Rocky Texas Legislative Session Ends After Dramatic Final Hours

While Democrats see the 2021 legislative session as a failure, Republicans highlighted the passage of conservative legislation, from banning abortion at six weeks to allowing permitless gun carrying.

Texas Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, speaks against Senate Bill 7 at a news conference at the Capitol in Austin on Sunday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

(CN) — The final hours of Texas’ biennial legislative session that wrapped up Monday brought a dramatic end to the Legislature’s 140-day stretch with Democrats staging a late-night walkout in the House over Memorial Day weekend to block a controversial bill prioritized by Republicans that would have made sweeping changes to the state’s election system.

The move successfully killed the GOP-backed effort, for now, but brought the prospect of a special session on controversial bills prioritized by Republican leaders closer into view.

“We’ve accomplished a lot for the state of Texas and I’m proud of all of you and thank you for your hard work,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, said to members of the Senate before they adjourned on Monday. “I normally say I’ll see you in 18 months, but I might see you in 18 days or so.”

While Democrats and progressive organizations slammed Texas’ legislative session as a failure that neglected to tackle issues surrounding the state’s power grid stemming from February’s winter storm, health care expansion and economic needs, Republicans point to successes in passing conservative legislation, from banning abortion at six weeks to passing bills allowing permitless carrying for gun-toting Texans and limiting teachings of race and racism in schools.

Voting Rights

Texas Republicans went into overdrive on their efforts to push through new voting restrictions, filing more than 80 bills this session that they insisted were necessary to ensure the integrity of elections in the state.

With lawmakers unable to pass Senate Bill 7, thanks to House Democrats walking out and breaking quorum before the midnight deadline Sunday, Republicans swiftly called for a special session to include the GOP priority bill.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who alone holds the authority to call a special session, said the bill and one reforming the state’s bail system are “must-pass emergency items” that will be added to the special session agenda.

The broad voting bill limits early voting hours, bans drive-thru voting and bars elections officials from sending vote-by-mail applications to people who don’t request them. It also expands the role of poll watchers and gives judges more leeway to overturn elections.

Abortion

Texas joined more than a dozen other Republican-led states this year in passing restrictive abortion measures, part of a nationwide push that conservatives hope will force the US. Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The so-called heartbeat bill, Senate Bill 8, was deemed a legislative priority by Abbott, a devout Catholic who signed the bill into law May 19.

Set to take effect in September, the law bars abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks, but unlike other states, allows private citizens to sue abortion providers for violating the law.

The validity of the law is all but certain to be played out in court. The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a case over a Mississippi abortion law in the fall.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, right, talks to fellow Republican lawmakers at the Capitol on Sunday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Permitless Carry

Texans will soon be able to tote handguns outside their homes without a license under a new law passed last month.

A victory for conservatives that shocked gun control activists, the bill allows any person over 21 years old, who is not prohibited from possessing firearms under state and federal law, to carry a firearm in public. It does away with a requirement that residents obtain a license in order to carry a handgun.

Abbott, who called the bill “the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history” in a tweet praising its passage, said he would sign it into law once it arrives on his desk. It is set to take effect Sept. 1.

Unfinished Business

While lawmakers were prepared for a special session on redistricting because of delays in receiving data from the U.S. Census Bureau, it is likely that more items will be placed on the agenda besides the already delicate once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political maps.

Because the Texas Legislature meets every other year, Republicans would not be able to address the voting bill until the next legislative session in 2023. But Abbott is expected to call a special session to tackle redistricting, bail reform and the failed voting legislation.

“I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation,” Abbott said. “During the special session, we will continue to advance policies that put the people of Texas first.”

But Patrick, the state’s lieutenant governor, also called on Abbott to include on the special session agenda three of his legislative priorities that died in the House. The priorities include bills that would create punitive actions against social media companies that “censor” conservatives, prohibit transgender kids from playing on the sports team that reflects their gender identity and a crackdown on taxpayer-funded lobbying.

Abbott is also expected to sign into law various bills heading to his desk. They include legislation penalizing large Texas cities that cut funding for police, a statewide ban on public camping of homeless individuals and a requirement that professional sports teams play the national anthem at team events.

%d bloggers like this: