On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that a special legislative session would take place starting July 8. However, he stopped short of announcing what specific issues will be considered as part of the call.
Based on previous statements by Abbott himself, we can speculate on some of the issues he might add.
Election Integrity and Bail Reform
On February 1, Abbott announced both election integrity and bail reform as emergency legislative priorities as part of his biennial State of the State address.
The Legislature could have almost immediately moved to consider these items, but they chose not to. Two different omnibus election integrity bills were filed: one in the state Senate and the other in the House of Representatives. After a series of bizarre parliamentary maneuvers, a revised Senate Bill 7 was ultimately considered by both chambers. Both chambers appointed conferees to a conference committee near the end of May, and the report came back on May 29.
In the waning hours of the 87th Legislative Session, Republican leadership enabled a majority of House Democrat lawmakers to “bust quorum.” This meant that the conference committee reports for both the omnibus election integrity bill and the bail reform bills could no longer be considered, ending their prospects altogether.
Abbott quickly took to Twitter to indicate that both of these issues would be added to a special session agenda.
Funding for the Legislature
As a result of two of his emergency legislative priorities dying, Abbott threatened to defund the Legislature by line-item vetoing the section of the budget he was in the midst of considering for the next biennium.
A little more than two weeks later, he followed through on that threat and indicated he would not restore funding for the Legislature until certain priorities, such as election integrity and bail reform, were passed in a special session.
Already, some House Democrat lawmakers have indicated they may decline to appear for a special session in an attempt to deny quorum yet again.
Free-Speech Protections on Social Media
One of the victims of the overall legislative clock was Senate Bill 12, the bill attempting to offer free-speech protections on social media platforms. This bill was a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s, and once its prospects ended at the hands of the Texas House, Patrick almost immediately took to Twitter to ask Abbott to add the bill to a special session agenda, among a few of his other priorities.
At a Williamson County GOP dinner, Abbott pledged to include free-speech protections on social media platforms on a future special session call.
Ban on Critical Race Theory
When Abbott signed the bill purporting to ban the use of critical race theory in public schools, he attached a statement saying, “It is a strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas, but more must be done. The issue will be added to a special session agenda.”
This sent conflicting messages to activists who have been told for weeks by the bill’s author that the ban was the strongest in the country, even though several amendments weakened the efficacy of the overall ban.
Redistricting and the Allocation of Federal COVID Relief Funds
Early on in the 87th Legislative Session, it became clear that the decennial redistricting process would be delayed due to census data gathering in the wake of COVID-19. The data will not be completely available until September. This almost inevitably means that primary elections will also be delayed next year.
There is also the issue of about $16 billion of federal COVID-19 relief funds that were allocated to the state to disburse. In the wake of budget negotiations in the regular session, the compromise reached between lawmakers and Abbott was allowing a portion of the funds received by the federal government to be allocated by the Legislature.
Abbott has indicated on multiple occasions that a special session would take place in the September to October time frame to address both of these issues.
When Should We Know for Sure?
As of right now, Abbott has only confirmed at least two special sessions will take place. He has not confirmed which items will be on the agenda for the first special session in early July, but he has indicated that the agenda will likely include issues like election integrity and bail reform, perhaps among others. The items related to redistricting and the allocation of federal relief money will take place in yet another special session in late September or October.
Now that Abbott is beyond the period in which he can consider bills passed during the regular 87th Legislative Session, it is likely that more information will be released in the days and weeks ahead.