Special session ends with no decision on bathroom bill

AUSTIN – Gov. Greg Abbott is leaving the door open to calling another special session after the recent one ended Tuesday with passage of just seven of 20 priority issues he wanted passed, many of them “red meat” issues for his conservative base. 

In an interview with KTRH Radio, Abbott blamed inaction by the Texas House of Representatives and its leader Rep. Joe Straus, echoing comments made Tuesday evening by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

"When you have a speaker who is twisting arms for people not to vote or sign on a bill,” Patrick said, "most of the bills were not even referred.”

The friction highlights the split between conservative Republicans in the senate, and more moderate Republicans in the House.

Democratic House member Gene Wu of Houston contends much of the problem was the result of senate supporters refusing to compromise on major issues.

“I think they kind of forget sometimes there’s two legislative bodies at work,  and you can’t just say, ‘I’m the boss and I’m running the show,’” Wu said.

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said Abbott took a big political risk by adding the issues which included property tax reform, opposed by major Texas cities, and a measure to limit transsexual Texans use of public bathrooms which drew strong opposition from the business community.

“It’s not that there weren’t wins for him, but he didn’t get the big wins he wanted.” Rottinghaus said. "He didn’t get the home runs he wanted. He hit a string of singles which is pretty good for a ball player, but if you’re somebody in position the governor is in, and need to get more power behind his legislative agenda, he needs to get that number up.”

Both houses were able to agree on bills to keep five state agencies open, mail-in ballot fraud,  creation of a task force to study the high mortality rate of Texas mothers, the highest in the nation and new restrictions on abortion.

The governor may be forced to call a second special session to address a recent federal court ruling requiring that boundaries for two congressional districts be redrawn. If the Legislature doesn’t act, that will be left up to the court.

If that happens, Abbott could chose to add some or all of the issues that failed to pass in the special session. But Rottinghaus points out that would again require Abbott to risk disappointing his political base.

Many of the same issues also failed to pass in the regular session of the Legislature earlier this year.

“I think for the governor, a lot of these issues are not going to pass the house.” Rottinghaus said.