Two Views: Special session offers opportunity for conservative reforms

There’s a scene in the 1984 film, “Romancing the Stone,” when Kathleen Turner’s character, whose sister has been kidnapped and held for ransom until she delivers a treasure map, says to her hero, “That map is my sister’s life.”

Jack T. Colton, played by Michael Douglas, replies, “Like hell it is. Whatever’s at the end of that map (“El Corazon”) is your sister’s life.”

The map is the regular session. The special session is El Corazon.

The 85th session of the Texas Legislature ended with tempers flaring, both houses blaming each other and the governor stuck in the middle.

HOW WE GOT HERE: Out from Capitol shadows, Gov. Abbott looms large with special session.

Faced with the necessity of calling a dreaded special session due to a technical “sunset” bill being held hostage, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott played a weak hand strongly. Some may question his motive to load up a 30-day session with 20 items. But for conservatives across Texas, his special session call was a masterstroke.

What transpires over the special session, which begins July 18, could have sweeping effects on education, local government, the Texas economy, property taxes and labor unions. Ten of these priorities fully passed the Senate during the regular session. Nearly every item was considered in either the House or the Senate — and after vetoing 50 bills, Abbott gave legislators a roadmap to what he wants to see by continually singling out individual bills as a guide.

The broader call of the special session cannot begin until the “sunset bill” — which extends authorization for the Texas Medical Board and several other boards and agencies — passes the Senate. This should only consume a couple of days.

How much time the House devotes to the sunset bill will be telling. If they move quickly, that will signal a willingness to work with the Senate to pass bills according to the governor’s call. If they move slowly, that will signal a desire to run out the clock. The two highest profile issues in the call are property tax reform and the Texas Privacy Act, pejoratively known as the “bathroom bill.”

In both cases, the Senate was bolder and the House was more modest. I see a path forward on both issues.

On property tax, further negotiation about rollback rate and automatic elections is underway. Both sides know this issue runs hot among urban and suburban Texans. This issue must pass for the special session to be considered a success.

On the Texas Privacy Act, the House should start by bringing up a compromise to the bill, House Bill 2899, legislation authored by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton). It has 80 co-sponsors in the House — a majority of that body. Then, the Senate can either pass it or amend it and begin a conference. About a week ago, Speaker of the House Joe Straus made it clear he does not want to pass privacy legislation in the special session. But a majority of the House apparently does.

Two other issues to watch:

• Annexation reform: Cities and counties are fighting annexation reform, though a majority of the Legislature appear united to move this in the special session. Supporters simply want to be able to vote when a city decides to annex their neighborhood. Concerns about military bases exist, but those issues can be resolved.

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• Union dues: Incredibly, Texas collects labor union dues through the comptroller’s office. A bill to end this practice passed the Senate early enough for the House to consider it, though the House did not allow the bill to move out of committee. Labor unions use the state to collect tens of millions of dollars in dues — which doesn’t even account for what cities and counties collect — then use that money to harass private-sector companies and funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to benefit Democrats in partisan elections, with almost no transparency whatsoever.

Conservatives would be thrilled if the special session resulted in all 20 items passing. This is probably not realistic. But the opportunity is there to be seized for the Texas Legislature to show that our state is leading the fight for conservative reforms.

Republican statewide officials. Republican Senate. Republican House.

What’s the problem?

Mackowiak is chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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