Updated on 10/11/21 at 5:45 p.m. to reflect a new addition to the special session agenda by Gov. Abbott shortly after the original article was published.
The ongoing third special legislative session will reach its forced conclusion on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
With just over one week left, none of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda items have made it through the entirety of the legislative process, allowing many to speculate what, if anything, will get done and whether yet another special session will be on the horizon.
Bottom Line Upfront
The Texas Senate has passed seven of the eight agenda items from its chamber. By comparison, the House has passed none.
Of the total 22 days, the Senate has convened nine times for about 13 hours. The House has convened seven times for about four hours total.
“Legislation relating to the apportionment of the State of Texas into districts used to elect members of the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, the State Board of Education, and the U.S. Congress.”
The Senate considered and approved proposed boundaries for 31 State Senate districts, 15 State Board of Education districts, and 38 U.S. congressional districts as a part of the delayed decennial redistricting process.
The House of Representatives has thus far not considered any legislation regarding proposed boundaries as an overall legislative body. They are scheduled to consider the proposed 150 House district boundaries on Tuesday. The House Redistricting Committee approved the Senate legislation related to 31 state Senate districts and 15 State Board of Education districts Monday. It is likely that those bills will make their way to the House Calendars Committee soon and shortly thereafter be set on a calendar for the overall House to consider.
The proposed 38 U.S. congressional district boundaries legislation was referred to the House Redistricting Committee on October 8 (Day 19 of the ongoing special session) but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
In the most recent special legislative session, the Legislature passed so-called “safety net” legislation that potentially delays candidate filing periods, primary elections, and primary runoff elections in the event the final approval of redistricting boundaries goes beyond certain dates.
Federal Relief Appropriations
“Legislation providing appropriations from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).”
The Senate considered and passed legislation last week that would allocate more than $16 billion from federal COVID-19 relief funds received earlier this year as passed by the U.S. Congress.
The allocation includes:
- Upwards of $7 billion to the unemployment compensation fund;
- $180 million to the Office of the Governor towards grants for the recovery of the tourism, travel, and hospitality industry;
- $1.2 million to the Office of the Governor to provide funding for information technology case management system improvements for children’s advocacy centers;
- Upwards of $2 billion to the Texas Department of State Health Services for various efforts;
- Upwards of $500 million to the Texas Comptroller’s office for broadband infrastructure;
- Almost $3 billion to the Department of Criminal Justice for agency employee compensation;
- Upwards of $286 million to the Teacher Retirement System to provide funding for COVID related claims in TRS-Care;
- $95 million to the Texas Department of Agriculture to provide supplemental funding to food banks;
- Upwards of $113 million to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for supporting the expansion and operations of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium and mental health initiatives for children;
- $300 million to the Texas Division of Emergency Management to purchase land and construction of a state operations center; and;
- Several other state agency appropriations.
The House Committee on Appropriations has scheduled a hearing for the legislation for Tuesday. Notably, they also scheduled the consideration of additional legislation filed in the House that would make additional appropriations for education initiatives and institutions, as well as legislation that would make additional appropriations to agencies related to health and human services.
It is unclear what the final disposition of federal relief allocations will look like. The longer the Legislature takes to act on the appropriations, however, might continue to drive up the total debt owed to the U.S. Treasury on things like the unemployment compensation fund.
“Legislation identical to SB29 as passed by the TX Senate in 87(R), disallowing a student from competing in UIL athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth.”
The Senate passed out Senate Bill 3, authored by State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock), related to requiring public schools students to play in UIL athletics that are associated with the biological sex at birth on September 22 (Day 3). It was referred to the House Public Education Committee on September 27 (Day 8) and was never scheduled for a public hearing. This marks the fourth time the Texas Senate has passed this legislation since the regular legislative session in the spring of this year.
Instead of considering the already passed Senate legislation, the House of Representatives chose to consider House Bill 25, authored by State Rep. Valoree Swanson (R–Spring). The legislation was referred to the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights & Remedies on September 27 (Day 8) and granted a hearing in that committee on October 6 (Day 17) before being successfully voted out. The legislation now awaits the consideration of the House Calendars Committee to be set on a calendar for the whole House to consider.
It’s worth noting that the House has ended the legislative prospects of similar legislation every other time it has been passed to their chamber.
“Legislation regarding whether any state or local government entities in TX can mandate that an individual receive a COVID-19 vaccine and, if so, what exemptions should apply to such a mandate.”
Neither legislative chamber has prioritized any of the several pieces of legislation to address vaccine mandates or whether any exemptions should apply. Notably, Republican activists and lawmakers alike have attempted to pressure Abbott to add the consideration of employer mandates to the ongoing special session agenda.
In turn, Abbott added the consideration of employer vaccine mandates on Monday, October 11 (Day 22).
In the lead-up to the ongoing special session, lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his legislative priorities. All of them mirrored those on Abbott’s agenda, with the lone exception of legislation related to vaccine mandates, which was curiously absent.
Restraint of Dogs
The Senate quickly considered legislation relating to regulations on the restraint of dogs. It passed out of their chamber on Day 3 of the special session.
The House referred the legislation to the House State Affairs Committee on September 27 (Day 8), and the committee approved the legislation on October 5 (Day 16). The legislation is currently in the House Calendars Committee awaiting their consideration to be set on a calendar for the whole House to consider.
Property Tax Relief
“Legislation providing additional property-tax relief for Texans.”
Though Abbott and lawmakers were quick to promote what they considered property tax relief efforts in the previous special legislative session, Abbott originally did not have its reconsideration on his special session agenda. The legislation that had previously passed only provided what lawmakers deemed property tax relief for special classes of individuals.
After increased pressure, he added the issue to the ongoing special session agenda on September 22 (Day 3). Since then, the Senate was quick to consider and approve of legislation that does provide property tax relief, albeit one-time only in the form of appropriating surplus state revenue to ‘buying down’ the school maintenance and operations portion of the property tax formula, thereby granting relief in estimates of about $200 for median households in Texas valued at about $300,000.
The House Ways & Means Committee considered the legislation and a House version of the bill on September 30 (Day 11), but it was left pending in committee and has yet to be voted out for the overall House to consider.
All of this despite the fact that House Speaker Dade Phelan had previously indicated his support for such legislation.
Constitutional Amendment on Bail Reform
“Legislation proposing a constitutional amendment to further protect the safety of the community, law enforcement, and victims, from accused criminals who may be released on bail, including by giving magistrates the discretion to deny bail under some circumstances to people accused of certain violent, sexual, or trafficking offenses.”
Again, not something that was originally on the agenda for the ongoing special session, Abbott added the issue of the proposed constitutional amendment related to bail reform on September 22 (Day 3).
The issue had its legislative prospects cut short in the most recent legislative session as it failed to receive enough support in the House. The issue had also previously been considered in the regular legislative session, but due to a House-Republican enabled quorum break by Democrat lawmakers was never finally considered before a key deadline, thereby ending its prospects.
After being added to the ongoing special session agenda, the Senate passed legislation the same day (Day 3).
The House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights & Remedies approved the legislation on September 28 (Day 9). It has been sitting in the House Calendars Committee since October 4 (Day 15) and has yet to be set on a calendar for the entire House to consider.
Increased Penalty for Illegal Voting
Added to the agenda by Abbott on September 30 (Day 11), Abbott responded to pressure from conservative activists asking that the Legislature revisit the recently passed election integrity legislation and re-increase the penalties for illegally voting.
The Senate quickly considered and approved of legislation on October 5 (Day 16).
The same legislation was referred to the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights & Remedies on October 6 (Day 17) but it has yet to be considered in a hearing. The House versions of the bill, House Bill 136 by State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston) and House Bill 138 by State Rep. Cole Hefner (R–Mt. Pleasant) were both referred to the same committee on October 4 (Day 15) but have similarly not been scheduled for a hearing. Notably, Speaker Phelan did indicate he had no interest in “re-litigating” the issue.
What Does it All Mean?
With one week left in the ongoing special legislative session and several of the items on Abbott’s agenda looking like their legislative prospects will be cut short, it is unclear whether another special legislative session will be called to address them.