priority elections bill, known during the regular session as Senate Bill 7, was a sweeping piece of legislation that would have created new limitations to early voting hours and curbed local voting options like drive-thru voting, among other things.
It’s unclear what tweaks, if any, will be made to the bill during a special session. After the Legislature adjourned in May, some Republicans said they planned to change at least one controversial provision in the bill that dealt with the window for early voting on Sundays. The last-minute addition to the bill had raised concerns that it would harm get-out-the-vote efforts by Black churches.
Abbott’s other priority legislation that died, known as House Bill 20 during the regular session, would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash. That bill was also killed after House Democrats broke quorum to block passage of SB 7.
Lawmakers were already expected to return to the Legislature this calendar year for a special session focused on redrawing the state’s political maps and doling out billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds. Abbott has said that special session will happen sometime in September or October.
But after Abbott’s elections and bail priority bills died in May, the governor said he would call lawmakers back to work on that legislation as well as a host of other issues — and he vowed to veto the section of the state budget that funds the Legislature, its staffers and legislative agencies, as punishment for House Democrats walking out of the chamber.
Abbott followed through on that threat Friday, though the budget at hand covers the fiscal year beginning Sept. 1. When they’re back in Austin next month, lawmakers can pass a supplemental budget to restore that funding — though the item would first need to be included on the governor’s special session agenda. The document would also need a signature from Abbott before it could go into effect.
On top of that, Abbott and the heads of the Senate and House — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, respectively — showed tensions earlier this month over the specifics of a special session, including what other legislative issues should be on the agenda and how to approach the elections bill.
On Senate Bill 7, for example, Abbott said after the Legislature adjourned he was “satisfied” with the legislation as is and Patrick said that Republicans would not “soften the bill.” Phelan, meanwhile, said he would favor breaking the legislation into smaller pieces, saying a more piecemeal approach could help members “feel more comfortable … and give everyone a better opportunity to vet the ideas.”
Another question hanging over state lawmakers is whether Democrats plan to again break quorum to prevent the passage of an elections bill during a special session. A number of House Democrats have said that all tools are on the table with regards to a special session strategy, including potentially leaving the state to help block the legislation.
“It’s no secret that that’s something that’s been effective in the past,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, during an interview last week on CNN.
Though it’s unclear what Abbott plans to include in a special session agenda, state lawmakers and outside groups have been expressing what issues they would like to see the Legislature additionally tackle.
Republicans, including Patrick, the lieutenant governor, have asked Abbott to include legislation that would ban the practice known as taxpayer-funded lobbying and a bill that would restrict the participation of transgender student athletes in school sports — two items that failed to pass during the regular session.
Meanwhile, Democrats and left-leaning groups have called on Abbott to include items such as fixing the state’s electric grid and expanding health care.
“We’re not going to go down without a fight and we will never stop fighting to protect the rights of all Texans to cast a ballot,” said Carisa Lopez, political director of the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, in a statement Tuesday.