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So now what?

Well, Greg Abbott gets to have a little temper tantrum, which may or may not end up in an immediate special session.

The Texas Legislature closed out its regular 140-day session Monday with sniping among the state’s top political leaders and lawmakers already well aware they will be back this calendar year for an overtime round.

“We will be back — when, I don’t know, but we will be back,” House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, told members from the speaker’s dais. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you.”

Talk of a special session — and questions about how soon one may happen or what additional issues Gov. Greg Abbott could task legislators with — has largely defined the last weekend of the Legislature’s 140-day stretch after lawmakers left unfinished a number of GOP priorities and tensions between the two chambers escalated.

That drama reached new highs Sunday night when House Democrats staged a walk out and broke quorum, making it impossible to give final approval Senate Bill 7, a massive GOP priority voting bill that would tighten the state’s election laws, before the midnight deadline.

Abbott quickly made clear that the bill, along with another other priority legislation that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash, “STILL must pass” — and said that the two issues “will be added to the special session agenda.”

The governor, who is the only official who holds the power to convene a special session, has not yet specified whether he plans to order one ahead of an overtime round already planned for the fall to handle the redrawing of the state’s political maps. An Abbott spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment earlier Monday.

Before lawmakers adjourned though, Abbott made clear he intends to reprimand the Legislature over its unfinished business by vetoing the section of the state budget that funds the legislative branch.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” he tweeted. “Stay tuned.”

Shortly after lawmakers adjourned for the final time, Abbott released a lengthier statement in which he applauded the Legislature for pushing through a series of conservative victories, while doubling down on his demands that lawmakers pass voting and bail legislation. But the governor also left open the possibility that other topics could be added to the agenda for the special session.

Lots of takes on Twitter about that, but the one that caught my attention was a reminder that legislators’s pay and per diem are defined in the Constitution, so it seems clear Greg Abbott can’t just take their pay away. (Not that most legislators depend on the pittance they do get paid.) What he could do, in effect, is kill the funding for a bunch of legislative agencies, which seems to me like a bad way to run government and also mostly an attack on non-partisan staffers. My guess is that someone with better sense will quietly talk him into writing a cranky statement with his signature of the budget and leave it at that, but you never know with a galaxy brain like that.

House Democrats earlier this week successfully killed proposals that would’ve banned local governments from using taxpayer dollars to pay lobbyists, prohibited social media companies from blocking users because of their viewpoints and barred transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity. Abbott had previously said he would sign those bills.

“I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation,” he said.

A whole lot of lousy bills were left for dead by the quorum breaking, which is fine by me. Any or all of these bills could get revived in one or more special sessions, but there’s no guarantee they’d fare any better in overtime. One might reasonably ask why these bills were left to the last minute like that if they were of such utmost importance to Abbott et al. The Chron, the Press, and the Texas Signal have more.

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One Comment

  1. Lobo says:

    KING GREGORY I OF TEXAS, THE AVENGER

    It’s worse than a mere temper tantrum. This behavior shows Abbott’s despotic inclinations and his contempt for the separation of powers, a core constitutional design principle adopted to curb the excessive ambitions of men – not to mention megalomania — that threaten consolidation of power and establishment of tyrannical one-man rule.

    Second, even it those affected by the threatened retaliation were the equivalent of Abbott’s employees subject to summary firing under the judicially blessed “at will” employment doctrine, they would still be entitled to be paid for the work already performed. Basic principle of common and statutory law governing master-servant relations.

    RESISTANCE BY PARTISANS AND COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT

    Third, the proposed punishment is collective in nature, directed at all indiscriminately regardless of individual conduct.

    Two historical analogies come to mind: (1) Roman field commanders, faced with disobedient troops, lining up their legionnaires in rows of ten and requiring each squad of ten to execute one of their comrades-in-arms, with the selection made by drawing lots (decimation). (2) German occupation forces in WW II executing civilians in quotas in reprisal for prior acts of sabotage or attacks by partisans who may not have been caught or otherwise identified. (Part of so-called ‘Bandenbekämpfung’ i.e., suppression of bandits). See, relatedly, Article 87 of the 1949 Geneva Convention III, which provides that “[c]ollective punishment for individual acts” is forbidden.

    It should go without saying that in a modern civil society that respects individual rights and human dignity, responsibility for wrongful conduct must be allocated at the individual level, and that those who would impose punishment must have the legal authority to do so. Here, to the extent the Members who took a Sunday morning hike to Zion Church committed an infraction, the constitution provides for the legislative body itself to haul them back in, and for them to impose any and all other disciplinary measures up to and including expulsion.

    See Article III, Sec. 10. QUORUM; ADJOURNMENTS FROM DAY TO DAY; COMPELLING ATTENDANCE. Two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.

    Sec. 11. RULES OF PROCEDURE; PUNISHMENT OR EXPULSION OF MEMBER. Each House may determine the rules of its own proceedings, punish members for disorderly conduct, and, with the consent of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offense.

    Note also that the Texas constitution provides that legislators “shall be” paid. No mention of a Governor’s right or discretion to dock the pay of those that displease him, or a right to coerce the entire legislature to punish those who absented themselves and headed to a church, which — as is obvious – was a procedural and symbolic *political* act, and one of last resort, rather than a garden-variety dereliction of duty, not to mention a treasonous desertion.

    THE TEXAS CONSTITUTION
    ARTICLE 3. LEGISLATIVE DEPARTMENT

    Sec. 24. COMPENSATION AND EXPENSES OF MEMBERS OF LEGISLATURE; DURATION OF REGULAR SESSIONS.

    (a) Members of the Legislature shall receive from the Public Treasury a salary of Six Hundred Dollars ($600) per month, unless a greater amount is recommended by the Texas Ethics Commission and approved by the voters of this State in which case the salary is that amount. Each member shall also receive a per diem set by the Texas Ethics Commission for each day during each Regular and Special Session of the Legislature.

    (b) No Regular Session shall be of longer duration than one hundred and forty (140) days.

    (c) In addition to the per diem the Members of each House shall be entitled to mileage at the same rate as prescribed by law for employees of the State of Texas.

    For a nuanced treatment of megalomaniacs, look here:
    https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/03/ten-caesars-offers-lessons-historys-great-leaders