Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott released his agenda for a third special legislative session, calling lawmakers back to Austin to deliberate over five issues starting on September 20.
The Legislature's main concern will be redistricting, which means redrawing state and congressional district lines according to the 2020 census data. The other four items on Abbott's special agenda include: appropriation of federal COVID-19 relief funds; participation of transgender students in collegiate athletics; outlawing state and local vaccine mandates; and a ban on tethering dogs outside with heavy chains.
Lawmakers will have 30 days to mull over the issues on Abbott's agenda, but they could also adjourn at any time. However, Abbott can also add additional items to the agenda once the Legislature convenes.
As lawmakers meet to draw new maps for the state's political districts based on population growth and decline, they will also have to decide where to place the two new congressional districts the state gained as a result of growing by roughly four million people since 2010. Typically, this reapportionment occurs every 10 years in the first legislative session after the census, but the process was delayed this spring due to setbacks related to the pandemic.
Since Republicans control the Legislature, they will largely dictate the drawing of the new district maps. However, a lawsuit filed by earlier this month by Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) argues that redistricting may only be done during a regular session of the Legislature. If the lawsuit succeeds, it would be up to judges to create interim redistricting plans for the the 2022 midterm elections.
COVID-19 Relief Funds
The Legislature will also decide how to allocate $16 billion in federal funds dedicated to provide relief from the Covid-19 pandemic. After some lawmakers had criticized Abbott for holding the funds earlier this spring, the governor announced that he would place the appropriations on a special session agenda "so the entire legislature can participate in the allocation process in a way that best serves all Texans."
Abbott is also calling lawmakers back to Austin to ask them to restrict the sports teams that transgender student-athletes can participate in. The proposed policy, which failed to pass in the last two special sessions, would ban students from competing in University Interscholastic League (UIL) athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth. The UIL already prevents transgender students from playing on teams based on their gender identity.
COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates
Another issue Abbott is asking lawmakers to consider is "whether any state or local governmental entities in Texas can mandate that an individual receive a COVID-19 vaccine and, if so, what exemptions should apply to such mandate." During this year's second special session, Abbott had asked lawmakers to ban mask mandates in schools, but the proposal failed to pass. This time, Abbott is asking the Legislature to decide whether state or local governments can mandate COVID-19 vaccines.
Abbott also included a bill on his agenda that would have banned the tethering of dogs outside with heavy chains. He had vetoed the bill earlier this year over concerns about the specificity of the bill, saying Texas already has the statutes in place to protect dogs from animal cruelty, and the penalties proposed in the bill seemed excessive. The bill also would have made it illegal to chain up dogs and leave them without drinkable water, adequate shade or shelter.