Putting an end to what seemed like an endless stalemate between Republican and Democrat lawmakers on issues like election integrity, banning critical race theory, social media censorship, the session concluded with many of the issues on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda addressed, with some notable exceptions.
What Did Get Done?
Though it ended up being a different bill than the one considered in the 87th regular legislative session, prompting the initial quorum break of House Democrat lawmakers enabled by House Republican leadership, election integrity legislation did pass both chambers and is currently awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s consideration.
At each step of the legislative process, it passed purely on partisan lines.
Border Security Appropriations
Adding an additional $1.8 billion to the funding that was already appropriated amounting to $1.1 billion during the 87th regular legislative session, the Legislature passed a bill providing for funding to seven different state entities for the purposes of border security. Some of those state entities include the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Office of Court Administration (OCA), Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Texas Military Department (TMD), and Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor.
Increased Virtual Education Options
The Legislature passed a bill that would authorize a school district or charter school to establish a remote-learning program to offer additional virtual learning courses outside of the already existing state virtual school network as long as it meets certain parameters. Ultimately, the bill allows school districts and charter schools to implement best practices learned in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social Media and Email Censorship
Slightly different than legislation considered in the 87th regular legislative session that ended up having its legislative prospects cut short in the House, a bill seeking to stop social media and email service censorship did pass both chambers of the Legislature.
Critical Race Theory “Ban” Improvements
Though a purported ban on critical race theory passed the 87th legislative session specific to social studies curriculum, Abbott added the issue on his special session agenda again citing improvements were needed.
After its legislative prospects started to look bleak, efforts were seemingly revitalized to get a bill out of a House committee, and the bill seeking to provide for improvements ended up advancing to Abbott’s desk. However, some critics are concerned with a provision in the bill that they believe could allow for a potential “backdoor” for critical race theory training.
Restoration of Article X Funding
A few weeks after the 87th regular legislative session concluded, Gov. Greg Abbott employed his line-item veto power and specifically got rid of funding for the Legislature in the budget for the next two fiscal years in retribution for items on his emergency legislative item agenda dying at the hands of the initial quorum break in May.
Abbott added the issue to both special session agendas. When the first special legislative session concluded with no items considered on his agenda, Abbott, in conjunction with the Legislative Budget Board, gave a temporary reprieve by extending funding an additional month, since the approved budget was to go into effect September 1.
A bill that restored that funding while also providing for supplemental appropriations to other government agencies and programs was the last thing to pass during this special session.
Also on the agenda was the consideration of a so-called “13th check” for beneficiaries of the Teachers Retirement System of Texas (a redo of a bill Abbott vetoed because it lacked a parental opt-out provision addressing family and dating violence). Other issues on the agenda were the prohibition of abortion-inducing drugs in the mail, updates to regulations on the storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste, and provisions in statute allowing for the potential delay in primary election dates and candidate filing periods as a result of the delayed redistricting process.
All of these issues eventually passed.
What Did Not Get Done?
No Penalties for Quorum-Breakers
A majority of Democrat House lawmakers left the House of Representatives paralyzed for more than 37 days. As such, the first called special legislative session that started on July 7 was a wash, and it temporarily brought into question whether the second called special legislative session would follow suit.
Once enough of those absent Democrat lawmakers returned on August 19, the House was finally able to start conducting legislative business—13 days into the second called special legislative session.
Though several pieces of legislation were filed to penalize absent lawmakers, none were ultimately considered. In fact, House Republican leadership prioritized a proposed rule change that would instead only create provisions to enable penalties for any future quorum breaks, doing nothing to penalize lawmakers who held the legislative process hostage for the last few months.
In the end, even that resolution was never passed out of the House Committee on Administration and, ultimately, no absent lawmakers were penalized.
Similar to the results of the 87th regular legislative session, legislation requiring that public school students only play in athletics associated with their biological sex at birth never made it across the legislative finish line.
No Mask Mandate Prevention for Public Schools
Though several bills were filed to both prohibit mask mandates on public school students and to allow school boards to adopt such mandates, nothing was done to curb the growing list of school districts openly defying Abbott’s own executive order that attempted to preclude such activity.
Another item on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda was legislation seeking to change what constitutes a legislative quorum, as a result of the paralysis observed over the last few months.
Only the Senate acted on such a bill , considering it one time. Though it passed its initial consideration, it lacked the necessary votes to garner full approval and never passed out of its chamber. A House bill seeking to change the requirements was never even considered in the House State Affairs Committee.
This also means that barring any rule changes in either chamber, the practice of quorum-busting can continue to happen in the future.
Local Government Regulation Preemption
A similar bill to another issue that fell victim to the regular legislative session’s quorum break made it to the end of the legislative process, only to have its prospects cut short by a point of order. This bill would have preempted local governments from continuing to create a patchwork of regulations on the employment practices of private businesses.
An issue that was also an emergency legislative item of Abbott’s in the 87th regular legislative session fell victim to the legislative process, albeit in a different way. Bail reform legislation passed both chambers in the regular session, but the conference committee report encompassing reconciled changes between both chambers was never considered due to the quorum bust at the end of May.
Though the enabling legislation did pass both chambers this session, the proposed constitutional amendment failed to pass in the House, rendering the enabling legislation useless and ultimately meaning the issue remains.
Actual Property Tax Relief
Though Texans all across the state are reporting ever-increasing property tax burdens, the Legislature provided no real additional property tax relief during the 87th regular legislative session. Abbott added it as an item on the special session agenda, but notably, it was not an emergency item of his prior to that.
In the special session, the Legislature prioritized property tax relief bills that picked winners and losers instead of providing relief for all Texans, even though there were bills filed that would have done so.
In a last-ditch effort, the Senate quickly filed and passed a bill that would have at least provided some additional one-time relief to all Texans, but neither chamber considered a bill that would have provided lasting relief over time while also restructuring the formula for the taxation.
Republican Party of Texas Legislative Priorities Left Outstanding
Though most of the Republican Party of Texas legislative priorities that did not get passed in the regular session were not added to Abbott’s special session agenda, it is worth noting that several bills were filed to address them, the bills were just never considered.
This included issues like a prohibition on gender modification on children and a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying.
Republican leadership in neither chamber prioritized their consideration, even though there is nothing precluding them from passing them and sending them to Abbott for his consideration.
What is Next?
It has long been assumed that the tenuous decennial redistricting process will take place in a special legislative session in October, though nothing has officially been announced as of this publication. Though it was included on the second called special legislative session agenda, it is likely that the allocation of COVID-19 relief money from the federal government will also be added to a future special session call.
It is less clear whether items like bail reform, youth sports, or a change in what constitutes a legislative quorum will be added to a future special legislative session agenda.