Abbott calls fourth special session after school vouchers, border bills die in Legislature again

Abbott’s agenda for the new special session includes — once again — school vouchers, school safety, and border-related bills.

By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán & Julián Aguilar, The Texas NewsroomNovember 7, 2023 5:04 pm,

From the Texas Newsroom:

The Texas Legislature will start its fourth special session of the year Tuesday after Republican lawmakers failed to pass two of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities, including school vouchers.

The Republican governor called for the fourth session on the same day the third ended. He said the Legislature accomplished some work, but said more needs to be done.

“I am immediately calling lawmakers back for Special Session #4 to complete their critical work to empower Texas parents to choose the best education pathway for their child while providing billions more in funding for Texas public schools and continuing to boost safety measures in schools,” Abbott said Tuesday.

Abbott added the state must pass legislation “that will enhance the safety of all Texans,” encouraging lawmakers to approve measures that would curb illegal migration, including authorizing local and state law enforcement to remove unauthorized migrants — a proposal that stalled over the weekend.

Abbott’s agenda for the fourth legislative special session also includes school safety.

Lawmakers are expected to return to work at 5 p.m.

Back for round four

In the last month, the Texas House and Senate passed two of Abbott’s priority bills for the year: a ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private employers, and a measure to increase the penalties for human smugglers and operators of stash houses.

But lawmakers couldn’t agree on whether to support education savings accounts. Abbott has championed the voucher-like programs, which would divert public funds to pay for the private and parochial school tuition of qualifying students. The Texas Senate passed its version of a bill supporting voucher-like programs last month, but the legislation didn’t make it to the House.

House Republican lawmakers who represent rural communities have historically joined Democrats in opposing school vouchers. Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, told reporters the bipartisan coalition would remain steadfast in its opposition.

“He can call us back as many times as he wants, but we will never sell out our kids,” Talarico said.

Talarico said a school voucher bill would take money out of public schools and give it to wealthy families who can already afford private school tuition.

“Greg Abbott is the reverse Robin Hood: He steals from the poor to give to the rich,” he said. “That’s why vouchers are a scam.”

Abbott has vowed to campaign against opponents of voucher programs in next year’s primaries if the Legislature rejects a school voucher program once again.

State deportation force

Lawmakers also couldn’t decide on an immigration-enforcement bill.

The House passed a bill in October that would have made unauthorized entry across the border into Texas a class B misdemeanor or higher, depending on the suspect’s criminal history.

But police could also choose to instead order the suspect to return to a port of entry and return to the country they entered from. If the person failed to comply, they could be charged with a second-degree felony, which carries prison time of two to 20 years.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, cited concerns about whether the bill would conflict with federal law, and substituted language into the bill that instead required the migrant be transferred to federal authorities for deportation after serving whatever punishment was handed down.

That led to sparring between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan on social media and in the press. The bill died in early November.

Time also ran out on the chambers’ respective bills to allocate $1.5 billion in funding for state-built barriers on the southern border. Lawmakers will likely take up both issues again in the upcoming special session.

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