In the 88th legislative session, state lawmakers filed more than 11,000 bills.
In order to become law, those measures faced the hurdles of getting a committee hearing, passing out of committee, passing out of the full chamber, and then doing the same thing again in the other chamber. Assuming it all went in the sponsor’s way, the bill would finally make it to the governor’s desk.
Gov. Greg Abbott has three options when he receives a bill: He can sign it, he can ignore it and let it pass into law without his signature, or he can veto it.
And this year, the governor relied heavily on vetoes. He vetoed 76 bills before midnight Sunday, his deadline to make such decisions. It’s the most vetoes Abbott has ever made, though it doesn’t quite top the overall record of 83 by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2001.
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Scott Braddock, editor of the Quorum Report, said many of these vetoes were signed as part of a negotiation that didn’t have much to do with the bill being rejected.
“A lot of bills were not just vetoed as a political point, but also to create leverage going forward for some of the governor’s priorities, which still have not passed,” Braddock said. “Those include some sort of a property tax cut or property tax relief, and then the other, of course, is the governor’s nonstop push for school vouchers or what he would call education freedom or school choice.”
Braddock said this move by Abbott is unusual and that it’s unclear how – or if – it will work going forward.
“What happens is there’s a proclamation that’s issued with the veto where the governor tells the lawmakers what problem he had with whatever bill it is. And in this case, he’s got a lot of bills where he doesn’t really articulate a really good problem, or a significant problem, with the bill,” Braddock said. “Instead, he says, ‘hey, this bill might be okay, but we can consider it, and the Legislature can, you know, maybe pass it again, but only after my priority of property tax relief or in some cases after the school choice legislation. After that passes, then we can come back to your idea on this.’ No governor has ever done it that way.”
Braddock said he thinks it would be better for the governor to negotiate with lawmakers in person.
“Instead, he’s trying to order them what to do,” Braddock said. “He is really just angering a lot of people. I’ve heard from some very conservative Republican lawmakers who have been some of his top allies and legislative workhorses getting things done for his agenda. And right now, they say that because he’s killing unrelated legislation to try to get his way about something else, that they feel frustration, anger and in some cases a sense of betrayal over this.”
Braddock said Abbott’s willingness to call special sessions has changed the way lawmakers treat the end-of-regular-session deadlines.
“It’s sort of like we’re pushing for a full-time Legislature here, because to go back and get all this stuff done would probably take the rest of the year,” he said. “Governor Abbott, ever since 2017, has shown that he is willing to call one special session after another to get legislation on his desk that wasn’t passed during the regular session. And in a lot of ways it makes the end of the regular session, it makes it not a real deadline. And I think that’s why the Legislature didn’t pass some of the things that were top campaign promises from Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. And that top promise, of course, was property tax relief, not school vouchers.”
Abbott already called the first special session — just hours after the regular session ended — for lawmakers to tackle property tax relief and some border security issues. House Speaker Dade Phelan orchestrated the passage of both bills on the first day and then gaveled his chamber out, leaving Patrick and the Senate to take it or leave it.
Abbott surprised some by siding with House lawmakers and urging the Senate to accept the House version of the property tax bill.
“We have not seen Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick have a real fight, and now they are,” Braddock said. “The governor says he wants the state to write a bigger check for the cost of public education and buy down local property taxes; that’s called tax compression. But the lieutenant governor, I think, has the property tax politics correct on this. I think his idea is going to be more popular with Texas homeowners because he’s pushing for a $100,000 homestead exemption.”
Braddock said Patrick is not backing down.
“I think it may be a long, hot summer in Austin for legislators, because the two sides are just not budging at all,” he said. “You had the lieutenant governor just this past week say that the governor … can’t have it both ways. He’s demanding that the House and Senate work together to pass property tax legislation. And in the meantime, the governor is vetoing bills on pieces of legislation that were passed with broad bipartisan support. And Patrick said the House and Senate did work together to pass those things. And here you have Abbott killing them.”