Herman: Legislators warm up for Tuesday start of Texas special session

It’s official. Gov. Greg Abbott officially has proclaimed for one and all, near and far, that the Texas Legislature will convene for a session deemed special on July 18, clearing the way for journalists around the state to write, “It’s official.”

It is, and that means lawmakers officially now can file bills for consideration during said special session. And isn’t it always kind of special when the Texas Legislature legislates?

In Sunday’s paper, I’ll share some background and oddities about special sessions of the past. Among the things you’ll learn is that Lubbock is not named for 19th-century Gov. Francis Lubbock.

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Now that lawmakers can file bills for the upcoming up-to-30-day special session, they are. Lawmakers just are that way, and re-electing them only encourages this behavior.

Under the rules — yes, there are rules for this stuff — legislators meeting in special session only can consider the topics delineated by the governor. Abbott has let it be known he will eventually open the session to 20 topics, including some controversial ones like the so-called bathroom bill, school vouchers, property tax reform and some other stuff on which Republicans (who fully control the show) generally agree but were too incompetent to pass during the 140-day regular session that ended Memorial Day.

The Legislature also will be meeting as the Austin City SuperCouncil because Abbott doesn’t like Austin, which is kind of odd for a guy who lives rent-free in a downtown, one-home, gated community.

He wants legislators to overrule Austin City Council decisions on things like tree removal and phoning while driving. If he gets his way, which he probably will, he will sign those bills as SuperMayor Abbott.

There are rules for special sessions, but lawmakers don’t always play by the rules. There’s nothing barring filing a bill on whatever topic is on a lawmaker’s (or wealthy donor’s) mind. A bill like that can move through the process until somebody stands up and raises a point of order, noting it’s not germane to the governor’s call. And if it’s a close call, the House or Senate parliamentarian might be called on to make a ruling.

The governor, of course, has final say over whether a bill becomes law. And sometimes a legislator can get a pet topic added to the call during horse-trading on votes.

The bill filing began Monday. Most were ginned up with Abbott’s previously announced topics in mind. Others are off topic. By early afternoon Tuesday, 94 measures had been filed.

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Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood and a neurosurgeon, filed House Bill 43, “relating to general procedures and requirements for do-not-resuscitate orders.” Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, filed HB 56, “relating to regulation by a property owners’ association of certain religious displays.” Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, filed HB 68, “relating to the adoption of the agreement among the states to elect the president by national popular vote.” (Memo to members of People for A Rational President: HB 68 would not be retroactive.)

Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, filed HB 85 in an effort to legalize medical marijuana. Lucio tweeted: “I humbly urge Gov. Abbott to add this matter to his special session call so that the Legislature may immediately consider once we convene.”

I’m not sure humble ever has gotten anybody anywhere in the Texas Capitol.

And because there always are Texans worthy of congratulating or memorializing, several of those kinds of measures have been filed, including honoring Shon Blake on his retirement as Baytown fire chief and remembering the late Joe Frederick Bean of Ozona, who died last month at age 86, for his community service and world travels that took him to “each of the 48 lower states.”

There’s also one noting the June death of “venerated entrepreneur and philanthropist” Bobbie Ray “Rip” Griffin of Lubbock. Anyone who’s driven up that way may be familiar with Rip Griffin truck stops. RIP, Rip.

Overall, the Legislature faces an ambitious special session assignment, which means there’s some chance it won’t get everything done that Governor/SuperMayor Abbott wants done.

He’d then be free to call another 30-day special session or sessions. It’d be interesting to see if he would do so. Another option would be for Abbott to declare the Legislature incompetent and make the undone issues centerpieces in his re-election campaign, which he is expected to announce Friday at a San Antonio event that will inspire some journalists to write, “It’s official.”

And because every worthwhile effort needs a slogan and a pin, Abbott Tuesday announced there’s a special session pin. It says “20 for 20.”

“20 laws to make Texas better. Urge lawmakers to pass them all,” Abbott tweeted.

A competing pin making the rounds says, “Sunset and sine die,” a call for passing the Sunset bill needed to keep several agencies in operation and adjourning without addressing the other issues Abbott wants addressed.

Last thing, as a fan of arcane, high-falutin’ govspeak, I enjoyed the opening words of Abbott’s special session proclamation: “To all to whom these presents shall come.”

Don’t we all expect that presents shall come our way when the Legislature is in town?

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