Updated at 11:25 a.m.: to include reaction from state Democrats, House’s two party caucuses and Don Huffines.
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott has added more hot-button social issues, such as transgender sports and medication abortion, as well as border security to the agenda of a special session that’s fraught with emotion, given his demand for election law changes that died in May.
The 30-day special session begins Thursday.
On Wednesday, Abbott placed on the “call” of the session a few other items he’d not foreshadowed, such as a “13th check” for retired teachers who haven’t received a cost-of-living increase in recent years and additional money to raise rates to attract more foster care providers, needed to help ease a dire capacity shortage.
Abbott’s special session proclamation included, as expected, his demands for legislators to pass:
- An “election integrity” bill, the issue that sparked a Democratic quorum break in late May that killed such legislation in the regular session;
- A measure that changes bail-setting procedures, to prevent defendants who might commit acts of violence from being freed before trial;
- Yet-another bill restricting what public-school teachers can say about “critical race theory;”
- A ban of social media censorship of conservative viewpoints, with “a legal remedy for those wrongfully excluded from a platform;” and
- Restoring state funds for the Legislature, its staff members and support agencies. Abbott vetoed as punishment for the Democrats’ walkout — and an inducement for them to not break quorum in the special session.
After prodding from Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West and the Grand Prairie assistant police chief, the Republican governor revived a bill he vetoed last month that would require Texas middle and high school students to be taught about domestic violence, dating violence and child abuse.
In his proclamation, Abbott specifically called for passage of the “Christine Blubaugh Act,” named for a 16-year-old Grand Prairie teen who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2000. But Abbott repeated his insistence that parents should be able to opt out of their kids’ receiving such instruction.
With Comptroller Glenn Hegar expected to issue a rosy economic forecast before lawmakers gather Thursday, Abbott also said lawmakers should use available discretionary state dollars to tackle property tax relief, better state safeguards on cybersecurity and the foster-care capacity crisis.
In a written statement, Abbott said the regular session was “a monumental success.”
However, he said, “we have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America.”
He noted two of his emergency items from the regular session — bail and voting laws — did not make it to his desk.
“We have a responsibility to finish the job on behalf of all Texans,” he said. “These Special Session priority items put the people of Texas first and will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity.”
As it has in recent weeks, the Texas Democratic Party immediately criticized Abbott for not including a shoring up of the state’s electricity grid to the agenda.
“Millions of Texans lost power & water in sub freezing conditions for DAYS — and the largest mass carbon monoxide poisoning in the country took place,” the party tweeted. “No surprise that Abbott chooses not to make #FixTheGrid a priority.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner of Grand Prairie said Abbott should focus on big issues, such as the state’s infrastructure and health coverage woes.
“Instead, Abbott wants to pick on children, tell teachers they can’t talk about slavery, prevent women from accessing reproductive health care and infringe on Texans’ freedom to vote,” Turner said in a written statement.
Former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, one of two prominent Republicans who’ve announced against Abbott in next year’s GOP gubernatorial primary, lashed the incumbent for lack of specifics on border security and omission of legislation to outlaw medical procedures for transgender children.
“I’m glad Gov. Abbott continues to steal my work and finally prioritize some conservative items I’ve been fighting for and he’s been failing on for years,” he said in a written statement.
The Texas House Republican Caucus, in an email, spoke favorably of Abbott’s revival of the election and bail issues.
“One important addition is a discussion on border security, which has gained momentum after former President Donald Trump made a trip to the border with the Governor and a group of leaders from across the state,” the GOP caucus’ email said.
While Abbott has been less prone than his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Perry, to call overtime sessions, intraparty pressures compelled him to call this one. Facing not just Huffines but state GOP Chairman Allen West as foes, the two-term incumbent is treading carefully in a Republican ecosystem dominated nationally by Trump, who has endorsed Abbott for re-election.
Abbott continues, as ever, to appear sensitive to criticism from staunch conservatives — and eager not to be on the receiving end of barbs from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In late May, Patrick called for revival of the transgender sports bill in a special session. On other Patrick priorities that died, such as a ban on taxpayer-paid lobbying, Abbott has not yet yielded.
Abbott said he’d call a special session, estimated to cost about $1 million, after House Democrats broke quorum on May 30 to block passage of Senate Bill 7, a far-ranging elections bill that Republicans said is needed to deter vote fraud but Democrats insisted is designed to suppress participation, especially by minority voters.
House Democrats at least temporarily killed SB 7. Though they have only 67 of the 150 seats in the House, they denied their chamber the two-thirds quorum needed to consider legislation just hours before a bill-passing deadline — by walking out. Another priority of Abbott’s — changes to bail policies — died in the walkout.
Since late May, several House Democrats traveled to Washington, D.C., where Vice President Kamala Harris welcomed them to the White House as “courageous leaders and American patriots.” Earlier, Democratic congressional leaders met with the state lawmakers.
In recent weeks, House Democrats have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Abbott’s veto of the Legislature’s portion of the state budget.
Over the July Fourth weekend, most wrote Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, asking that he ensure full public hearings occur on the election legislation — and that he “defend the chamber’s position” on bills such as the transgender sports bill that died in the House in the regular session. Phelan didn’t respond, though on Tuesday he formed a select panel to handle election and bail change legislation.
The call differs from what Abbott pledged earlier, to go one issue at a time, with him waiting until the current topic has been passed before adding to the call. Abbott said he was adding 11 items. However, depending on how you count the three involving available money, they could be considered as 13.
Four of them are tied to specific bills that died in the regular session: Transgender sports (SB 29); medication abortions (SB 394); the one-time supplemental payment of at least $2,400 to retired teachers (HB 3507) — more if they get more each month; and the domestic- and dating-violence education measure (SB 1109).