AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Key conservative priorities fizzled yet again as Texas lawmakers abruptly concluded their month-long special legislative session, despite Republicans controlling both chambers and every statewide office.
The state House surprisingly adjourned Tuesday night, more than 24 hours before the session was supposed to end. Failing were such red-state, red-meat issues as a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people, school vouchers, local property tax restrictions and limits on paycheck deductions for union dues.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered lawmakers to work on 20 issues, but more failed then passed - so much so that many conservatives are now clamoring for another extra session. It’s not clear what Abbott will do, but, now running for re-election in 2018, either choice could be potentially politically risky. Here’s a look at what was accomplished, what wasn’t and what could be next:
BATHROOM BILL FLUSHED
Social conservatives dominate Texas politics but couldn’t revive North Carolina-style bathroom restrictions on transgender people. The issue gainrf even less traction during the special session than it did during the regular one that ended in May.
Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fiery former conservative radio host, pushed hard. But proposals to make transgender Texans use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates stalled in the state House, where Republican Speaker Joe Straus maintained they’d hurt the state’s economy.
Business lobbying groups, backed by behemoths such as Apple, IBM, Exxon Mobile, Facebook and the NFL, branded the bill discriminatory, while almost daily rallies at the state Capitol mobilized police chiefs, chambers of commerce, religious groups, tourism industry leaders and women’s organizations against it.
After the session ended, Patrick suggested Straus was a coward, scoffing that he was thankful the speaker wasn’t at the battle of the Alamo. Conservatives want Abb ott to call lawmakers back again, hoping that the third time could be the charm for the bathroom bill. The governor, though, was non-comital Wednesday, saying, “I’m going to be making decisions later on.”
SCHOOL FINANCE TRUMPS VOUCHERS
The Texas House squashed a Senate-backed school voucher plan offering public money to students attending private schools during the regular session, and Abbott’s efforts to revive the issue went nowhere over the past month.
Instead, lawmakers pumped about $560 million into classrooms and teacher retirement funding. They weren’t forced to tackle a full overhaul of the state school finance system since the Texas Supreme Court ruled last year that it was minimally constitutional.
Abbott began the special session imploring lawmakers to beat back the power of his state’s own cities, saying their urban, usually liberal values were “California-izing” Texas.
The Legislature made it tougher for cities to annex surrounding areas and also limited municipal tree-cutting ordinances, but both were weaker than Abbott wanted. And the issue the governor called the special session’s top priority - putting proposed, stiff local property tax increases to voters in an effort to limit how much they could be raised - collapsed spectacularly as the House quit early.
ABORTION LIMITS ADVANCE
Texas became the 11th state to ban private insurance companies from covering abortion, forcing women undergoing one to buy supplemental coverage or pay out of pocket. Opponents likened that to requiring “rape insurance” because no exception was made in cases of rape or incest.
But an Abbott-backed effort to prevent local governments from funding Planned Parenthood for non-abortion procedures, like cancer screenings, failed unceremoniously.
IS IT ENOUGH?
Abbott also resurrected a failed regular-session plan to bar some public employees from deducing union dues from their pay checks, only to watch the issue die again.
Of the governor’s 20 total special-session priorities, nine became law. But he went 0-4 on the combination of bathroom bill, vouchers, property taxes and union dues. It remains to be seen if that’s enough to save political face, but Abbott may face a challenge in next March’s Republican primary from Patrick, who could use the bathroom bill’s repeated failure as a rallying cry.
Though Patrick insists he’s not running for governor, he has time to change his mind.
Still, if Abbott opts to bring the two-time failure conservative priorities back once more, there’s no guarantee they’ll fare any better - and the potential for political embarrassment grows.
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