SENATE BEGINS SPECIAL SESSION ON ELECTIONS
(AUSTIN) — Lawmakers will have a full agenda as they reassemble in Austin for the first called session of the 87th Legislature. Governor Greg Abbott's call would bring back a number of bills that died in the waning days of the regular session in May, but the top item is elections integrity. Both chambers passed versions of election legislation, but the primary vehicle in the form of SB 7 was killed by opponents in the House of Representatives in the final hours of the regular session. Opponents objected to what they called attempts to make it harder to vote, while supporters contended that election integrity must be improved to give voters faith in the process. Two controversial provisions from the regular session bill, one that would've moved the start of early voting on Sundays to 1 p.m. and one that appeared to make it easier for judges to overturn elections will not be considered, according to a Wednesday tweet from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. "Neither will be in Special Election bill," he wrote. Senate Bill 1, the Senate's version of the election bill, will be heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 10th.
As filed, SB 1, by Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes, would create uniform rules regarding early voting hours in all counties with a population above 30,000. As proposed, polling places could be open on weekdays for any nine-hour period between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. It would prohibit drive-through voting and would require large counties to conduct video surveillance of the counting of ballots. It expands the types of activities that duly-appointed poll watchers are entitled to observe and introduces criminal penalties for election officials that intentionally interfere with them. When applying to vote by mail, applicants would have to include either their driver's license or state ID number, the last four digits of their social security number, or an affirmation that they have not been issued such a number. The bill would also create a process to allow voters to cure ballots where a signature match is in question.
Also on deck for Saturday's hearing is SB 31, by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, which would use DPS records to exclude non-citizens from voting rolls. DPS databases record individuals who have claimed non-citizenship status related to motor vehicle records or drivers' licenses. Under the bill, the Secretary of State would be required each month to compare the rolls of registered voters with those records. Anyone found to be on both lists would be contacted to provide proof of citizenship.
Elections may be first on the list, but there will be plenty more to work on as Abbott placed some of his top priorities into the call for the first special session. The governor is asking for legislation that would reform bail practices in Texas "to protect the public from accused criminals who may be released from jail." That bill, SB 6, will be carried by Houston Senator Joan Huffman and is set to be heard in her Jurisprudence Committee on Saturday.
Abortion regulation is also on the agenda, after a session that saw the Legislature pass and governor sign into law a bill that would effectively ban the procedure after six weeks gestation. Abbott wants to see bills that would restrict mail-order delivery of abortifacient drugs. Social media regulation also returns as an issue, with the governor looking for legislation that would provide penalties against social media companies that ban users for their expressed opinions. Other legislation open to consideration includes bills to require boys and girls to compete in sports divisions that match the biological sex on their birth certificate, property-tax relief bills, bills to increase public safety funding, bills relating to critical race theory, and legislation that would provide a bonus check to retired Texas public school teachers. The governor has the discretion to expand the call to include any other topics at any time over the 30-day special session, as well as the discretion to call as many sessions as he wishes.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, July 9 at 9:30 a.m.