Metro Weekly

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott mulling special legislative session

Calling a special session will all but ensure Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's more stringent bathroom bill will pass

Gov. Greg Abbott – Photo: World Travel & Tourism Council, via Wikimedia.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said he plans to announce later this week whether he will call a special legislative session that would keep lawmakers in Austin until an ongoing dispute between the state House and Senate can be resolved, reports the Austin American-Statesman.

“When it gets to a special session, the time and topics are solely up to the governor in the state of Texas,” Abbott said in a statement. “If we have a special session, we will be convening on only the topics I choose by the time of my choosing.”

Given Abbott’s recent political posturing, a special session is all but assured, and the topics of discussion will relate to a “sunset bill” that would allow several crucial state agencies to continue operating, a property tax relief bill, and a “bathroom bill” restricting which public restrooms transgender people may use.

The last two issues, in particular, have been a source of disagreement between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and wants both bills to pass, and House Speaker Joe Straus, who has previously said he does not see the need for a “bathroom bill.”

Asked by reporters about how much pressure he was feeling from Patrick to call a special legislative session, Abbott answered, “None.” But last week, Patrick threatened to force a special session if the House did not rubber-stamp the property tax and bathroom bills previously passed by the Senate — even though that power rests solely with the governor.

Because the two chambers failed to agree on the provisions of the sunset legislation, Patrick has since used that as justification for the governor to call a special session. If Abbott bends to Patrick’s will, and calls a special session, it will almost ensure that Patrick will be able to force Straus’ hand and get both bills passed, complete with the Senate’s preferred language.

The debate over the bathroom measure is largely one of scope. The Senate prefers to restrict transgender people to using only those facilities that match their biological sex at birth in all public buildings, and would take away the ability of localities to pass their own LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. The House, meanwhile, prefers to limit the scope of their restrictions on transgender people to just school-age students, while providing transgender students with the option of using a single-stall facility if they so choose.

Abbott has previously stated he wants to see the legislature pass all three contested bills, but also preferred that they do it during the regular session, as opposed to a special session, which would cost millions in taxpayer money.

However, if he calls a special session, and makes its end contingent on the passage of the bathroom and property tax bills, he risks being seen as weak and ceding his power to Patrick. That said, failing to wrangle some type of anti-transgender restrictions out of a special session would likely endanger Abbott’s standing among conservative voters, on whom he’ll have to rely for his re-election in 2018.

Equality Texas has called upon its members and allies to call Abbott’s office and demand that he not call a special session. Meanwhile, the CEOs of several prominent tech companies have signed a letter to Abbott asking him not to allow any discriminatory legislation, like the proposed bathroom bill, to become law. Signatories include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s TIm Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Wilke, IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith, and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

“As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families,” reads the letter, a copy of which was sent to The Dallas Morning News. “Our ability to attract, recruit, and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions, and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected. … We strongly urge you and the Texas legislature not to further pursue legislation of this kind.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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