Texas Legislature special session looks to address tax reform, bathroom bill

Claire Allbright

The gloves are coming off as the 85th Texas Legislature steps into the ring for its first special session Tuesday. 

Legislators will address unfinished sunset legislation and Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of 20 unpassed priorities from the original session, including education, tax reform and a transgender bathroom bill. A dogfight between the Texas House and Senate over these and other controversial topics is expected, as a war of words that began last month between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Joe Straus shows no sign of cooling.

In a New Yorker article earlier this month, Straus criticized Patrick and said he didn’t want “the suicide of a single Texan on my hands” when asked about the bathroom bill. Last week in a press conference, Lt. Gov. Patrick called Straus’ public school finance plan a “Ponzi scheme.” 

However, before those items can be addressed, Gov. Abbott said the Texas Senate must pass bills to continue several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, which licenses all practicing doctors in Texas and several other agencies that oversee social workers, psychologists and therapists. Gov. Abbott issued the formal proclamation for the Sunset legislation on July 10.

“The day that all Sunset legislation passes out of the Senate, all of the remaining items will be formally added to the special session call,” Gov. Abbott said about his July 10 proclamation. 

The lead-up to Gov. Abbott’s special session came amid the launch of the 2018 election season. Gov. Abbott officially launched his bid for reelection Friday.

During a speech announcing the beginning of his campaign, Gov. Abbott celebrated the promises he has kept since taking office four years ago including tax cuts, improving education, limiting abortion and building roads. 

Gov. Abbott also used the opportunity to challenge the Texas Democratic Party.

“Liberals are messing with Texas,” Gov. Abbott said. “But I have news for the liberals. Texas values are not up for grabs.” 

Gov. Abbott currently runs unopposed, but he has faced harsh criticism for his passive approach to the regular session. Lt. Gov. Patrick was also rumored to challenge Gov. Abbott for his governorship, but he has since announced for reelection for the lieutenant governor position.

During the regular session, the Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative members of the House, blocked Sunset legislation from passing that would extend these agencies from operating past Sept. 1. Then, Lt. Gov. Patrick seized the legislation and refused to take any action on it until the House passed a transgender bathroom bill and property tax reform, two of his priorities for the session. 

“A special session was entirely avoidable,” Gov. Abbott said in June 6 statement. “There was plenty of time for the legislature to forge compromises to avoid the time and taxpayer expense of a special session.” 

Following the governor’s proclamation, lawmakers can officially start filing bills that will be debated during the special session. While only bills pertaining to the governor’s enumerated list can be filed, 150 House bills and 30 Senate bills attempt to address these issues. 

“With today’s proclamation and with bill authors already lined up for all special session items, I look forward to working with the House and Senate to finish the people’s business,” Abbott said in a statement.

Although the end of the regular session came with a brawl on the House floor and a call to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Abbott said he was hopeful the special session would be a civil one. 

“I expect legislators to return with a calm demeanor and a firm commitment to make Texas even better,” Abbott’s proclamation said. 

The special session begins July 18.