A Week Until Special Session Ends, and No Bills Have Been Signed

by

SARAH FLOOD-BAUMANN
  • Sarah Flood-Baumann
The Texas Legislature's whirlwind special legislative session expires in one week — and not a single bill has landed on Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

Instead of reconciling over the governor's 20 proposed issue areas, it seems the inter-chamber stubbornness that led to Abbott calling a special session in the first place has only intensified since the July 18 kick-off. While Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick has whipped major bills through the Senate, 20 of which relate to 18 items on Abbott's call list, House Speaker Joe Straus has pitched a few unrelated bills through his chamber, but hasn't touched the contentious social issues on the list. Both leaders are Republicans, but they fall on opposite ends of the partisan scale — Patrick, a Tea Party candidate and religious right darling, and Straus, a soft-spoken member of the state's moderate conservatives.

Before the special session even began, far-right Republicans were calling for Straus' head. House Tea Party members have threatened to destroy Straus in future elections. Even Bexar County Republicans voted to replace Straus as speaker, a week before the special session began.

That upset has only increased since the session's start.

"The biggest problem in the Texas House right now is that we have an individual in leadership position that's making unilateral decisions," said Rep. Tony Tinderholt in a Facebook live discussion following Wednesday's House meeting. "This is obstructionism at its worst."

Tinderholt (known for authoring bills that would punish women for having sex and create an official "Hoverboard Safety Day") was joined by four other far-right Tea Party representatives, who now call themselves the "Texas Freedom Caucus": Kyle Biedermann, Briscoe Cain, Valoree Swanson, and Jonathan Stickland.

Far-right Representatives Jonathan Stickland, Briscoe Cain, Kyle Bierfermann and Tony Tinderholdt tear House Speaker Joe Straus a new one on Facebook live. - FACEBOOK, EMPOWER TEXANS
  • Facebook, Empower Texans
  • Far-right Representatives Jonathan Stickland, Briscoe Cain, Kyle Bierfermann and Tony Tinderholdt tear House Speaker Joe Straus a new one on Facebook live.

The lawmakers are especially irked by Straus-appointed committee chairs who've yet to schedule a house vote on bills that have already passed through their committees. In particular, the group wants to vote on House Bill 14, a measure to block state taxpayer dollars from Planned Parenthood. Rep. Stickland held the House floor mic hostage yesterday afternoon to ask Straus (at least five times) why HB 14, which was voted out of House State Affairs Committee more than a week ago, hadn't made it to the House floor yet. Straus said that decision is in the hands of the committee's chairman, Rep. Byron Cook, a Republican.

Realizing Stickland wouldn't be satisfied with any of his answers, Straus eventually cracked a smile and said: "Mr. "Stickland, I think we've had enough of this conversation." Straus then adjourned the House for the day.

Rep. Cook is standing between the House floor and many of the Freedom Caucus' favorite bills — including the so-called "bathroom bill" (the legislation that sparked the special session in the first place) and other abortion legislation. Some far-right lawmakers say they will support Gov. Abbott calling a second special session if it'll get them what they want.

"If we don’t get through what we need to get through, I would absolutely support another special session,” said state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, another Freedom Caucus member. Abbott has yet to signal his interest in calling a second session — but it's not a particularly unusual decision in Texas.

Icy colleagues Straus and Patrick (who's called himself the governor's "wing man") have only met once this session. The result? "We are still talking," said Patrick, in an email to the Texas Tribune.


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