AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday called a special session of the Legislature to address 19 items, including clamping down on abortions and on transgender people’s use of the bathroom of their choice.
The special session will begin on July 18.
The regular session of the Legislature, which meets for 140 days every two years, ended last week with members pushing and shoving one another on the House floor in a fight over immigration, and a Republican lawmaker allegedly threatening to shoot a Democrat.
Abbott said Tuesday that he expects legislators will return for the 30-day session with a “calm demeanor and a firm commitment to make Texas even better.”
“A special session was entirely avoidable,” Abbott said. “There was plenty of time for the House and Senate to forge compromises to avoid the time and the taxpayer expense of a special session.
“If I’m going to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a special session, I intend to make it count,” he added.
The first item must be a sunset bill to keep some state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, from closing, Abbott said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held the sunset bill hostage during the regular session, insisting that the House pass his priority legislation, including the bathroom bill and property tax reform.
After addressing the sunset bill, lawmakers must address Abbott’s requests to raise teacher pay by $1,000, reform school finance, cap local and state spending, reform property tax and reduce local regulations.
Abbott’s agenda includes “privacy,” which is how Texas’ increasingly powerful right-wing Republicans refer to transgender bathroom bills.
“Another way to avoid a patchwork quilt of conflicting local regulations is for Texas to establish a single statewide rule protecting the privacy of women and children,” Abbott said.
At his Tuesday news conference, Abbott did not specifically mention Senate Bill 6, the bathroom bill championed by Patrick that passed in the Senate but died in the House. He suggested the Legislature pick up House Bill 2899, which preempts local regulations that conflict with state standards.
HB 2899 would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing any ordinance that protects any class of people from discrimination or reduces or expands a class of people protected from discrimination under state law, preempting cities and schools districts’ trans-inclusive bathroom polices.
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” Abbott said.
Chuck Smith, CEO of the LGBTQ lobbying group Equality Texas, said Tuesday that it was “extremely disappointing” that Abbott let Patrick “push him around on a nonexistent problem that is morally bankrupt and will cause billions of dollars of damage to our economy.”
“Any such bathroom legislation that targets transgender Texans, an already vulnerable population, for unequal treatment and puts innocent children in harm’s way is unconscionable,” Smith said. “We will not give up in our efforts to prevent the passage and enactment of such a dangerous and immoral law.”
Several laws to restrict abortion are on Abbott’s special-session agenda, including a ban on private insurance coverage for abortion, adding more reporting requirements for abortion providers, and regulating how the government can contract with organizations such as Planned Parenthood by prohibiting distribution of tax money to abortion providers.
Earlier Tuesday, Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 8, an omnibus anti-abortion bill that requires fetal remains to be buried or cremated, and prohibits dilation and evacuation abortions, the safest and most common procedure used for abortions after 13 weeks of pregnancy.
SB 8 is expected to be challenged in court as unconstitutional.
Heather Busby, executive director of the reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said Tuesday that Abbott’s special session priorities jeopardize Texans’ health and safety.
“It is disgusting and shameful that Gov. Abbott is wasting taxpayer dollars to force through even more regulations on our reproductive freedoms, especially after signing such a harmful bill in SB 8,” Busby said.
“There is nothing ‘pro-life’ about denying health care to those who need it,” she said. “Our reproductive rights are not political bargaining chips to be traded away.”
Patrick, however, praised Abbott, saying the agenda “solidly reflects the priorities of the people of Texas.”
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, disagreed. He said Abbott’s agenda reflects the priorities of the governor’s right-wing base, not of those of all Texans, and that Abbott “needs to be reminded that he was not elected president of a local Tea Party chapter.”
“Governor Abbott’s announcement today simply shows what an ineffective governor and leader he has been,” Turner said in a statement. “After providing zero leadership and interest during the regular session, the governor is clearly panicking and trying to shovel as much red meat as he can to his right-wing Tea Party base.”
Abbott, a conservative Republican, has tried to remain above the fray in his own party, whose right-wingers see Patrick as their champion.