Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he was recalling lawmakers to Austin for a special session of the state Legislature.
Abbott said he was calling the special session to "prevent the medical profession from shutting down."
Abbott is referring to sunset legislation that, if not passed, would keep the Texas Medical Board from functioning, from licensing new doctors and from regulating the practice of medicine.
The governor said the legislation should have been passed during the regular session.
"Unfortunately it was used as political fodder during the regular session rather than the must pass legislature that it is. To ensure its passage, the sunset bills will be the only legislation on the special session until they pass out of the Senate in full," Abbott said.
Once the Senate passes sunset legislation in full, something Abbott said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told him he could accomplish in no more than three days, legislators will then tackle 19 other issues.
"Considering all the successes of the 85th legislative session, we should not be where we are today," said Abbott. "A special session was entirely avoidable, and there was plenty of time for the legislature to forge compromises to avoid the time and taxpayer expense of a special session. As governor, if I am going to call a special session, I intend to make it count."
The special session begins July 18.
Abbott listed his priorities for the state legislature as follows:
- Sunset legislation
- Teacher pay increase of $1,000
- Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
- School finance reform commission
- School choice for special needs students
- Property tax reform
- Caps on state and local spending8. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
- Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
- Speeding up local government permitting process
- Municipal annexation reform
- Texting while driving preemption
- Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
- Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
- Pro-life insurance reform
- Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
- Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
- Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud.
- Extending maternal mortality task force
State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) was surprised by the number of items Abbott announced. He expected two: property tax reform and sunset bills.
"I think you will see the fights around the bathroom bill. I think tax reform is a little easier to accomplish because most of us in the legislature want to see some property tax relief for our constituents. I think we can find a solution on that one. The bathroom is going to be much more difficult," Villalba said.
"I think this is a solution in search of a problem. There's no reason to pass a discriminatory measure that we know will hurt the Texas economy," said State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington).
The session is 30 days, and legislators don't have to approve what is on the governor's agenda. But the governor has the option to continue to call lawmakers back, and only the governor can decide the topics of a special session.
The governor's list of priorities includes the issue of privacy, which is the so-called "bathroom bill."
The Texas House and Senate could not agree on a bathroom bill during the regular session. The Senate passed a bill requiring Texans to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. That bill pertained to public schools and public buildings. The House passed a bill that pertained to public K-12 schools.
Texas would become the first state since North Carolina to restrict bathroom access for transgender people.
Big businesses and pro sports leagues including Google, Facebook and the NFL have called the proposals discriminatory and have urged Texas lawmakers for months to drop the idea.
Abbott said Texas needs a law that "protects the privacy of our children" in public schools.
Similar proposals divided the GOP-controlled Legislature last session and ended with House moderates and social conservatives in the Senate fuming at each other.
Following the governor's announcement, Patrick issued the following statement:
"I want to congratulate Governor Abbott for his big and bold special session agenda which solidly reflects the priorities of the people of Texas. Almost every issue he addressed today passed the Senate during the regular session and I am confident the senators are ready to hit the ground running to move these issues forward. The people of Texas have a right to expect that we will finish the job on these critical issues and I am happy to join with the governor in doing the work they elected us to do. I continue to be proud to serve with Gov. Abbott and look forward to working with him in the upcoming special session."
And in a statement, House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) said:
"I hope that Members will take advantage of the next six weeks to spend with their families after a long 140-day legislative session. The Members of the House will return to the Capitol next month ready to put their constituents and the best interest of the state first. The House looks forward to resuming our work on school finance and other challenges facing this state."