Around the Texas Capitol: They’re back! Or not. Plus election filing updates and more

Around the Texas Capitol: They’re back! Or not. Plus election filing updates and more

Around the Texas Capitol: They’re back! Or not. Plus election filing updates and more

By Lauren Fairbanks, Shayne Woodard and J Pete Laney
TAD Governmental Affairs

The 87th Texas Legislature adjourned Sine Die, “without day,” on May 31. But that adjournment was short lived. Thursday, July 8, marked the first day of the First Called Special Session of the 87th Legislature. Gov. Greg Abbott called legislators back to address several measures that failed to pass during the 140-day regular session.

A special session is narrower in scope – only policy matters included on the governor’s agenda can be considered. Also, the session lasts only 30 days (although the governor is empowered to call subsequent sessions).

The first called special session got off to a fast start, with both House and Senate committees meeting in marathon, well-into-the-next-morning meetings and voted on the morning of July 12 (Sunday) to advance election legislation that would make a number of changes to Texas’ voting system – the same issue that spurred House Democrats to walk out of the chamber late in the regular session to break a quorum and kill the bills.

This time, Democrats again left the building to derail the election legislation. On Monday, July 13, 51 of the 67 House Democrats – enough to break a quorum and prevent House business – boarded chartered planes to Washington, D.C. They vowed to remain there, and talk to Congress about passing voting legislation at the federal level, until the special session ends Aug. 6.

Across the Capitol, nine Democratic state senators, in solidarity, on Tuesday joined their House counterparts in Washington, D.C. Four Democrats remained on the Senate floor when it convened Tuesday, giving the Senate the needed quorum to conduct business.

The immediate repercussions for representatives? The House on Tuesday approved a motion asking “the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, send for all absentees … under warrant of arrest if necessary,” even though Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction outside of the state. Also, Abbott said in a media interview, “I will be calling special session after special session after special session, all the way up until election day of next year if I have to.”

The situation continues to unfold – stay tuned.

Not only does the walkout threaten to derail the election bill, it also could impact the rest of the special session agenda set by Abbott, including legislation that would restore funding for the entire legislative branch, including legislative staff. That funding – in a section of the state budget known as Article X – was vetoed by Abbott in retaliation for the walkout at the end of the regular session. If not restored, funding for the legislative branch of government ends on Sept. 1, the start of the next two-year budget cycle.

Additional issues on Abbott’s special session agenda that could be in jeopardy include bail reform, border security, social media censorship, and appropriation of additional available funds. You can view the full agenda here. While things can always be added to the agenda at the will of the governor, currently no items directly impact the Texas dairy industry. At least one other special session had been expected in September or October to tackle redistricting and the allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

More highlights and a preview of the 2022 election cycle are included below.

Abbott announces vetoes

Abbott had until June 20 to veto any bills that were passed during the recently adjourned legislative session, and he vetoed 20 bills – the fewest vetoes since the 2005 session. Abbott vetoed 13 bills authored by Democrats and seven by Republicans. Also, 12 of the vetoes targeted bills that originated in the House, and eight were from the Senate. Among the vetoes was HB 2667 by Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) that would have provided assistance through the Texas Universal Service Fund for rural Texans at risk of losing telephone service or paying high rates for their services. It was vetoed on the grounds that it would have imposed a new fee on millions of Texans. You can read the governor’s veto statements here.

Abbott also followed through on his threat to veto Article X of the state’s budget, which funds the Texas Legislature, staffers and legislative agencies, as retribution for the House Democrats’ walk-out in the waning days of the legislative session that caused some of the governor’s priority bills to fail. In his statement of the line-item veto, Abbot said, “Texans don’t run from a legislative fight, and they don’t walk away from unfinished business. Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session.” That veto led to the inclusion on the special session agenda of restoration of this funding – otherwise the legislative branch of government would cease to be funded on Sept. 1.


Agriculture Commissioner

Rep. James White (R-Hillister), who announced he would not seek reelection to his House seat following the legislative session, has formally announced his candidacy for Agriculture Commissioner. White will challenge incumbent Sid Miller in the Republican primary. Miller was previously rumored to be considering a gubernatorial run but quashed those rumors when he announced he would seek another term as Agriculture Commissioner.


Abbott is facing his first primary challenge during his tenure as Governor. Former Republican state Sen. Don Huffines and former GOP Chair Allen West announced they will challenge Abbott in the Republican primary. Huffines has been critical of Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and criticized him for being too slow to fully reopen the state, even speaking at a protest outside the Governor’s Mansion last year. West resigned his post to focus on challenging Abbott. He announced his campaign on July 4. Trump has already backed Abbott for reelection. Abbott has $55 million in his campaign coffers, according to the latest report announced July 8.

Attorney General

AG Paxton is facing two Republican primary challengers in current Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Paxton has been criticized by Bush over his continued legal troubles. In her announcement for her campaign, Guzman pledged to bring “honor and integrity” to the office and touted her extensive legal background, which could set her apart from Bush.

Lieutenant Governor

Mike Collier, the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor who lost to Dan Patrick by 5 percentage points, is challenging the incumbent again. This will be Collier’s third statewide campaign. Before challenging Patrick in 2018, Collier ran for comptroller in 2014 and lost to Glenn Hegar by 21 points.

Texas Congressional District 6 Special Election

The runoff election to fill the 6th Congressional District seat recently vacated by the late Ron Wright (R-Fort Worth) will be held on Tuesday, July 27. Republicans Susan Wright and Jake Ellzey are vying for the seat. Susan Wright, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee and Ron Wright’s widow, finished first with 19% of the vote in the May 1 special election. Ellzey, a state representative from Waxahachie, came in second with 14%. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz recently endorsed Wright, and she was previously endorsed by President Trump. Early voting starts July 19. Congressional District 6 spans southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

Senate District 12

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) announced she would not seek reelection earlier this month. Nelson is the most senior Republican in the Senate and has served as the Senate Finance chair for the past four sessions. She has served in the Senate since 1993. A few short days after her announcement, Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) announced he would run for the open seat. Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) has also expressed interest in running.

House District 45

Republican Carrie Isaac announced that she will run for the HD 45 seat again, which is currently held by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood). Isaac, wife to former Republican state Rep. Jason Isaac, lost to Zwiener in the November election by roughly 1 percentage point.

House District 114

Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas) announced that he will not seek reelection to his seat in 2022. Turner has represented House District 114 since 2019 after he flipped the previously GOP-held seat during the 2018 elections.

Border security initiatives

Abbott is making border security his top priority ahead of the 2022 general election. On June 1, Abbott issued a disaster declaration along Texas’ southern border in response to the border crisis, providing more resources and strategies to combat the ongoing influx of unlawful immigrants. On June 10, he hosted a Border Security Summit in Del Rio where he announced a new comprehensive border security plan to crack down on illegal border crossings in Texas. Following the summit, Abbott made national headlines when he held a press conference to announce plans to build a border wall, authorizing the transfer of $250 million in state funding as a down payment to launch the construction of the border wall and hire a program manager and contractors. Additionally, a Task Force on Border and Homeland Security has been created and will meet bi-weekly to discuss current events concerning the southern border, including illegal immigration and criminal activity, and make recommendations based on the strategies and personnel needed to address this ongoing crisis. On June 30, Abbott hosted former President Donald Trump at the border for a border security briefing with state officials and law enforcement in Weslaco, followed by a tour of a portion of the unfinished border wall in Pharr.


June 11. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that he has selected new chairs for four Senate committees. Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) was given chair of the Business and Commerce committee. Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) was named chair of the Nominations committee after Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) announced she would be running for land commissioner instead of reelection in 2022. Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) will replace Campbell as the chair of Veterans & Border Security. Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) will replace Schwertner as Administration chair.

June 29. The day before Abbott and Trump held a security briefing at the Texas border, House Speaker Dade Phelan published his border-related interim charges for a dozen Texas House committees. Phelan has ordered them to review the impact that illegal immigration is having on the state as well as the state’s efforts to clamp down on illegal crossings. The House Appropriations Committee will be responsible for researching whether federal COVID-19 relief dollars can be used to pay for the state’s response to the border crisis. View the charges in their entirety here.

July 7. Comptroller Glenn Hegar submitted a letter to the Legislature ahead of the special session projecting 2022-23 revenue available for general-purpose spending to be $123 billion with a 2022-23 ending balance in General Revenue-Related (GR-R) funds of $7.85 billion. The estimate is based on surging revenue collections, savings from state agency budget reductions during the recently gaveled Regular Session of the 87th Legislature, and the replacement of eligible GR-R appropriations with federal relief funds. View the full letter here.




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