87th LegislatureIssuesState HouseState SenateTexas Legislature Will Reconvene This Week to Take Up Election Reform, Other Special Session Items

The keynote issue for the July special session will be the election reform legislation that died on the last night of the regular session.
July 5, 2021
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For the first time in four years, the Texas legislature will meet for a special session to take up “unfinished business.”

The session, which begins July 8, was ordered by Governor Greg Abbott after the legislature concluded the 87th Regular Session without passing key items on the governor’s agenda — the foremost of which is election reform.

To kill that legislation, House Democrats broke quorum by walking out of the chamber an hour and 15 minutes before the midnight deadline during debate on Senate Bill 7.

In addition to the ire of the governor, Democrats attained national media attention and have since said they may break quorum again. While Abbott has not officially listed out the agenda for the first special session, he has named three topics at minimum that will be taken up: election reform, social media censorship, and a more comprehensive ban on critical race theory.

Abbott had previously indicated that election reform would be paired with another of his emergency items that failed on the House floor, bail reform. He’s also suggested that a prohibition on biological men competing in women’s sports — the less-ambitious transgender-related legislation that faltered during the session — is on the table for a special session call.

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Another item which could be addressed is Abbott’s budget veto of Article X, the section that funds the legislature. With the fiscal year concluding on August 31, it must be restored to ensure that members, staff, and legislature-adjacent agencies receive funding.

Abbott has said Article X’s restoration is conditioned on the legislature “showing up and doing their job,” specifically regarding the election reform. It is unclear whether the legislature must pass the election bill or just not break quorum to have its funding restored.

The other agenda items are up in the air.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has rallied the troops behind adding issues such as a taxpayer-funded lobbying ban, social media censorship, and the transgender sports legislation — each of which were on his priority list and were passed by the Senate before failing in the House.

For the House, various parts of its criminal justice priority slate, including the bail reform bill, perished before sine die — multiple of which were Democratic bills. It is conceivable that Abbott calls some of those before the legislature to use as leverage to secure a vote on election reform.

Further, the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus named eight topics it has requested the governor to call in the special. Some mirror other agenda items already named by the governor and most come from the caucus’ pre-session legislative priority list.

Another item to watch for is Chapter 313 of the tax code, a property tax abatement program school districts can utilize to give handouts to businesses building operations in their districts. After internal disagreement over its direction, Chapter 313 was not renewed by the legislature and is set to expire entirely at the end of 2022.

Calls for its restoration in a special session have already been made and since the session’s conclusion, various school districts have approved Chapter 313 awards for businesses, in each case solar companies, that promise to only create between one and three permanent jobs.

The July special is the first of at least two special sessions this year — the other will come in September or October for the legislature to hammer out redistricting and the distribution of federal coronavirus dollars.

Special sessions and the items they consider are left to the governor’s discretion and the legislature can only take up legislation related to the issues named by the state’s top executive. They can last no longer than 30 days, but do not have a minimum time span. For instance, the first special session of the 38th Legislature, in 1923, met for only one hour before adjourning — passing nothing.

With all that is destined already for the first session’s agenda, it is a sure bet the July special will outrun that. But 30 days go by faster than one might think.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.