House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick gaveled a Texas Special Session of the Legislature to a close on Tuesday night, earlier this week, one day early. Governor Greg Abbott had called the special session to address several issues that he felt had not been addressed during the Regular Session that began in January and ended in May this year.
The Governor is authorized by the Constitution to call special sessions that last for up to 30 days. The Governor alone is authorized to set the agenda for such sessions by determining what will be within the "Call" of the session. Any legislation on a subject outside the Call is subject to parliamentary maneuvers that would prevent its moving forward.
The special session ended with mixed results for Governor Abbott and the 21 topics he included on Call. In total, the House and Senate agreed on legislation related to 10 of the agenda items, including must-pass legislation to keep alive several healthcare licensing agencies, including the Texas Medical Board.
As was the case during the regular session, the special session was marked by deep divides between the Republican-controlled House and Senate, with the House taking a more pro-business stance while the Senate tended to align more with social conservatives. Perhaps the most controversial bill of the session, the "bathroom bill" that would require transgender individuals to use the bathrooms of the gender stated on their birth certificates, quickly passed the Senate, but did not make it out of committee in the House.
The other major failure of the session was the highest priority of Abbott, and the one of most interest to our membership - property tax reform. Both chambers advanced proposals to limit the growth of local property taxes, but the House sought from the beginning to include school finance reform as part of any discussion of property taxes, noting that local property taxes are constituting a larger percentage of total public education funding due to the legislature's reduction in funding.
The Senate favored a measure that would require automatic rollback elections if a city or county sought to raise taxes by 4 percent or more. It appeared that a compromise might be in reach during the final days of session, with the House agreeing to a measure that included a 6 percent rollback trigger. The House adjourned after sending that measure to the Senate, leaving the Senate with the option of agreeing to the House version or adjourning the session with no bill at all, and it chose the latter.
It is possible that the Governor will call the legislature back for a second special session, but as of this writing, it seems that he is leaning against subjecting them to more days in the 100 degree Austin heat.