On the heels of a letter from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus begging Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate to come to his rescue and pass a sunset safety net bill in order to avoid a special session, sources within the capitol are coming forward to confirm that Straus and his lieutenants were warned that they needed to pass the House version of the bill and failed to act.

HB 3302 died when the clock struck midnight last Thursday. The bill, often referred to as the “sunset safety net” is designed to renew any state agency for two years for which an individual sunset bill fails to pass. With House inaction on the Texas Medical Board, amongst other sunset bills, the safety net may be necessary in order for there to continue to be doctors and other professionals in Texas for the next two years.

However, according to Capitol sources, Straus and his allies were warned early last week that HB 3302 was scheduled dangerously close to the midnight Thursday deadline. According to these sources, State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R–Round Rock) met with House Calendars Chairman Todd Hunter (R–Corpus Christi) on Tuesday, but his pleas were ignored. This was followed by a meeting on Wednesday with senators who urged Hunter to place the bill on the Major State Calendar for Thursday. That would have guaranteed the bill would be reached and voted on before the midnight deadline.

However, Gonzales and the senators were ignored and assured the bill would pass.

With the death of the House Bill, which had, by agreement with the Senate, been the designated bill to renew the lapsed agencies, there remain two options for the House to avoid a special session.

On Monday Straus sent a letter pleading with Patrick to pass the senate version of the safety-net bill. But with deadlines in the upper chamber as well, it will be difficult for the Senate to move the bill out of the chamber this week and get it to the House in time for it to be voted out of committee by a House deadline on Saturday.

If this does not happen, the House will be forced to pass all of the individual sunset bills. Straus and Hunter appear to want to avoid that path, as it will allow conservative House members an opportunity to amend those bills – particularly the Medical Board Sunset Bill – with pro-life and other conservative provisions.

Their only vehicle for renewing the Medical Board is SB 315, a bill that was filed as a sunset renewal but was amended through the process to only pertain to the enforcement of subpoenas. To use it would require it to be changed back into a sunset bill, and would open the bill to pro-life amendments.

If Straus and the rest of the governing coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans in the House are unwilling or unable to choose either of those paths, then it will be up to the Governor to clean up their mess by calling a special session. And with a special session, they may see the governor force them to pass the conservative bills they have been fighting to avoid all along.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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