Throughout the regular legislative session, observers have noted the divide between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, and Rep. Joe Straus, the House Speaker. With the special session on the horizon, and the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has included in the call weighted heavily toward conservative priorities favored by Patrick, it’s worth asking whether the same roadblocks that prevented bills from passing in the regular session will have any more chance of becoming law in the special session.
Peggy Fikac, Austin bureau chief for the San Antonio Express News says Straus hasn’t signaled that he is ready to fall in line behind Abbott and Patrick’s agenda. He prefers to talk about bigger -picture issues the legislature did not resolve in the regular session.
“[Straus] reiterated his commitment to revamping the school finance system and putting more money into it,” Fikac says. “He said this dovetails with the governor and lieutenant governor’s call for lowering property taxes, because schools make up the bulk of our property tax bills. He’s saying that the way to address the property tax problem is by addressing school finance, and that also would help education.”
Though Straus was re-elected unanimously to the speakership in January, some conservative House members, including Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, have said publicly that Straus could lose the speakership for opposing Abbott and Patrick’s agenda. Fikac points out that Straus is popular in his San Antonio-based district, and has defeated more conservative opponents.
“He has repeatedly won re-election,” Fikac says. “He has had challengers. In the last election, when Donald Trump surprised everybody, he had a challenger who was much more affiliated with Trump.”
Fikac says the bill that would re-establish the Texas Medical Board – a “must pass” item from the regular session – is likely to pass during the special session. She says the governor’s proposal to create a maternal mortality commission is another item with a good chance of passing.
House members, who have opposed social conservatives’ proposals related to school choice, and the so-called “bathroom bill” are unlikely to change their tunes, Fikac says, though they, and Speaker Straus, are likely to be pressured by Abbott and Patrick to pass the measures.
“I don’t see a compromise, a way forward on that, absent a coup in the House that we don’t see coming.” she says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.