Aug 18th 2017 | Posted in Legislation/Policy by Kristin Gordon

A special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott reached its 30-day mark on Wednesday, but the Senate and the House wrapped up their final decisions on Tuesday. Abbott had 20 bills that were of high importance to him during the session, but not all of them made it through. There has even been some speculation that a second special session would be announced. Former Gov. Rick Perry called for three special sessions following the 83rd Legislative Session in 2003, three following the 79th Legislative Session and four following the 78th Legislative Session.

Former Gov. Ann Richards called for four special sessions following the 72nd Legislative Session and former Gov. William Clements held six special sessions following the 71st Legislative Session. The 85th Legislative Session has ended and on July 18, a special session followed. On July 20, Abbott formally added his priority agenda items.

Here is a list of Abbott’s priorities and their outcome at the end of the special session:

Sunset bills  Passed. The first set of bills from the special session to make its way to Abbott’s desk for a signature was Senate Bills 20 and 60.  These bills will extend the operations of the Texas Medical Board, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors and the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners. Without the legislation, the agencies would cease operations at the end of the month.

Increasing benefits for retired teacher health care and creating a commission to study school finance  Passed. The House voted to adopt the Senate’s plan, infusing public schools with $350 million, mostly going to smaller school districts and to kids with disabilities such as dyslexia and autism. This was $1.5 billion less than the House wanted. The package of two bills, House Bill 21 and House Bill 30, also boosts the retired teachers’ health care benefits fund by $212 million. A statewide commission will be established to study and recommend improvements to the current public-school finance system and other school finance like the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction.    

Limiting local regulations for trees  Passed. House Bill 7 relates to city tree ordinances.  The bill restricts fees municipalities can charge for the removal of trees on private property. This bill also requires municipalities to offer tree planting credits to offset tree removal fees.  This bill passed, but a similar bill that passed during the regular session was vetoed by Abbott.  

Increasing reporting requirements for abortion complications  Passed. House Bill 214 provides legislation restricting health plan and health benefit plan coverage for abortions. Texas women will pay a separate health insurance premium if they want their health plans to cover abortions performed outside of medical emergencies. House Bill 13 requires physicians and facilities to report more details about abortion complications and fine those who do not comply. House Bill 215 requires additional reporting from doctors on whether minors seeking abortions did so because of a medical emergency and whether they obtained parental consent or a judicial bypass.  

Heightening penalties for mail-in ballot fraud  Passed. Senate Bill 5 focuses on mail-in ballot fraud. This bill enhances the detection, prosecution and elimination of mail-in ballot fraud. 

Increasing protections for do-not-resuscitate orders  Passed. Senate Bill 11 creates criminal penalty for doctors who willfully violate a patient’s do-not-resuscitate wishes, and an exception to that penalty for doctors who err “in good faith.”   

Extending the life and scope of maternal mortality task force  Passed. Senate Bill 17 is legislation that continues the operation and expansion of the duties of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to ensure action is taken to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Texas. The task force studies pregnancy-related deaths in Texas, and will provide invaluable information and insight on how the Texas health care system can target better treatments for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and post-partum depression. 

Restricting city annexation power  Passed. Senate Bill 6 provides legislation reforming the authority of municipalities to annex territory, to exert control over territory or to regulate the use of annexed land or land in a municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. This bill includes a five-mile buffer around military zones.  

Teacher pay increases and more flexible contracts  Dead. The Senate passed and sent the House a bill that would provide annual longevity bonuses of $600 for teachers with six to 10 years of experience and $1,000 for teachers with 11 years or more of experience. The House considered the bill in a committee but no vote was taken. 

School vouchers for special needs students  Dead. Abbott called for private school choice specifically for students with disabilities.  

Baring tax dollars from going to Planned Parenthood affiliates  Dead. Abbott wanted to block local and state government agencies from entering into any financial contracts, including lease agreements, with clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers, even if those clinics don’t perform abortions.  

Capping local and state government spending  Dead. Abbott asked lawmakers to require future legislatures to limit how much state spending can grow to the estimated combined growth in population and inflation, a figure that is often lower than the one lawmakers currently use. Abbott also asked lawmakers to cap how much additional money local governments could spend each year without an election. City and county officials said that such a limit would make it difficult to develop long-term financial plans and fund maintenance and services that residents want from their local governments. 

Speeding up local permitting processes  Dead.  Lawmakers considered measures to make it easier for developers to get approval for projects in cities. 

Prohibiting payroll deduction for union dues for public workers  Dead. Lawmakers considered a measure that would have ended the practice of collecting membership dues automatically from the paychecks of certain public employees who are in labor unions or other associations. 

Limiting local property tax increases  Dead. Legislation reforming the laws governing ad valorem property taxes. The Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 1, requiring property tax rate elections if a local entity’s revenues would exceed 4 percent from the year before. The House responded by raising the trigger to 6 percent in a measure that chamber tentatively approved during the final weekend of the session. Leaders in both chambers tried to negotiate a compromise but on the 29th day of the session, the House abruptly moved to stick with their original proposal and then voted to end the special session.  

Avoiding local texting while driving regulations  Dead. Legislation preempting local regulation of the use of hand-held mobile communication devices while driving. 

Privacy Act/Bathroom Bill  Dead. Legislation regarding the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and changing rooms. 


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