SHOWDOWN: Dan Patrick issues property tax, bathroom bill ultimatum to House

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued an ultimatum to the Texas House on Wednesday, saying he must see passage of two of his priorities — property tax relief and limits on transgender-friendly bathroom policies — before the Senate will act on key legislation to keep some state agencies operating.

What’s more, Patrick said, if the House fails to pass either priority, he will press Gov. Greg Abbott to call as many special sessions as necessary to gain approval.

“Whether we have a special session is now in the hands of the speaker,” said Patrick, who presides over the Senate.

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Afterward, House Speaker Joe Straus released a statement saying he was encouraged by some of what Patrick had to say, particularly his indication that the Senate would move on House priorities “such as mental health reforms, fixing the broken A-F rating system and cybersecurity.”

But, Straus added, compromise works both ways.

“Governor Patrick’s threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope that he reconsiders. The best way to end this session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want,” he said.

RELATED: Straus calls bathroom bill ‘contrived’ answer to ‘manufactured’ problem

Rep. Chris Turner, head of the House Democratic Caucus, said the House “should not be blackmailed into passing policies that we know are harmful to our constituents and the state economy.”

“It’s just extraordinary,” said Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “Less than two weeks to go in the session and the lieutenant governor would essentially throw a Donald Trump-style temper tantrum and threaten to blow up the session just to try to force passage of his unnecessary and harmful bathroom bill.”

Patrick said he had been handling negotiations over the priority legislation — as well as other important bills that include school financevoter ID and a budget that does not use the rainy day fund — in private but decided to change tactics after Straus released a letter Monday on end-of-session issues.

“My plan was going to continue this negotiation outside of the media, but that has now changed because of the private letter the speaker sent to me that he released to all of you yesterday,” Patrick said at a morning news conference.

In Monday’s letter, Straus asked Patrick for action on Senate Bill 310, a version of a House sunset bill that was killed by a calendar deadline.

RELATED: Lawmakers fear agency closures at risk without special session

“The sunset scheduling bill … is now in hands of the Senate to pass. It’s very late, but we can still get it out. We have less than 48 hours, probably, to pass it to avoid the need for a special session,” Patrick said. “Before we move Senate Bill 310, I must see action by the House to pass several key bills.”

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the governor is grateful that the House plans to vote Thursday on Senate Bill 2, which would limit property tax increases by cities and counties.

“The governor made clear yesterday that property tax reform and maintaining privacy in restrooms and locker rooms are legislative priorities that must be passed, and he believes both items can be achieved before the end of the regular session,” Wittman said.

SB 2 would require cities and counties that want to raise property taxes by 5 percent or more to hold elections ratifying the tax hikes. Currently, residents can petition to hold elections on local property tax hikes of 8 percent or more.

Patrick also noted that House Bill 2899, which would block cities and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies, has 80 Republican co-authors — at least four more than it takes to pass the bill.”

Patrick said the House could add HB 2899 as an amendment to another bill or act on Senate Bill 6, which passed the Senate in mid-March and would require schools, universities and government buildings to limit the use of multi-stall bathrooms to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

The transgender bathroom bills have produced some of the most contentious fights this legislative session, drawing opposition from international corporations, small businesses, global investors, entertainers, pro sports leagues, tourism organizations, civil rights groups and gay rights activists.

“Senate Bill 6 has absolutely nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with targeting transgender people for discrimination,” said Chuck Smith, head of Equality Texas.

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