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Second special session in Texas ends with big wins for Republicans

Republican state lawmakers successfully passed controversial legislation that was made a priority by the governor, including voting restrictions and limits on how race can be taught in school.

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.


The day the bill received its final stamp of approval, Abbott congratulated Republican leaders in the Texas Legislature for their work and lauded the elections bill.

“Senate Bill 1 will solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. I look forward to signing Senate Bill 1 into law, ensuring election integrity in Texas,” the governor said in a statement.

On Friday, two federal lawsuits challenging SB 1 were filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project, the ACLU of Texas and other civil and voting rights groups. They allege that the bill violates the Voting Rights Acts, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the First, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“These provisions are unlawful and part of a long history of Texas implementing discriminatory anti-voter measures. The legislation should be struck down,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, in a statement.

Republicans also successfully passed Senate Bill 3, which restricts how Texas teachers discuss current events and race in the classroom. The legislation was the product of the cultural debate over critical race theory and its place in schools. Sometimes referred to as CRT, the theory is an academic framework that examines America's founding as a nation that allowed for slavery and its links to racism in the present day in culture and institutions. 

Across the county, GOP lawmakers in multiple states have aimed to ban the teaching of CRT, believing that it is racist against white people and teaches children that people are racist based on their race.

Senator Hughes, who also authored SB 3, said the bill is designed to make sure that American and Texas history is taught truthfully and not in a biased fashion that divides "one another based on race.”

SB 3 specifically requires that teachers not be forced to discuss current events or controversial issues in the classroom and if they do, they must present the subject in a way that does not favor one side of the issue. Teachers will also be restricted from giving a grade or reward for a student's participation in political activism or lobbying. Schools are further barred from adhering to a curriculum that acknowledges one person's race or sex is superior to another and that slavery and historical moments that supported racism were a part of a systemic history and not just deviations from American values. 

State Senator Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said during debate that the bill seeks to address “phantom fears” of teachers indoctrinating students. Many Democrats in both the House and Senate expressed similar views that the bill is “an issue in search of a problem,” and is simply not needed. Others believe that the bill will have a chilling effect on teachers' ability to discuss difficult subjects in the classroom. Democratic State Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo said that the bill will lead to “a feeling of uncertainty among teachers” when tough subjects arise.

Of all the issues the governor set as agenda items for the second special session, limits on transgender youth in school sports once again failed to pass. Going back to the regular session, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, also a Republican, made it a priority of his own to see a ban on transgender girls participating in school sports in the state. 

Senate Bill 2 sought to ban children who were born male from participating on girls' sports teams. Republicans in support of the bill believe that transgender girls will have an unfair advantage over their cisgender counterparts. The bill would have applied to student-athletes that participate in the University Interscholastic League, the governing body of Texas school competition, and the NCAA.

The bill was passed by the Texas Senate in both the first and second special session, but died upon adjournment late Thursday in the Texas House after it was left pending in committee. The lieutenant governor still has the bill in his sights and has asked Abbott put it on another special session he is expected to call this fall for redistricting. 

“The Senate has passed that bill four times, and it has failed in the House. I have asked Gov. Abbott to place it on the special session call later this month, and we will pass it again,” Patrick said in a statement.

Despite having wide support among Republican lawmakers, changing quorum requirements also failed to pass, leaving the possibility for it to be reintroduced in a future special session.

Abbott is expected to call his third special session of the year sometime in September. Since the regular session, he has hinted that this will be the time for lawmakers to use newly released census data to redraw legislative district maps. He has not mentioned putting any other issues on the agenda. 

Follow Kirk McDaniel on Twitter

Categories:Government, Politics, Regional

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