The House and Senate were both back in Austin last week and with only 10 days left; a lot will have to happen on Governor Abbott’s initial pledge of 20 for 20 – referring to passage of all items in his Special Session Proclamations. Both bodies met last Monday and the House continued to meet in daily sessions, while the Senate took a break until last Thursday. As expected, the House took up and passed bills dealing with public school finance, and maternal mortality and morbidity. Additionally, the House passed measures dealing with personal property appraisal reforms and TRS Care –voting in favor of putting $212 million into the Teacher Retirement System to make the TRS-CARE health insurance more affordable for retired teachers over the next two years. The state-run program has been troubled for years and this one-time influx of money should help bolster the stability of the current system.
Somewhat surprisingly, the House also took up measures not on the Governor’s Special Session Call. While it doesn’t seem likely that these bills will pass, it was seen by many as a symbolic gesture to let Governor Abbott and the Senate know that Medicaid funding for therapies for the disabled, and ground-water regulations are priorities to the House.
In a similar type move, the House held a press conference about adding “Ethics Reform” to the Call, apparently falling on deaf ears based on the Governor’s characterization of the House media ploy as “grandstanding”. While there is hope that the Governor could add the Medicaid funding issue and possibly other items to the Call, which he can do at his discretion at any time, it is unlikely that groundwater regulations will move any further given that the Governor vetoed the same bills in June.
Also of interest was a letter that the House Freedom Caucus sent to Representative Tan Parker, Chair of the House Republican Caucus on Thursday. In it, they asked Chairman Parker to hold a meeting “for the sole purpose of discussing and/or adopting a procedure to determine our nominee for Speaker of the House” for the 86th Legislative Session which begins in January 2019. While it is customary for the House to adopt a resolution on the opening day of session to establish the process for nominating candidates and electing its presiding officer, the Freedom Caucus’s letter indicates that they want the Republican members of the House to nominate a candidate that has “the confidence of a majority of his or her fellow Republicans.” The move is highly unusual and is yet another example of how fractured relationships have become between the GOP Freedom Caucus and those Republicans considered more “establishment”. This is a situation that we will be watching closely and any proposed rule or Speaker nomination change could become a bigger issue as the March primaries unfold.
WHAT TO EXPECT
With only a limited time left in the Special and no bills on Governor Abbott’s desk, legislators will have to start communicating on the 20 issue item call, or risk the potential of being called back for a 2nd Special. Generally, a time crunch forces sides to compromise, but it remains unclear what will ultimately be sent to the Governor’s desk and what falls victim to the 30 day Special Session. These next 5-7 days should help determine the fate of the above issues. Please know that we will keep you posted on any new or significant developments