Special session 2.0 coming right up

Here we go again.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that the second special legislative session will begin at noon Saturday — and with an expanded agenda.

The 17-item agenda still includes well-known Abbott priorities like the election bill that caused House Democrats to flee the state at the start of the first special session, which ends Friday. But it also features six additions, including the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds and potentially changing the legislative rules regarding quorums.


The start of the second special session is approaching amid continued uncertainty over the fate of paychecks for over 2,100 legislative staffers. Abbott vetoed their pay after House Democrats staged a walkout over the elections bill in the regular session that ended in May, and the funding was set to start Sept. 1.

The reinstatement of that funding remains on the agenda for the second special session.

The new items on the call also include legislation to protect Texans from radioactive waste and to change the timeline for the 2022 primary elections. The latter item is likely a nod to the fact that the primaries will have to be pushed back due to delays in the redistricting process.

The item on changing the rules around quorums comes after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on Abbott to add something like it to the agenda for the second special session. The lieutenant governor wants to lower the threshold for each chamber to conduct business from two-thirds of members to a simple majority. That would require a state constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

As for education during the pandemic, Abbott is asking lawmakers to pass legislation that “in-person learning is available for any student whose parent wants it.” He also wants legislation that ensures that masks and vaccinations are not mandatory in schools, which he has already ordered through executive action.

Not anything here that would make it more enticing for the Dems to come back, that’s for sure. The item about changing quorum rules is cute, but if it needs a 2/3 vote to pass as a constitutional amendment, I would not expect it to go anywhere, for all the obvious reasons.

What will the Dems do? They haven’t said yet, and as before I don’t know. Looking back, they didn’t get a voting rights bill passed, not that anyone could have expected that, though it’s fair to say there’s a lot more pressure being applied on President Biden and the Senate Dems to make that happen. Perhaps the new “Right to Vote” bill by Sen. Ossoff has a chance – it wouldn’t address everything – redistricting reform would be a key omission – but it would help. As expected, between the infrastructure bill and the January 6 committee hearing and our national fruit fly-level attention span, they’re getting maybe one percent of the press coverage they got when they first left, but again, I don’t know what could have changed that. They successfully killed off the first session, and for the most part the Republicans have been able to do little but sputter and post the occasional juvenile photo on Instagram, so I’d call this a draw. A draw that still inevitably ends with them back in Texas and the odious bills they have been able to stop so far getting passed anyway. Again, it was always going to be this way, barring a miracle from Sens. Manchin and Sinema.

Two other points: One is that redistricting data is soon to arrive.

Ideally for the Republicans, they breeze through this session, finish up all the business they want to get done, then get a short break before embarking on this much more involved task. They want to get to this quickly to foreclose even the minimal possibility of a federal voting rights bill that includes preclearance and redistricting reform being enacted. The ideal scenario for Dems is less clear to me, but running more time off the clock so that the original special session items have to take a back seat to this is probably better than what I just laid out as being best for the GOP. In short, the best outcome is still bad unless there’s some federal action to mitigate the damage.

As for restoring legislative funding, the Quorum Report posted an item just before the new special session was announced that suggested the possibility of the Legislative Budget Board moving some money around to fix that problem. Unfortunately, the LBB can only meet when the Lege is not in session – the QR report speculated that they would have this weekend to do that, with Special Session 2.0 being called for Tuesday – so that is off the table. That means that either the Dems show up and the Lege fixes it, the Supreme Court rules that Abbott’s veto was unconstitutional (AS THEY SHOULD ANYWAY), Abbott himself uses his emergency powers to plug the hold he dug, or the funding runs out and who knows what happens to redistricting. You know that sequence from “Animal House” where the Deltas have sabotaged the marching band and the parade they were in has devolved into chaos? That’s the energy I’m getting from all this now. I’ll leave it to you to decide who Bluto and Niedermeyer are in this analogy. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: More here from the Trib, reiterating that House Dems have not committed to a specific action just yet.

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One Response to Special session 2.0 coming right up

  1. policywonqueria says:


    Re: “The item about changing quorum rules is cute, but if it needs a 2/3 vote to pass as a constitutional amendment, I would not expect it to go anywhere, for all the obvious reasons.”

    Mr. Kuff has reason to put that in the subjunctive: If …

    Here is the problem: In his proclamation, Abbott said nothing about a constitutional amendment, which would be proposed by the Legislature by concurrent resolution, requiring 2/3 of each chamber.

    Instead, he is arguably proposing a statute to accomplish the crushing of the opposition party.

    Expressis verbis: *Legislation* relating to legislative quorum requirements.

    While the inclusion of the “legislative quorum” as a topic may be sufficient to authorize the Lege to initiate the constitutional amendment process in a special session, who can guarantee that they won’t seek to accomplish the same through a regular legislative bill, or some rule change?

    Some may retort that doing so would not be proper under the governing law. But we have already seen Abbott veto the entire appropriation for the legislative branch (including the constitutionally mandated pay for the members), and we have already seen Republicans stoop to all sorts of procedural shenanigans, like stuffing even worse democracy-debasing provisions into their election “integrity” bill in the middle of the night behind closed doors. Not to mention the threats to arrest members of the opposition party who won’t allow themselves to be steamrolled.

    If the Dems decide to show up for the encore session, the Republicans might pass a quorum-altering bill/statute with their existing majorities, rather than resorting to the normal constitutional amendment procedures that would require a supermajority that they don’t currently have in support of a joint resolution (and a subsequent referendum).

    If this reading of Abbott’s enabling verbiage is correct or at least plausible, the Dems might have good reason to continue their boycott separate and apart from the absence of any bushel of carrots or cake on the new special session menu for them and their constituents, and the presence of a full course of hard-to-swallow red meat.


    And as to restoration of vetoed appropriations for the “hostages”, does there really remain a valid justification for having administrative and research support for crappy or otherwise harmful and objectionable bills?


    Even if the staff is able and willing to perform useful work, such as on meaningful gas and electricity market reform, we have already seen that such bills go nowhere because the political will of the majority is lacking. And whatever good bills were enacted and not vetoed in the last regular session, that corpus is now a done deal. No further staff efforts required.

    Who will blink first? And who will be seen as responsible for the firing of the hostages?

    It is Abbott who killed the funding, and the ball remains in his court. He could call a special session for the sole purpose of reinstating Article X funding for the Lege and the legislative staffers. Both sides want that, and the staffers certainly do.

    Alternatively, he could issue an agenda that leaves most of the objectionable items off the menu. Most notably: Election reform.

    Severing the Lege funding issue and having it enacted in a special session that could be finished in a matter of days would not preclude Abbott from calling a subsequent session to take up any of the other Republican pet projects.

    He would merely have lost his gamble on the livelihoods of the hostages and his expectation that the Dems would pay the ransom, figuratively speaking.

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