Abbott hints at possibly calling two special legislative sessions

By Bethany Blankley 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signaled that he might call two special sessions during a Thursday radio interview.

The sessions would come after the Republican-majority state legislature failed to pass key conservative bills during the 87th session.

Initially, Abbott had called a special session for the fall in order for the legislature to weigh in on how the state would allocate an additional $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. The legislature would also meet to establish redistricting lines after Texas gained two congressional seats from the latest census count. It would also address two priority legislative items Abbott wants passed: bail reform and election integrity reform.

The governor mentioned the dual sessions in an interview with radio host Chad Hasty.

The mention of two sessions comes shortly after Abbott called Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s call for an immediate special session “goofy,” and after requests for special sessions made by Republican legislators and his new opponent, Don Huffines, a former state senator running against him in the Republican primary, have gone unanswered.

On Thursday, Abbott said the two sessions would split up the items initially considered for the fall session. The first special session, which would likely be held some time this summer, would prioritize bail reform and election integrity reform, and other issues may be considered.

The special session in the fall would focus on redistricting and the use of federal COVID-19 funding.

“I’m not going to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking, but I’ll treat this as halftime. We didn’t get this done in the first half, but we’ll get there in the second half," Abbott said.

Abbott had already pledged to veto a portion of the budget canceling legislators’ pay after Democrats walked out of the Capitol May 30 — one day before the end of session — in protest against election reform legislation.

“I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature. Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities. Stay tuned,” the governor said.

The failure of the legislature to pass key conservative bills was avoidable, unnecessary and inexcusable in a Republican-trifecta government, Huffines has argued, noting that “Republican politicians, despite having trifecta control in Texas, worked with Democrats to kill a number of key GOP bills.”

On May 30, a majority of Texas House Democrats walked out of the Capitol while the House was considering an omnibus election integrity bill, SB 7, filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. By doing so, the total number of legislators present on the floor dropped to under 100, “busting quorum,” rendering the bill dead. Their walkout also resulted in killing several other bills or conference committee reports that were waiting to be called up, including bail reform priorities of Abbott’s, HB 20 and HJR 4.

But the problem isn’t just Democrats, conservatives argue, it’s Republicans like House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who only called the House into session for 87 out of 140 days.

Just days before the session ended, before the Democrats’ walk out, Phelan shut down the Texas House, effectively cancelling bills from being heard or voted on. The unprecedented move was described by several news outlets as Phelan siding with Democrats in a reported feud with Lt. Gov. Patrick.

“All of this is happening with the backdrop of delayed redistricting processes due to delayed data, a delayed primary election cycle, and potential political maneuvering by Abbott himself for a rumored presidential run,” the Texas Scorecard reported.

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