Friday marks the conclusion of the first called special legislative session. Texans who expected lawmakers to take action on items such as property tax relief, a response to the ongoing border crisis, or protections for elections likely feel disappointed.
In the wake of some of Abbott’s own emergency legislative priorities dying in the waning days of the regular session, which ended in May, Republican leadership made strong public statements condemning the actions of their Democrat colleagues. By the time the special session came around, Republican leadership did nothing to prevent or curtail them from doing it again.
It should be no surprise that this was done. Many of those same lawmakers signaled it was an option still on the table for them in June, leading up to the beginning of the special session. Some Republican lawmakers like State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) attempted to prevent such actions as soon as the special session got underway, to no avail.
In the end, the Senate, who maintained a quorum, passed almost all of the items on Abbott’s agenda, while the House, paralyzed from doing so, passed none of them. All the while, lawmakers from both parties were able to fundraise off the event, as they are not barred from doing so during special sessions. The various partisan caucuses held press conferences, posturing and pointing fingers at the other side and taking issue with their inability to consider items on the agenda; many of those were the same items not prioritized during the regular session, as the 140 days were all but squandered by intentional delays and political maneuvering.
If you are a Texan who assumed penalties would have already been assessed on lawmakers who skip out on their jobs, you are likely disappointed. No consequences were exacted on absent lawmakers during the entire 30-day session. In fact, one of the Democrats who returned to Austin was given a permission slip by Phelan himself to leave again.
None of the absent lawmakers were arrested and brought back to the Capitol. None of them lost their committee chairmanships, vice chairmanships, committee membership, or seniority privileges.
Nothing was done to compel them to return. In fact, Republican lawmakers attempted to gavel in every day after quorum was busted, participated in an invocation and the pledges, then awaited the announcement of the permission slip’s color of the day so they could leave the House floor. Virtually none of them used their platform or presence on the House floor to make public pronouncements or question what they were even doing there.
Abbott announced the second called special legislative session to begin Saturday, August 7, at noon. All of the items on the agenda for the first special session are included on this new call, with some notable additional items.
It is still unclear whether this next special session will begin with the same lack of quorum—and if so, for how long.
Many Texans are asking, what will incentivize those same absent lawmakers to return this time?