Texas lawmakers facing a fourth special session

In the final days of the 88th Texas Legislature’s third special session, school choice appears to be dead and some in Texas leadership are suggesting another special session might be needed to pass the governor’s priority issue.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took to social media on Friday to say he would “support” another special session “if the Texas House fails to pass acceptable school choice legislation this fall.”

Patrick said this suggestion was made directly to Gov. Greg Abbott and that he would support a call to return to the Capitol on February 5, 2024.

This is the latest development in the epic narrative of intra-party feuding between the upper and lower chamber leadership over the course of the 88th Legislature.

Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), the chair of the House public education committee, commented on Thursday that “it’s too tight for the House to be able to move something in this special” on school choice. Buckley also suggested he would speak with Abbott about school choice legislation and that the House would have its own plan instead of passing the Senate’s.

Earlier that same day, Abbott had said at a press conference that things were “on track to ensure there will not be another special session.”

“There is enough time to get everything done that we want to get done, that needs to get done, to avoid a special session, especially with what I think will be the bill that will be coming out of the House later on today.”

The new version of the House’s school choice proposal, which did not come out until late Friday afternoon, includes increasing the school district per-student basic allotment to $6,700; a tiered universal education savings account plan based on “75 percent of the estimated statewide average amount of funding per student in average daily attendance for the applicable school year,” around $10,500; and teacher salary increases, including $4,000 for full-time and $2,000 for part-time employees.

The bill text was “shaped by extensive discussion between House Members, the Governor’s office, and key education stakeholders over the past several months,” according to Buckley.

Patrick took the opportunity on Thursday to bolster his own chamber, saying the Senate has passed school choice legislation “three times this year, and five times overall.”

“The Senate is ready to act, as we have been for weeks.”

These comments did not appear to sit well with House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who made his own countermove utilizing procedural processes.

Phelan had the House stand at ease, which allows them to remain in session without continuing to act on legislative business.

The feud between Patrick and Phelan had been simmering, but the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton caused it to boil over.

The tension has only increased after accusations of anti-semitism were made following conservative group Defend Texas Liberty (DTL), a major Republican political donor, meeting with anti-semitic commentator and right-wing gadfly Nick Fuentes.

“At a time when we are witnessing heinous attacks on our Israeli allies by Hamas terrorists — the most egregious assault on Jewish lives since the Holocaust — Jonathan Stickland, the President of Defend Texas Liberty PAC, fraternized for six hours with a notorious, anti-Semitic, nazi sympathizer who denies the existence of the Holocaust,” said Phelan, who also demanded Patrick return the $3 million in donations he has received from DTL.

Patrick in turn called for Phelan’s resignation, and ended up purchasing $6 million worth of Israeli bonds, double the amount he received from DTL.

The issue of school choice still remains an open question, and lawmakers could be making room on their schedule to be at the Capitol in February next year just before primary season.

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