Second called session wraps

Published 5:01 pm Friday, September 3, 2021

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The Legislature adjourned sine die Thursday evening after completion of a session that saw the passage of a controversial elections bill that Governor Greg Abbott called lawmakers back twice to pass.  After failing in the regular session when House opponents broke quorum, depriving that chamber of the necessary membership to conduct business, Abbott promised he would call session after session until the bill passed.  Opponents maintained a quorum break for one more called session before returning midway through the second.  Once the quorum was reestablished, the Legislature was able to pass most of the items placed before it by the governor.  Though many of these topics were contentious, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick praised the Senate for maintaining a civil discourse on issues they addressed, in some cases, three times already this year.  “Members, thank you for your long hours and hard work through one regular and two special [sessions].  I know we’ve had disagreement on the floor on certain issues, but it’s been done, as always, respectfully,” said Patrick.  “Landmark legislation has been passed this session.”

The elections bill that led the agenda for both special sessions, passed in the form of SB 1 by Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes, would prohibit counties from implementing certain expanded voting strategies adopted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bill would ban the use of drive-through voting, soliciting absentee ballots from ineligible voters, and would ban extended voting hours by setting uniform voting periods statewide.  It also includes a new procedure by which absentee ballots can be corrected in case of a signature mismatch or other issue and gives more latitude to election poll watchers but increases training requirements for these partisan monitors.

The Legislature also voted to restore funding to all legislative agencies on Thursday after Governor Abbott vetoed that portion of the budget in response to the House walkout.  At the same time, it approved money to pay for a bonus annuity check for retired teachers and property tax relief for new homeowners.

Another big-ticket item passed this special session was new to the agenda: a bill that would spend $1.8 billion on border security, including a billion-dollar grant to the governor’s office that would pay for the construction of temporary and permanent barriers along the Texas-Mexico border.  The session also saw passage of bills that would ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, ban mail-order delivery of abortifacient drugs, and improve training for magistrates in the setting of bonds.

Not everything on the governor’s agenda saw action, however, including a call for legislation addressing the issue of mask mandates in Texas public schools.  The Senate never considered such a bill while a House proposal couldn’t find enough consensus to move out of committee.  A requirement for boys and girls to compete in sports divisions that match the sex listed on their original birth certificate likewise died in a House committee, though it passed the Senate.

Those issues and others could reappear in a third special session, as the Legislature must return to Austin, and soon, to deal with redistricting.  Delays in the release of census data prevented lawmakers from addressing this in the regular session and with another election next year, the House and Senate will be under pressure to get these maps drawn in time for the spring primary season.  The Senate will open virtual hearings on the subject beginning Tuesday.

The Senate stands adjourned sine die.