Members of the Texas Senate gaveled in shortly after midnight to unanimously pass the critical “sunset” bill keeping the Texas Medical Board and other agencies open another two years. The late night work so early in the special session triggered the inclusion of the governor’s 19 conservative reforms onto the session’s call.
Taking advantage of the legislative calendar, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had the Senate in session on Wednesday so that the critical sunset measures could be heard, and then called them back into session at 12:01am Thursday to pass the measure at the earliest possible time.
Meanwhile, the Texas House has failed to even begin work on the sunset measure. House Speaker Joe Straus, who has made no secret of his disdain for Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, only had lawmakers meet for 19 minutes on Wednesday. The House isn’t scheduled to meet again until 10am on Thursday.
The special session work in the Texas House mirrors the calendar delays and stall tactics Straus employed during the regular legislative session to thwart conservative reforms.
Constitutionally, the governor can call lawmakers into special sessions for 30-day periods. Given the personal and professional capital Abbott has expended on the special session agenda, it is unlikely he will tolerate Straus’ ongoing obstruction. He has intimidated in comments the last several days that he would hold lawmakers accountable for blocking his agenda.
State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) authored the special session sunset measures in the Senate.
Under state law, the agencies must be periodically reviewed and affirmatively re-authorized or they are presumed to “sunset.” The Texas House failed to move legislation reauthorizing the medical board and other agencies because Straus didn’t want to give conservative the chance to offer pro-life amendments. The House then failed to move a catchall bill that would have given the affected agencies an extra 24 months of life so that the legislature could address them in 2019.
Taylor passed the first measure of the regular session – comprehensive ethics reform favored by Abbott and grassroots activists – and now has the distinction of passing the first measures of the special session.