Too soon to tell. Right now this is just the usual end-of-session venting and frustration.
With the future of the power grid and voting laws in Texas hanging in the balance, tensions among the top political leaders in the Legislature are fueling a round of political gamesmanship that has even the future of the Texas Holocaust & Genocide Commission caught in the crossfire, one of many pawns in a larger battle over GOP priorities.
There are just four days left in the legislative session, which must end by midnight Monday. Yet with so much still unresolved, top Republican leaders in the Texas House and Senate are publicly accusing one another of torpedoing important legislation.
Gov. Greg Abbott addressed the Republican infighting during a news conference in Fort Worth on Thursday.
“If the leaders in the Legislature will stop fighting with each other and start working together, we can get all of this across the finish line,” Abbott said.
End-of-session drama is almost a given in Texas, where top leaders often clash in the closing days. But this year it is different as the Senate appears ready to take important political hostages in an attempt to force Abbott to call a special session in June, whether he wants to or not.
Just past midnight Thursday morning, the Senate appeared to try to force Abbott’s hand by refusing to take up House Bill 1600, which, if passed, would have assured the continued operation of 18 state agencies — including the Holocaust & Genocide Commission, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and the Racing Commission. There are other bills to keep those agencies operating, but HB 1600 is considered a backup to make sure those agencies are not placed in jeopardy unintentionally.
In Fort Worth, Abbott sent a public message back to Austin that he will not be pushed around.
“Not only am I the only one with the authority to call a special session, I get to decide when, and I get to decide what will be on that special session,” Abbott said. “And here’s what I would do if, if anybody tries to force this: It’s not going to be like it has been in the past, where we’ll have 40 items on a special session.”
Abbott said that if there is a special session, “the only thing that we’ll be putting on there are things that I want to see passed.”
Patrick, a Republican from Montgomery County, went on Spectrum News 1 on Thursday afternoon to deny he’s threatening state agencies to pressure Abbott or the House.
“I’m not holding anything hostage,” Patrick told host Karina Kling.
Instead, Patrick says the special session is necessary after the House refused to advance a bill to ban transgender girls from playing on girls scholastic sports teams.
Patrick has a long history of fighting for measures to restrict or regulate transgender Texans. In 2017, a similar bill to stop transgender children from using the bathrooms they are most comfortable with also triggered calls for a special session after the House refused to take it up. Abbott did call a special session, and the so-called bathroom bill still didn’t pass.
Patrick on social media listed other failed bills — a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbyists by city governments and legislation to stop social media companies from “censorship” — as important measures the House has blocked.
See here for the background. As the Trib notes, Abbott supports the things that Patrick is whining about, so this may be just a little show of dominance, or it may be Abbott’s usual fecklessness, or it may be that he had indigestion after ordering the burrito supreme platter for lunch on Thursday. As I said, he’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and he may telegraph it or he may not. He’s the guy with the power, and he wants to make sure we know that.
One more thing:
All of this is happening as lawmakers still have not reached a final deal on a plan to require electricity grid suppliers and operators to winterize their facilities to prevent a repeat of the mass power outages that left millions of Texas freezing in the dark in February.
The House and Senate passed different bills, but despite that legislation being listed as a priority of nearly every elected official, lawmakers still have not announced a compromise on it.
The Republican leaders and majorities in both chambers, though, did exactly what I feared they would do. None of the bills heading for Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature address core problems, such as the wholesale market design or the $9,000 price cap. Nothing they did will prevent another blackout of equal scale.
They did agree on more than $9 billion in bailouts for the electric utility industry that Texans will pay off over the next 20 or 30 years through mandatory charges on their utility bills. The goal is to spread the cost of the disaster to all Texans and make the monthly fee so low we do not complain.
This will bail out electricity providers who guarantee customers a set monthly rate, even though electricity is sold on a wholesale market where the price changes every 15 minutes between free and $9,000 a megawatt-hour.
When the February freeze hit and prices maxed out, many retail providers went bankrupt and left behind $2.5 billion in unpaid bills. House Bill 4492 allows the state to issue bonds to pay off those bills and charge customers a monthly fee to repay them.
Electricity co-ops also ran up huge bills for electricity used to power critical facilities. Senate Bill 1580 allows them to issue bonds estimated to total $2 billion. Again, the co-op’s customers will repay those bonds through their monthly bills.
Winter Storm Uri also triggered a 700 percent spike in natural gas prices, creating all kinds of financial pain for another sector that typically guarantees a set price. To help natural gas utilities, the Legislature authorized them to issue $4.5 billion in bonds. We will repay these on our gas bills.
“Considering the extraordinary costs incurred in the recent winter storm, customers could see a dramatic increase in their monthly bills,” Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, wrote as his intent for the bond authorizations. “This financing mechanism will provide rate relief to customers by extending the time frame over which the extraordinary costs are recovered.”