Special session ends without passing most hot-button bills

Texas lawmakers passed half of the items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of priorities during the special legislative session. (BGCT Photo / Kalie Lowrie)

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AUSTIN—Texas lawmakers passed half of the items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of priorities during the special legislative session, and the session ended with lawmakers and some advocacy group assigning blame for why more was not accomplished.

Legislators did not pass a bill that would have restricted where transgender citizens could use the restroom, nor did they approve legislation backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that would have opened the door to a voucher-like program to benefit private schools.

Lawmakers approved sunset legislation to reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and a maternal mortality task force, and they voted in favor of a bill that requires women to buy separate health insurance plans for abortion.

Failed to deal with governor’s top priorities

However, the Texas House and Senate failed to reach agreement on property tax reform and wrestled over school financing—some of Abbott’s top legislative priorities.

Early in the special session, the House approved a bill that offered a $1.8 billion increase to public schools, but the Senate pared it down significantly. The House eventually approved the version of the bill authorized by the Senate.

“In its final form, this bill does not do nearly enough to help public education, but it does take some steps in the right direction,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “It will help retired teachers struggling with surging health insurance costs, provide needed resources for some school districts facings severe challenges and help schools educate students with certain disabilities.” 

Assigning blame

Abbott publicly blamed the House and its leaders for lawmakers’ inability to agree on his priority issues, but Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, placed the blame on the Senate.

Charles Foster Johnson 150Charles Foster Johnson“The failed leadership we presently have in the Texas Senate with regard to our children’s constitutionally protected public education is unacceptable,” Johnson said.

He called the special session “a circus of stubborn wrangling and procedural manipulation,” and he called it “beneath the dignity of every respectable Texan.”

Johnson expressed “deep gratitude for the extraordinary leadership of speaker Joe Straus, Chairman Dan Huberty and the House of Representatives to advance fair and just policy for our 5.5 million schoolchildren.”

“Because of the intransigence of the Texas Senate toward public education, the House was not able to secure significant additional funding for our neighborhood schools in critical need,” he said. “But they did successfully and steadfastly hold the line against private school vouchers—the unjust policy of underwriting private education with public tax dollars.”

In contrast, Texas Values Action praised Patrick and the Senate for “leading the effort to final passage of several key pro-life reforms,” but the group criticized Straus and many in the House.

“The leadership of Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, the Texas Senate and a few House members are the only reasons why some positive things happened during the special session,” said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action.

Accentuate the positive

Kathryn Freeman 150Kathryn Freeman Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, focused on positive results during the special session, while she also voiced hope lawmakers will make more progress during the interim between legislative sessions.

“The CLC is pleased with the progress made on school finance and the passage of significant pro-life measures such as re-authorization of the maternal mortality task force and improved reporting for abortion complications,” she said.

“We hope legislators will, during the interim between sessions, work to make more significant improvements in the public school finance system and in the access to medical care for low-income women.”

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