Senate passes full agenda in first week of special session

Published 9:56 am Saturday, July 17, 2021

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The Senate has passed legislation covering all the topics put on the agenda by Governor Greg Abbott in just a few days, but it’s unlikely any of them will reach the governor’s desk after opponents to a proposed election bill broke quorum in the House, leaving that chamber unable to conduct business.   They headed to Washington, DC to lobby federal lawmakers for voting rights legislation they believe would block the Texas proposal, but in the Senate, enough members remained to consider legislation.   They did this quickly, conducting committee hearings, debating and voting on all subjects eligible for consideration under the session call. “We have now completed the goal of passing every bill on the proclamation in the first week,” said Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. “We will stay until there is a quorum in the other chamber so we can conduct business on behalf of the people of Texas.”

The author of the Senate version of the elections bill said the rhetoric against the bill is overstated and that his bill would increase voting opportunities while cracking down on bad actors.  “This bill is about making it easier to vote and hard to cheat,” said Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes.  It prohibits counties from setting their own election hours during early voting periods, instead allowing polls to be open for any nine hour period between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. – one hour more than under current law.  It would also ban drive-through voting and soliciting absentee ballot applications from those who aren’t eligible to vote by mail in Texas.  It prohibits paid vote harvesting, requires camera surveillance in all central ballot counting locations, and gives poll watchers more latitude to observe election procedures.  It also creates a process by which an absentee ballot can be corrected by a voter if there is an error or disputed signature match.

Wednesday, the Senate passed legislation aimed at reforming the state’s bail procedures.   Author and Houston Senator Joan Huffman says that the existing system is broken, with dangerous offenders being released on minimal bond, putting violent criminals back on the streets and endangering public safety.  SB 6 and SJR 3 would ask Texas voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution permitting judges to deny bail when clear and convincing evidence shows an individual charged with a violent offense represents an ongoing threat to public safety.  It also creates a training program for magistrates on setting bail and creates a statewide database of bail decisions that would be public record.  Under the legislation, judges would be aided in these decisions by a new tool that would collate all relevant information, like the nature of the offense and past criminal history of the defendant, as well as proposed bond conditions.

Other legislation approved by the Senate this week includes:

  • SB 2, by Perry, would require athletes at public schools and colleges to compete in sports divisions that corresponds with the biological sex listed on their original birth certificate
  • SB 3, by Hughes, would ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools
  • SB 4, by Lucio, would ban distribution of abortifacient drugs by mail-order
  • SB 5, by Hughes, would create a legal recourse for individuals who feel that they have been banned from social media for expressing political or religious viewpoints
  • SB 7, by Huffman, would authorize a bonus annuity check for retired educators
  • SB 8, by Bettencourt, would allow homebuyers to qualify for a new home property tax exemption in the year they purchase their home

This session will likely serve as a dry run for a second special session called immediately after the current one ends on August 6.  The governor can call as many sessions as he likes and has said he will do so until these bills reach his desk.