On July 7, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott used his authority under Article 4, section 8 of the Texas Constitution to call Texas lawmakers back to Austin for a special session of the legislature. This section of the Texas Constitution is vague in the requirements for calling such a special session:
“The Governor may, on extraordinary occasions, convene the Legislature at the seat of Government, or at a different place, in case that should be in possession of the public enemy or in case of the prevalence of disease threat. His proclamation therefor shall state specifically the purpose for which the Legislature is convened.”
This states that Governor Abbott must state why he is calling the legislature back, but does not indicate that his reason is subject to anything other than his own judgement of the need for this. To comply with this, Governor Abbott submitted an official proclamation and letter to the Texas Secretary of State on July 7 calling for the convention of the legislature on July 8, 2021.
With the media frenzy created by the action taken by House Democrats to leave the state to avoid voting on a specific bill – a move some call desertion or dereliction of duty – one might be led to believe that there is only one item on the agenda: Election Integrity. In reality, there are multiple items on the agenda, and the move by House Democrats has implications on all of those items.
The documents submitted by Governor Abbott, along with a press release from his office on July 7 outlined eleven items to be included in the agenda of the special session.
These items are:
· Bail Reform
· Election Integrity
· Border Security
· Social Media Censorship
· Article X Funding
· Family Violence Prevention
· Youth Sports
· Abortion-Inducing Drugs
· Thirteenth Check (Teacher Retirement System benefits)
· Critical Race Theory
In response to the governor’s proclamation, the legislature convened on July 8. With all members in attendance, save for two who were granted leaves of absence, the Texas House of Representatives took action on forty-two (42) different items according to the House Journal from the Texas Legislature website. These items were given their first reading in the House and moved on to committee consideration to be presented for votes.
Similarly, an additional forty-one items were read and moved to committee by the House on July 9, the last day that the legislature has been able to convene in-full due to the action by House Democrats.
Over those two days, the Texas Senate read and moved to committee a total of twenty-one items. On Monday, July 12, the Senate received committee reports on seven bills and confirmed numerous position appointments, while the House was forced to sit idle.
Tuesday, July 13, found the Senate taking amendments to and passing four bills, two of which covered bail reform, one regarding the payment of benefits from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, as well as the highly-publicized topic of election integrity.
As often happens in politics, the House Democrats have put a single issue above all other business. By leaving the state in order to prevent a vote in the House on the bill regarding election integrity, the House Democrats have, at the very least, delayed resolution of any type on the other topics under consideration. Just from Tuesday’s Senate actions, they have potentially delayed changes to the bail system in Texas that would adjust the rules regarding how bail is determined whether restrictive conditions on bail may be set on certain accused persons. They have also potentially delayed the possibility of lump-sum payments from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas in certain situations.
In response to their failure to appear for duty as is required of a legislator during a special session, the Texas House voted to issue arrest warrants for the Democrats who failed to show. While these warrants would have no relevance outside of the state of Texas, such as in Washington, D.C., to where the Democrats have fled, their action likely only delays and does not prevent action on the governor’s agenda. Even though the Texas Constitution provides a maximum length of thirty days for any special session, there is no limit to the number of special sessions the governor may call, nor any requirement for a specific time frame between special sessions.
By relocating to a spot outside of Texas, House Democrats have brought national attention to the election integrity issue and the current bills being considered in Texas. They have, though, failed to provide action on the other items that are included in the special session’s agenda, many of which have direct effect on their constituents. By focusing on one topic, they have disregarded the ten other topics being considered by the legislature.
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