The Regular Session of the 85th Legislature
The Regular Session of the 85th Legislature ended last Monday, May 29th. It was often plagued by philosophical differences – whether they be between the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, or Urban and Rural members – which existed throughout this legislative session and were not limited to big-ticket items. There was a significant amount of horse-trading required just to get noncontroversial bills passed, as evidenced by multiple local calendars being put in jeopardy because of issues separate and apart from the public policy in those bills. Were it not for a last-minute compromise, the final local calendars in both chambers would have been killed, taking hundreds of bills along with them.
The practical impact of these political dynamics is illustrated clearly when you examine the statistics on bills filed and passed in 2017. In this legislative session, 4,333 House Bills were filed as were 2,298 Senate Bills. Unlike the higher rate of bill filings, however, bills passed this session did not increase at a similar pace. Overall, bill passage was down nearly three percent from last session, which was down three percent from the session prior. Moreover, if not for a last-minute compromise that saved more than 400 bills on the last day the Legislature could consider them, bill passage rates would have been roughly 12% for the session, not much more than half the average rate.
Abbott Calls a Special Session
At the end of session property tax reform, bathroom legislation and the sunset safety net bill remained unaddressed. The Senate vowed to hold the sunset safety net bill unless the Senate proposals on taxes and bathrooms were passed, and in a session mired in conflict amongst both parties and chambers that brought the process to a halt more than once, it was no surprise the House refused. As a result of the clock running out on these policy issues, Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday, June 6th, that the Legislature would be coming back for a special session next month, beginning on July 18th.
The Governor made clear that the first priority of the legislature must be to pass sunset legislation, preserving the operations of a handful of state agencies - including the Texas Medical Board (TMB) - currently in limbo after legislation failed in the regular session. To that end, the Governor made clear that none of the other items outlined today would be added to the call until the Senate first successfully passed the requisite sunset bills.
Though this was the first item on which the special session will focus, Governor Abbott went on to outline 19 additional items he expects the legislature to debate. In addition to bathrooms, a form of school vouchers, and tax reform - all key agenda items for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick - he focused on pro-life legislation and reining in what he perceives to be regulatory overreach and interference at the local level. You can view the full list of items on the call on the Governor's website.