STARTS TUESDAY: What makes a special session so special?


Highlights

The governor sets the agenda for special sessions.

Lawmakers can’t pull a fast one; bills unrelated to the governor’s items can’t be considered.

The Legislature meets Tuesday for the start of a special session. Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to tackle 20 topics, some of which proved contentious during the regular session.

The first order of business: a bill that would keep five state agencies in operation. After that, Abbott will open up the session to the other 19 items on his agenda, including legislation that would regulate which public bathrooms transgender people can use, allow special needs students to use state money for private school tuitionlimit property tax increases and void local ordinances restricting tree removal and driving while talking on a cellphone.

RELATED: The special legislative session starts Tuesday. Here’s what to expect.

What is a special session?

A special session is the convening of the Legislature outside of a regular session, which runs for 140 days every odd-numbered year.

Why do we have special sessions?

Special sessions are like the overtime period in a game. When issues important to the governor aren’t resolved by the end of the regular session, he or she can summon lawmakers back to Austin. Special sessions are mandatory only when lawmakers fail to send a budget to the governor. All other issues can be assigned to a special session at the governor’s discretion.

How is it different from a regular session?

Timing and the agenda are the biggest differences between a regular and special session. During the regular session, lawmakers have months to finish the state’s business and generally have free rein over the topics. But a governor alone calls special sessions and sets the agenda.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott calls for sweeping special session on conservative goals

How long do special sessions last?

The Texas Constitution states that a special session can be no longer than 30 days. The constitution, though, doesn’t specify a minimum amount of time for a special session, according to the Texas Legislative Reference Library.

How much does a special session cost?

Based on the per diem rate of $150 for lawmakers to cover expenses, a special session could cost more than $800,000. Another estimate, which considers security, staff support and other factors, puts the price tag at more than $1 million.

What happened to all the bills that were so close to passing during the regular session?

Lawmakers have to start the legislative process over during a special session. If a bill progressed through the legislative process during the regular session, that gives the author a head start, but it still has to be filed, go through a committee and survive floor votes in both chambers before reaching the governor.

Are bill numbers the same?

Don’t count on it. Remember: new session, new bills. Pay attention to bill numbers when tracking legislation. For example, during the regular session, House Bill 51 dealt with oyster fisheries. For the special session, House Bill 51 is about pregnancy-related deaths.

When can bills be filed?

As soon as the governor officially calls for a special session with a proclamation, which he did last week.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott’s proclamation unleashes bill filings for special session

Can bills unrelated to Abbott’s items be considered?

No, but that won’t stop lawmakers from filing a bill. Consider it a wish list for the governor, who at any moment can add items to his special session call or summon lawmakers back to Austin for an entirely new special session.

Can the speaker of the House be removed during a special session?

This is a topic of recent interest, with some conservatives calling for Speaker Joe Straus’ replacement for being at odds with fellow Republicans over transgender bathrooms, property tax and school choice legislation. The last time a member of the House sought to remove a speaker with a motion to “vacate the chair,” in 2007, then-Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, refused to recognize the motion. Straus ultimately succeeded Craddick as speaker, and the rules were changed to require recognition of a motion to vacate the chair.

What if all of Abbott’s items aren’t resolved by the end of the special session?

Abbott could cut his losses and move on, or he could call another special session. In announcing the special session, Abbott put lawmakers on notice, saying, “If they fail, it’s not for lack of time, it would be because of a lack of will.”



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