Though there have been mixed signals from top state officials about whether or not legislators will return to Austin before the next regular session in 2023, some lawmakers have said that Gov. Greg Abbott could call another special session ahead of the primary elections next year.
During a press conference urging a ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private employers, Rep. Jeff Cason (R-Bedford) said that during “the last couple days,” he “heard some murmuring that we may be called back in January.”
“Again — rumors — but that was the latest I heard; to do some little cleanup on some items,” said Cason.
Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) concurred, saying “there’s a very real chance we might,” since several of the governor’s items on the agenda did not get completed.
“I don’t think it would be immediate. I think there will probably be some time in there for leadership to hear from grassroots on how much they really want this,” said Hall, referring to the push regarding vaccine mandates.
Just last week after pressure from grassroots activists, the Republican Party of Texas, and several GOP lawmakers, Abbott reversed course and added vaccine mandate bans to the call of the third special session just eight days before it had to come to an end.
While several bills on the subject were filed and one from Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) was even heard in the House State Affairs Committee, the House never voted on it.
Similarly in the Senate, a bill from Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) passed out of committee but was never considered on the floor.
A vaccine mandate ban was not the only legislation on Abbott’s agenda that failed to make it to his desk.
He also asked lawmakers to consider legislation to increase the penalty for illegal voting after it was lowered by the major election reform bill that was signed into law earlier this year, as well as a constitutional amendment related to bail reform.
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) expressed opposition to returning to a debate over election laws, and the constitutional amendment on bail reform failed to secure the supermajority it needed in the lower chamber.
How much Abbott wants to see those items reconsidered by lawmakers before the next regular session is unclear, as he has stayed silent on the possibility of a fourth special session.
Asked if he would call another, Abbott reportedly replied with a non-answer: “Have a nice day, man.”
For his part, though, Phelan publicly suggested that he doesn’t expect another special session.
As the special session came to an end, Phelan told House members that, “for some of you, this marks the end of your experience in the Texas legislature.”
To a lesser degree, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) suggested that they don’t expect a session at least in the near future, as both wished their Senate colleagues a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas while adjourning.
In addition to calls on Abbott from grassroots activists to call lawmakers back to work, some other political pressures could influence the possibility of a fourth special session.
Former President Donald Trump waded into state politics several weeks ago when he called on the governor to expand the special session call to include legislation requiring a broad audit of the 2020 election.
While Abbott never did that — with the secretary of state’s office announcing an audit of the election in a few major counties instead — the Texas Senate still pushed forward with legislation from Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) that Trump had mentioned in his letter.
Bettencourt’s bill saw no movement in the House, though, prompting Trump to push Phelan to take action on the measure.
“If this doesn’t pass soon, we look forward to seeing him in the Texas primary,” Trump said.
Trump’s threat of a primary challenge to Phelan is not the only primary race that’s being watched; Abbott has his own challengers who cast blame on him for the failure of GOP-priority legislation like a vaccine mandate ban.
“If I were Governor of Texas right now, I would veto the Texas Legislature’s spending legislation and call a special session to dedicate the entire allotment of federal funds to property tax relief and pass a bill banning all vaccine mandates in Texas,” said former state senator and Abbott challenger Don Huffines.
During the press conference on vaccine mandates, Christin Bentley, the president of the Texas Freedom Coalition, read statements from Huffines and two of Abbott’s other primary challengers: former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and humorist and pundit Chad Prather.
West called Abbott’s executive order prohibiting vaccine mandates “toothless” and said, “one has to wonder how the Republican leadership in Texas cannot stand up to corporate and federal totalitarianism.”
Prather’s statement likewise supported a prohibition on vaccine mandates by the government and private businesses, being especially critical of legislators who did not act on the filed legislation.
“Coincidentally,” as Cason pointed out, a special session in January would be “getting very close to the election primaries,” giving incumbent legislators and the governor one last chance to brandish their partisan credentials before voters head to the polls.
“I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Cason.
Ultimately, though, Cason says that the policies that are enacted are at the discretion of “a core group of folks in each chamber that basically drive the bus.”
“Nothing happens in this building — nothing,” said Cason, “that leadership doesn’t want or allow to happen. [. . .] There’s one thing that politicians respond to better than anything else in the world, and that’s pressure. So keep the pressure on.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.