AUSTIN—Texas lawmakers passed only a portion of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority pieces of legislation during the special session that gaveled to an abrupt end Aug. 15, one day earlier than scheduled. As with the regular session, ideological difference between and within political parties thwarted efforts to pass bills supported by the SBTC and faith-based advocacy organizations.
As of Aug. 17, Abbott had not indicated whether he would call a second special session to address the unfinished business.
Lawmakers had 30 days to pass 20 bills Abbott declared as priorities. Ten passed muster. Legislation passed included education budget, some pro-life measures and funding extensions for the Texas Medical Board and research into Texas’s maternal morbidity rate. But bills addressing privacy, property tax reform, school vouchers and additional pro-life measures died in committee or in irreconcilable debate. Some ministry leaders and conservative lawmakers lay the blame for legislative failures at the feet of Speaker of the House Joe Straus.
Straus, who called Abbott’s special session legislative priorities a “pile of manure,” appoints committee chairpersons, who control what bills will be debated and voted on by the House. The Senate passed 18 of Abbott’s 20 priority bills within the first week of the special session and sent them to the House only to have some of them, like the Privacy Act, die in House committees without even a hearing.
That kind of power, critics contend, proved fatal for bills that would have prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion facilities and provided school vouchers for disabled children.
In the special session lawmakers refiled pro-life bills that could not get a hearing during the regular session. As of Aug. 17 Abbott had signed into law:
HB 13: Expands reporting requirements of complications due to abortions.
HB 214: Avoids taxpayer-funded abortions by removing elective abortion from Texas health insurance plans.
HB 215: Improves reporting requirements regarding minors and permission to receive abortion.
SB 11: Requires patient or patient advocate approval before hospitals or doctors can place a Do Not Resuscitate order on a patient.
But HB 14, which would have prohibited municipalities from contracting with abortion facilities, was held up in the Calendars Committee and never sent to the House for debate and vote.
Last minute tit-for-tat disagreements between the two chambers over property tax reform and school financing saw the latter sent to the governor for his signature but only after the House grudgingly accepted major cuts made by the Senate. Property tax reform died for lack of agreement between the two chambers—both sides agreed the two tax issues are in need of major overhaul.
Probably the most contentious bill, the Texas Privacy Act, failed to get a hearing in the House State of Affairs committee chaired by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, after the Senate passed the bill. The Privacy Act would have established a statewide policy that requires persons use the public restroom and changing room that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate or driver’s license.
The law would have applied only to government facilities, including school districts. Some cities would have been forced to rescind or rewrite existing nondiscrimination laws that allow transgender persons to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds with their preferred gender identity. Private businesses would be allowed to establish their own policies for those facilities.
“It is disgraceful that even though the majority of Texans want a privacy act that the Texas House leadership gave into the scare tactics and intimidation of corporate lobbyists trying to dictate our public policy,” said Cindy Asmussen, advisor to the SBTC Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee.
San Antonio pastors who, in 2013, fought the kind of nondiscrimination ordinance the Privacy Act sought to overturn added their voices to over 1,000 pastors who in letters and personal visits tried to convince lawmakers to put the bill, HB 46, to a vote after it became clear the Senate version would not get out of Cook’s committee.
But transgender activists testified against the bill calling it “discriminatory” and warning that the suicide-prone transgender teens could be pushed to the brink if the bill passed.
While sympathetic to the emotional struggles of gender dysphoric persons, some pastors called the LGBT tactics “emotional manipulation.”
“Teens go through so many emotional struggles, and adding the sexual issues to their lives only complicates the emotional state that some of them face,” Steve Branson, pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio, told the TEXAN. “Allowing them to pick the bathroom or dressing room they want to use will in no way ease the emotional pain that they are encountering, and I honestly believe the emotional pain will increase with the reactions of other teens placed in that situation.”
Renewed efforts to unseat Straus, who represents the 121 District in San Antonio, in the 2018 election could be in the works. In an Aug. 16 meeting called by Straus’s most vocal opponents, the House Freedom Caucus, about 80 of the 95 House Republicans, including Straus, discussed changing the procedure for electing the Speaker of the House in order to allow for a selection from a broader field of candidates. Following the meeting the Freedom Caucus posted on its Facebook page:
“Honest perspectives were shared, and it was the best Republican family meeting many of us can remember. The take away is that the discussion will continue at the next Caucus meeting, which will be held in late September.”