AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The legislature has adjourned and lawmakers headed back to their districts, but as they drive and fly home they’re wondering when they’ll return.
Looming over the legislature are questions about when Gov. Greg Abbott will call a special session to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to address unfinished business.
Though Texas lawmakers sent more than three thousand bills to Abbott’s desk, some key priorities did not get over the finish line.
After House Democrats staged a Sunday walkout to derail changes to the state’s election laws, Abbott announced he would use his budget veto authority to axe the provision which pays for the legislature— threatening to leave staffers without paychecks.
“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” he wrote.
House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said his chamber will take up election rules and bail reform, which also failed as a casualty of the Democrats’ walkout, if Abbott adds them to a call for a special session.
“I understand his frustration. I was frustrated as well,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“I have the ability to lock the doors and arrest House members,” he noted. “I was not going to do that, because we’re going to take this up in some form or fashion.”
Where Phelan and Abbott don’t see eye-to-eye is Governor’s approach to wiping legislative funding from Article X of the budget.
“There are some staff and support staff who had nothing to do with those bills passing or not passing on the 139th day of session,” Phelan said. “So I wouldn’t want to see them negatively impacted about vetoing Article X.”
Constitutionally, state lawmakers receive $7,200 annually. That money would not be affected by Abbott’s action, Phelan believed.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick supported Abbott’s decision to strike legislative staff pay out of the budget as a consequence.
“You’re going to vote on these bills,” Patrick said. “If you lose, you lose. You don’t get to go home and cry about it, and act like you’re a spoiled legislator, just come and do the job. You win some votes, you lose some votes.”
Phelan said he was happy with the legislation that passed out of the House this session.
“We took care of a lot of the big items that members of both parties wanted to get done,” he said, citing increased healthcare opportunities for new moms, fulfilled commitments to public education and improvements to the state’s energy infrastructure.
“In the timeframe we had, we did excellent work,” he said of the legislative response to the fatal February freeze, suggesting there was more work to do.
“We reformed the PUC, we reformed ERCOT, which is what many Texans demanded and that’s what we should have done,” he said. “We had great strides on winterization, but but I think when it comes to securitization, and some of these one time, federal dollars that could be used to make certain that the debt that was incurred in those in those few days is not a crippling factor, both from the companies and the munis and the co-ops, but also for the consumer, we have an opportunity to show some relief — and I think we should do that.”
Lawmakers are already planning to return to the Capitol in the fall once the Census Bureau releases its population data to the states. In addition to redistricting, Abbott said he would consult lawmakers on how to distribute $16 billion in federal stimulus funding.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment to clarify who would be directly impacted by his Article X veto.
Abbott has not shared details on whether he will call an additional special session to address his priorities that did not pass or add them to his special session call for the fall.