Compared to a 140-day regular session, which begins slowly and ramps up over time, a 30-day special session, which begins Tuesday, requires focus and deliberate speed.
The Senate wants to hit the gas. The House wants to hit the brake.
Gov. Greg Abbott has been hitting the gas for weeks, lining up House and Senate bill sponsors for all 20 of his special session agenda items, seeking co-sponsors, meeting with legislators and even bringing Democratic legislators on board for some of the items. He wants this special session to succeed.
This special session will be a clarifying moment for Texas.
Will we seize this opportunity to pass significant conservative reforms? Or will an intramural squabble between business-aligned House Republicans and grassroots-aligned conservative Senate Republicans produce little of consequence?
Once the must-pass sunset bill is dispensed with, I expect the Texas Senate to move on the remainder of the special session items in the first two weeks — at a pace of one to two items each day. Fully, 10 items already passed the Senate during the regular session.
If the Senate passes all 20 items on Abbott’s call by Aug. 1, then it is going to be a long, hot few weeks in the Texas House.
The question will become: What does the House do? Will they seriously approach annexation reform and property tax cuts early in the 30-day period, to allow conference committees to be formed and to bring back a consensus bill that can be sent to the governor?
Will the House pass the women’s privacy act language, offered by state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), which passed during the regular session — and which the Senate would not accept? Or will the House allow a vote on language filed by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), a version of which had 80 co-sponsors — a majority of the House — by the end of the regular session to forge a real compromise in the special session?
Will the House finally end the ridiculous practice of the state collecting the membership dues of government employees on behalf of unions and labor organizations? Surely, a union can collect its own dues, just as all other membership organizations do. If they want to use tens of millions of dollars in membership dues to harass businesses and fund Democratic campaigns, then surely they can collect that money themselves.
Will the House allow the parents of special-needs students to have school choice in Texas? The arguments against this compassionate idea are nonsense. Defending the public education monopoly has become an article of faith among some House Republicans. Aren’t Republicans the party of free-market principles and competition?
There are other important reforms on the special session call, including anti-abortion legislation, pro-business policies at the city level, capping state and local spending to keep Texas fiscally responsible and cracking down on mail-ballot fraud.
There are several potential scenarios in the Texas House that are unfortunate and would be a missed opportunity:
• The Democrats could leave the state for the entire 30 days and flee to Oklahoma or New Mexico — as they have twice before — and deny the House a quorum.
• The House could pass the sunset bill and adjourn — which would require a roll call vote — and would presumably bring an immediate new special session call from the governor.
• The House can pass take-it-or-leave-it versions of a few bills and ignore the rest, with many House members choosing not to take the special session seriously.
I truly hope the Texas House finds a way to make this special session productive, with the result being several new conservative reforms becoming law.
Texas Republican primary voters are watching this special session carefully.
Members will show whether they are part of the problem – or part of the solution.