Tuesday, July 18, 2017

And they're back!

You are going to be treated to articles like this about the upcoming Texas special session.  Here's the problem with those articles:  they don't understand the Texas Constitution at all.

Everyone remembers 4 years ago, when Wendy Davis tied up the Texas Senate with a filibuster that ran out the clock on the legislative session.  Well, that was a "special session," one that can only last 30 days (the regular session is only 180 days, every two years).  Ms. Davis literally ran out the clock, so the Senate vote she blocked occurred after midnight on the final day, and was null and void.

In the next special session, they got right on that bill and it was passed in plenty of time.  If I recall correctly, that special session ended quickly.  It was a very public defeat for the GOP, and the Governor at the time (Rick Perry) was having none of that.  But it was possible because special sessions take time to gin up and time to get around to things, and Wendy Davis made use of that feature and the GOP's confidence they could do whatever they wanted, to gum up the works.

In the last regular session this year Joe Strauss, the Speaker of the Texas House, played the Wendy Davis role by simply never letting Dan Patrick's "Bathroom bill" get to the floor of the House for a vote.  Now a Texas Senator has already filed that bill for consideration in the special session which begin tomorrow (and two bills have been filed in the House).  Problem is, the Lege can only consider what's on the agenda set by the Governor, and first on his list is a provision under Texas law that requires all Texas agencies to be re-approved periodically, or automatically go out of business.  It's called a "sunset provision," and in the last session it shut down the Texas Board of Medical Examiners (I think they have to close in September, but no matter).

Abbott called the session first and foremost to keep the TBME in business.  Rather embarrassing to lose an agency like that, even in Texas.  Getting that done is a no-brainer; but getting it done won't occur on the first day of the session.  The Lege has to start over in a special session, and that means bills have to be filed anew, and business conducted as if it hadn't been finished just 6 weeks ago.  This is why, even in the second special session after Wendy Davis' victory, the abortion bill she opposed was passed in the middle of that session, not on the first day.

Abbott has put 19 items on the agenda, with the bill authorizing the TBME as #1.  His second priority (he doesn't really get a choice, but he's made impotent threatening noises about it) is property tax reform.  You'll notice we aren't getting close to the "bathroom bill."  And Democrats are making noises about what they want the session to handle (and may yet leave Austin to deny a quorum if they have to, to block the bathroom bill).  Oh, and Joe Strauss is still against it, and has no reason to let it get to the House floor in July, any more than he did in the regular session.

Would Abbott call another session just to get Patrick's baby passed?  Very unlikely.  He stuck it in a laundry list of things to appease Patrick's supporters, but Abbott doesn't really seem interested in getting it on his desk.  (The governor sets the agenda for special sessions; nothing not on the agenda can be considered by either chamber.)

So, sure, it could happen; but it isn't really likely to.  Once the first item on the agenda is done, there won't be a lot of time left to do too many other items, and there will be a scramble in the last weeks (as there is during the regular session) to get a lot of bills passed.  Both sides want to play the "tweak the agenda" game, for one thing, but if they can't get the governor to smile on their preferred bill, they may not be in a mood to compromise on another bill.

I expect acrimony, not cooperation.   I base that on news reports like this:

Lawmakers are back in Austin in large part because of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who forced the special session by holding hostage the continuation of a handful of state agencies after legislation he deemed a priority — including bathroom restrictions based on "biological sex" — failed to pass during the regular session that wrapped up in May. Those proposals all died in the Texas House where Speaker Joe Straus was steadfast in his opposition to such legislation.

It was clear ahead of Tuesday that the fault lines between legislative leaders were not only still in place but had become more prominent.

Straus has, in fact, upped the ante in the debate, adding to his economic concerns (and IBM has weighed in against the bill now) worries that it could lead even one transgender child (because the only bathrooms the State can really control this way are in public schools) to commit suicide.  This is Straus drawing a line in the sand:

“The House takes every issue on the governor's agenda seriously and will focus on doing what's best for the people of Texas,” he said in the statement. “We will look at each issue closely and carefully consider how these ideas would affect our economy and the lives of the people we represent.”
That's Straus' way of telling Patrick to get stuffed.

And, looking in "live" as I write, there are already concerns the Dems could screw this session:

The "sunset legislation" is saving the TBME, the first item on the agenda.  But already the GOP is afraid the Dems might kill a quorum and end the session prematurely, forcing Abbott to call another one, or just back down and give up  The GOP, in other words, is worried.

I expect the TBME will be saved, and after that not much else will get done.  If it does, the bathroom bill will not be at the top of the list, not ahead of something like property tax reform.  Besides, the Democrats could still decamp, recalling the halcyon days of the "killer bees."

And this time there's no one in the U.S. House to get federal law enforcement to hunt 'em down.....

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