Fourth special session coming to an end

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) informed his members that the body will gavel in Tuesday with the intention of concluding its business on the fourth called special session of 2023, leaving the Legislature at an impasse over school security funding legislation.

The only items left on the table are a constitutional amendment and enabling appropriation legislation to create the School Safety Fund — a constitutional fund that would exist outside the general revenue fund — and a proposal to constrict deadlines for filing election contests. 

Two weeks ago, the same day of the highly anticipated vote on education savings accounts, the House passed House Bill (HB) 2 and House Joint Resolution 1 that’d create the School Safety Grant Program and cap its annual disbursement at $1.1 billion. Over $830 million would be appropriated through Fiscal Year 2028. 

The program would be funded by the School Safety Fund, to be filled by a dedicated proportion of oil and gas severance taxes that currently flow to the State Highway Fund and the Economic Stabilization Fund.

Neither of those proposals have yet been heard in the Senate’s Education Committee. Rather, the Senate filed its own enabling legislation, an additional $800 million appropriation on top of the allotment made during the regular session.

The impasse is just another in a long line this year between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Phelan impasses that have frequently played out in dueling statements released on social media.

“Speaker Dade Phelan says he doesn't have time to pass important Senate bills. That's nonsense,” Patrick said on social media Saturday. “Dade Phelan can call the House back at any moment or, if needed, suspend House rules to pass these bills on Tuesday if he wants to.”

Phelan hit back, airing grievances of House legislation suffocated in the Senate, saying, “The Senate, however, waited an entire week to receive and refer these critical measures and has since taken no action on these items for the past 10 days of a 30-day special session.”

“To now claim that he is leading on these issues after repeatedly killing House legislation to accomplish these objectives is a deliberate calculation designed to confuse Texans and muddy the waters with mistruths and obfuscations.”

The other bill remaining on the table is the newly proposed and passed Senate Bill 6, which would reduce the period required for election contests to be filed. It’s a direct response to lawsuits filed challenging a medley of the recently passed constitutional amendments, including the $13 billion property tax reform.

Patrick said it must be passed to ensure that those benefits, along with the retired teacher cost-of-living adjustment, can be disbursed to Texans. To pass that without the risk of a point of order killing the bill, Abbott would have to expand the current special session’s call.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) jumped in on Patrick’s side, saying, “[Patrick] is absolutely right as these 3 Senate Bills are important Public Policy to all Texans! I can’t understand why [Phelan] is paraphrased in his tweet as saying he has no time to pass these issues!!???”

State Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) responded, “The Texas House passed critical school safety funding legislation 12 days ago that the Senate has not even heard in committee yet. What are you waiting for?”

“If you dislike the bill, amend it and send it back. Rushing a bill through the process minutes after it’s drafted and without the ability for public comment is not in the best interest of Texans,” Patterson added.

Injecting a different take into the fold, state Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) — who isn’t seeking re-election next year — said to Patrick and Phelan, “Stop issuing statements to cast blame, point fingers, and make excuses for inaction. Instead, post a picture of the two of you sitting at a table together working it out. And don’t leave the table until the job is done.” 

“We don’t care who started the feud, or who really is at fault. We are simply sick of the bickering between you two being carried out in public. It’s embarrassing.”

This leaves the members of the Legislature in a familiar spot: amid policy a standstill driven by personalities and a mutual disdain between two of the state’s “Big Three” leaders.

When the House stripped the school choice provision from its education omnibus, the school funding increase and teacher pay raises also died — for the time being, anyway. While Gov. Greg Abbott’s school choice sights have turned to the 2024 primaries, rolling out his campaign against those of the 21 House Republicans who voted to strip ESAs that are still seeking re-election, there might yet be another legislative session in the cards.

Now legislators are waiting to see if they’ll be called back to Austin for a fifth special session, and whether that comes immediately after this one concludes or is scheduled for January.

The Texas House will convene today at 11 a.m. and the Senate will reconvene at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday is officially sine die on the fifth called special session of the 88th Legislature, but the chambers could kill it off a day early.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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