AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The second special legislative session called this summer by Texas Governor Greg Abbott came to an end Thursday evening with the Texas House and Senate formally adjourning.
Republican lawmakers were able to pass several priorities set forth by Abbott. Two of the most controversial were bills tightening election laws and restricting the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms. However, for some conservatives in the state, there is still work to be done.
Beginning with the first special session in July, Governor Abbott set an agenda full of conservative priority issues that were not addressed during the regular legislative session in the spring. Agenda items included limiting transgender youth from participating in sports teams that align with their gender identity, restricting how current events and race are discussed in the classroom and standardizing elections in Texas.
The first summer session ultimately came to an end without a single bill being passed by the Legislature due to House Democrats breaking quorum by leaving the state for the nation's capital. Their goals in fleeing to Washington were to block Republicans from passing their priority voting restrictions bill and pressure Congress and the Biden administration to pass federal legislation that would neutralize any state law. In retaliation, House Republicans evoked procedural moves to have absent lawmakers arrested and returned to the state Capitol in Austin.
Days before the end of the first special session, Abbott ordered a second, 30-day session. In his second call, Abbott included all of the agenda items from the first session but also added other items, such as lowering the quorum requirements in the Texas Constitution from two-thirds to a simple majority.
With Congress going on recess and legal challenges Democrats filed to prevent from being arrested tossed out by the state Supreme Court, the rogue lawmakers returned to Texas on Aug. 19, 13 days into the second session. With less than two weeks left, Republicans moved quickly to deliver on the governor's requests.
On the same day the Texas House regained a quorum, Senate Bill 1, the controversial so-called election integrity bill, was advanced. The bill had already passed the Senate, but not before lengthy debate and a 15-hour filibuster from Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.
SB 1 targets innovations Harris County, home to Houston, made during the 2020 election to increase turnout while preventing further spread of Covid-19. The county allowed people to vote through a new drive-thru option or at 24-hour polling locations.
The author of SB 1, Senator Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, raised concerns that a person would not have the right to a secret ballot using drive-thru voting and that poll watchers would not be available to be at polling locations overnight.
Hughes' legislation bans any municipality from using such methods and also expands poll watchers' rights at polling sites, giving them the specific authority to “see and hear” all facets of the election being conducted, except for watching a person vote. The bill also creates criminal penalties for election official who send vote-by-mail applications to people who did not request one and sets new ID requirements for absentee voting.
Democrats were overwhelmingly against the bill due to what they saw as provisions that would have a disparate impact on people of color and those with disabilities. Both drive-thru and 24-hour voting were popular options among both groups and Democrats believe it will now be harder for those people to cast their ballot. They also worry about voter intimidation from poll watchers.
A conference committee produced a final version of the bill because the House and Senate passed separate versions, and the legislation was then adopted by both chambers and sent to Abbott to be signed into law.