AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A day before the special legislative session begins, Gov. Greg Abbott released a list of 11 agenda items for legislators to consider, and they include a slate of Republican priorities.
Those include voting measures the governor billed as “election integrity” as well as bans on critical race theory education, transgender student-athletes and abortion-inducing drugs.
The full list includes:
- Bail reform
- Election integrity
- Border security
- Social media censorship
- Article X funding for legislature
- Family violence prevention education
- Youth sports (preventing students from participating in athletics based on student’s sex at birth)
- Abortion-inducing drugs
- Thirteenth check
- Critical race theory
“The 87th Legislative Session was a monumental success for the people of Texas, but we have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America,” Abbott said in a Wednesday statement.
“Two of my emergency items, along with other important legislation, did not make it to my desk during the regular session, and we have a responsibility to finish the job on behalf of all Texans,” Abbott stated, referring to bail reform and election legislation. House Democrats staged a walkout during the final hours of session, causing the election rules overhaul to fail. Republicans committed to passing a similar version of the legislation during the special session. Abbott vetoed the section of the Texas Constitution that funds legislative staff as retribution for Democrats walking out.
In an interview Wednesday, Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said more than 500 bill requests to be drafted on various legislation.
“Voter integrity is very, very broad, so that gives us a lot of leeway in what that looks like and whether it’s a big omnibus bill or several small bills,” Phelan said. “I expect dozens if not hundreds of election bills probably to be filed.”
Phelan said he talked with members of both parties, specifically Democrats, “asking them to fulfill their constitutional duties to show up, fight for your districts, get some meaningful reforms done to issues that are near and dear to their heart,” to avoid a repeat of the walkout. He also noted “all options are on the table” if Democrats stage a similar walkout to avoid addressing legislation.
The governor asked legislators to consider earmarking state funding for property tax relief, the foster care system and cybersecurity.
“These Special Session priority items put the people of Texas first and will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity,” he added. “I look forward to working with my partners in the Legislature to pass this legislation as we build a brighter future for all who call Texas home.”
Legislation targeting social media censorship and transgender student-athletes failed to pass in the final days of the regular session.
“Let’s get to work!” the Texas Senate GOP twitter account posted after the list was revealed.
Four of Abbott’s special session agenda items related to education.
Abbott wants lawmakers to take another crack at legislation Abbott vetoed from the regular session, like Senate Bill 1109, which would require schools to provide dating violence and child abuse education to middle and high school students, with the caveat that parents have an ability to opt their kids out of the instruction.
A ban on critical race theory passed, but Abbott said he wanted lawmakers to take another crack at strengthening the law. He added the legislation requiring transgender student-athletes participate in the sports based on their biological sex to his call as well. He also asked lawmakers to advance proposals to add a 13th check to the monthly payouts for retired teachers.
Amarillo ISD elementary school teacher Aaron Phillips supported the 13th check concept, but said the other education-related plans miss the mark.
“We’re seeing more effort to to meddle politically in our classrooms and to have a say, politically, what happens rather than letting us be honest in our teaching,” Phillips, who teaches at Coronado Elementary, said.
Absent from Abbott’s agenda items are additional updates to the state’s electric grid.
Abbott directed the state’s Public Utility Commission on Tuesday to make improvements to the power grid, about a month after stating “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas” during the regular session.
There was also no mention of the COVID-19 pandemic or vaccines, nor was there an item on his call relating to expansion of health care access for Texans. A long-held conservative priority that Abbott campaigned on but failed to pass during regular session — banning taxpayer-funded lobbying — did not make his list.
In response to Abbott’s special session agenda, Texas House Democratic Caucus chair State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, issued a statement chastising the governor’s list.
“The governor’s agenda for the special session shows he is more concerned with pandering to die-hard Trump supporters and right-wing extremists than he is with serving everyday Texans,” Turner stated. “Abbott’s agenda proves one thing: he is clearly panicked about his upcoming primary election.”
“We have real crises in this state — hundreds of Texans died because the governor couldn’t keep the heat on last February, millions of Texans are still unable to access basic medical care and our COVID-19 vaccination rates have plateaued,” Turner continued. “That’s what a real leader would focus on.”
“Instead, Abbott wants to pick on children, tell teachers they can’t talk about slavery, prevent women from accessing reproductive health care and infringe on Texans’ freedom to vote,” Turner added. “Once again, it will be up to Democrats to fight for real solutions for all Texans, while Republicans play political games.”
Following Abbott’s announcement, the first bills filed did not directly relate to Abbott’s agenda.
Abbott can add items to his call. A special session lasts 30 days. The governor can call multiple special sessions. Abbott previously announced he planned to call an additional special session in the fall to address redistricting and allocating federal stimulus funding.
“I think we have our plate full,” Phelan said.