SECOND SPECIAL SESSION OPENS
(AUSTIN) — Saturday, just one day after the First ended, the Second Called Session of the 87th Legislature began. Opponents to a controversial elections bill were able to halt consideration of all issues before the Legislature in July by breaking quorum and leaving the state, heading to Washington, D.C. to plead with federal lawmakers to pass national voting reforms. Governor Greg Abbott, who can call as many sessions as often as he likes, followed through on his vow to call session after session until that bill, and others, reach his desk to be signed into law. Saturday began with the full membership of the Senate, save two excused absences, but as of 5 pm Monday, still no quorum in the House. Nevertheless, the Senate pressed forward on the special session agenda over the weekend and into Monday, holding hearings and passing bills that were mostly identical to those passed by the body in the first called session.
All of the items from the first session are back on the agenda, and the Governor added a few more for the second round. One would end the use of quorum breaks by lowering the threshold for a legislative quorum from a supermajority of two-thirds to a simple majority, in line with the practices of Congress and 46 other states. Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell is carrying the proposal to amend the state constitution in the Senate, and he says that the nation's founders were well aware of the problems a supermajority quorum rule could cause. "The Founding Fathers understood the virtue of a simple majority when they enshrined it in our Constitution," he said. His bill, SJR 1, would ask voters next May to approve such a change but it faces a significant obstacle: proposed constitutional amendments must pass each chamber by a two-thirds supermajority. In essence, those who used the parliamentary tactic this year would have to agree to make it impossible to use in the future. The measure passed out of committee on Monday unanimously and will now be considered by the full Senate.
Other new issues for the second special session relate to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Abbott has requested legislation that develops and implements mitigation strategies for public schools, but without mandating masks or vaccines. It would also require that in-person instruction is available for any student whose parent wants it but leaves the door open for the development of virtual education programs. Abbott also authorized legislation that spends more than $10 billion in federal COVID relief funds, calling for bills that address staffing needs, vaccination infrastructure, creation of alternative care sites, nursing home operations, and equipment needs.
Over the weekend, Senate committees advanced bills addressing more than half of the agenda set forth by the governor, and Monday the Senate considered and passed a number of them. Senators unanimously supported SB 7, which authorizes a bonus annuity check to retired educators. The Senate also passed, for the fifth time said author and Houston Senator Joan Huffman, legislation that would seek to reform the state's bail system. The Senate also approved legislation, by Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt, that would allow new home buyers to apply their homestead property tax exemption in the year they purchase their home and to lower tax rates for senior homeowners or those with disabilities.
Whether or not the work of the Senate this session will have to be repeated once again isn't clear after the House failed to reach a quorum by Monday evening. Abbott has said he will keep calling legislators back until these bills reach his desk and at least one more special session is sure to be called to draw new political maps after census data delays prevented this during the regular session.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, August 10th at 3:00 p.m.