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Dan Patrick’s Special Session Comes to a Close

The special session ends without passing the lieutenant governor’s marquee issues.

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Dan Patrick in June 2017.
Photo by Anna Donlan

As the special legislative session came to a sudden conclusion Tuesday night, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick walked away from the almost $1 million taxpayer investment without passing either of his signature issues.

Patrick closed the regular session by taking legislation to renew the state agency that issues medical licenses hostage, ultimately so he could force a special session on transgender bathroom use and property tax restrictions on the state’s cities and counties. In the special session, he demonstrated his near total control of the Senate by jamming eighteen of Governor Greg Abbott’s priorities for the special session through the upper chamber in a matter of days. Still, both of the bills failed.

The best Patrick could do was force the House to eat humble pie on a school finance bill that fell far short of the $1.8 billion representatives wanted to spend on public schools to slow the increase in local property taxes. The Senate amended the bill to take out the largest chunk of the House spending on school district tax relief, but did include a fifteen-member commission to study the state’s schools for the next two years.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the House expressed that the bill did not do enough financially for the school districts of Texas or in providing tax relief to homeowners hit with large property tax bills. “To say I am disappointed is an understatement,” said bill author Representative Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican. Representative Senfronia Thompson, a Houston Democrat, urged her colleagues to vote against the bill. “I’m one person who doesn’t like being run over by the Senate,” she said. “I don’t like bullies.” The House sent the bill to the governor on a largely partisan 94-46 vote.

Straus blamed the Senate for inadequacies in the school funding bill. “After lengthy discussions with the Senate over several days, it became clear that sending the bill to the governor was our best option,” Straus said in a statement. “In its final form, this bill does not do nearly enough to help public education, but it does take some steps in the right direction.”

The biggest winners in House Bill 21’s passage are Texas’s retired teachers, whose health insurance program had been shortchanged $212 million when an overhaul plan was adopted in the regular session. Multiple representatives cited the potential funding loss as a reason for pushing the bill through.

Not long after it passed, Huberty made a motion to adjourn the House to conclude the session “in memory of House Bill 21.” Straus quickly gaveled the motion through. Some of the most conservative House members claimed later that Straus ignored their objections to the motion. The House Republican Caucus is meeting Wednesday morning at the request of the Freedom Caucus to discuss a requirement that the caucus elect the speaker, and if the session had lasted another day they might have been able to bring their fight to the floor to embarrass Straus, even if they could not knock him out of office.

Straus has been repeatedly elected and re-elected since 2009 with a coalition of Democrats and Republican allies. In two recent procedural votes, a slight majority of the House Republican caucus voted to overturn Straus’s rulings, though he prevailed due to the strength of his coalition. Because Straus kept the bathroom bill bottled up so that it would not come to a floor vote, social conservatives have been ginning up an “oust Straus” movement for next year’s Republican party primaries. In a post-session news conference, Patrick poured gasoline on those fires. “Thank goodness [William B.] Travis didn’t have the speaker at the Alamo,” Patrick said. “He might have been the first one over the wall.”

Patrick blamed Straus and his leadership team for his agenda’s failure. “With 27 hours to go, they walked off the job,” Patrick said. In particular, Patrick was angry over a bill he wanted to require automatic tax rollback elections if a local city or county raised taxes by more than 4 percent. Currently, the rollback is triggered at 8 percent and only occurs if voters petition to hold an election. The House had amended the bill to allow for a rollback at 6 percent. The Senate objected and asked for a conference committee. When the House adjourned, it left the Senate in a take-it-or-leave-it posture. Patrick said the Senate refused to approve the House amendments because they had turned the bill into “a pile of mush.”

Still, the bathroom bill was Patrick’s marquee issue of 2017, backed by evangelical ministers. Businesses in the entertainment and hotel industry worried that it would create a backlash much like a similar bill did in North Carolina last year. Eventually, the LGBT community also was joined in its opposition by tech companies and the oil and gas industry, all of which feared the image of discrimination would make it difficult to attract talented employees to move to the state.

Patrick’s initial bargaining chip to force a special session—the medical board bill—passed, as did limitations on city annexations, an extension of the maternal mortality task force, and enhanced penalties for mail-in ballot fraud. “Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman.

Abbott could call another special session on bathrooms and taxes, but Patrick and members of the Senate spoke as if the legislative battle is done for this year. “It’s not going away. It’s going to be a campaign issue,” Patrick said, referring to the party primaries next spring.

However, a three-judge federal court on Tuesday declared that two congressional districts—district 27, held by Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi, and district 35, held by Lloyd Doggett of Austin—violate the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because they dilute the voting strength of Hispanic voters and must be redrawn. That can either be done by the Legislature in special session or by the court. The court also is expected to rule that portions of a state House district map also violate the law. Attorney General Ken Paxton indicated he will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s hard to imagine that Abbott would call a special session just to save Farenthold. But if the judges indicate a desire to redraw the state House in such a way to weaken social conservatives while enhancing the power of Democrats or Straus, there will be pressure on Abbott to get state Republican map drawers out in front on a new proposal for the Texas House.

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  • WUSRPH

    Sounds like BOTH Patrick—who called Straus a coward—and Abbott may be getting involved in Straus’ re-election race both to the House and to the speaker’s job……The outcome could have a major impact on the future of Texas as the GOP decides whether to definitely go with the radicalism of Patrick (and Abbott) rather than the business conservatism of a Straus. We can probably expect full-fledged assaults on Straus and his top aides in the primary to “purge” the GOP of the “unclean” that may set records for nastiness even for the Texas GOP.

    In some way this reflects the old “liberal” v “conservative” battles in the Texas Democratic Party that eventually led to its fall from power…..So far the radicals have been able to rely on the partly mythical “moderate” Republicans (most of whom, including myself, left the GOP years ago) and November Republicans to keep them in power. We hear talk—more hopes—that will change….We will see if there is any basis to that hope come March.

    • John Bernard Books

      You were a republican working for Bob Bullock? Such a liar….

  • Texas Publius

    Dan Patrick is a bully.

    Straus and all but twelve of the state reps (from both parties) stand up to him.

    Abbott, the senators (from both parties), and twelve state reps succumb to his control.

  • WUSRPH

    Someone asked if I could remember a time when a governor and/or lt. governor actively went after a
    Speaker to try to get him defeated. My response

    Not that I can remember……usually they at least officially stay out of the other house’s business….The closest
    would probably be in late 1964 when Gov. John Connally “removed” Speaker Byron Tunnell to clear the way for his protégé Ben Barnes to become Speaker…..Tunnel had not gone along with Connally’s program during his first session as speaker…and contrary to tradition at the time….was planning to seek a second term…Shortly before the session Connally, the story goes, called Tunnell up and told him that he was going to appoint him to the Railroad Commission on the next day…when Tunnel responded that there was no vacancy of the RR Commission, Connally allegedly responded “there will be tomorrow”……When Tunnel decided to accept the job, rather than fight the governor, Barnes was set up to immediately launch a blitz (working out of some rooms at the Driscoll) and sewed up the speakership before anybody else knew that there was a “race”.

    That was all done neatly and without any blood…..Going after Straus will be much different.

    PS Early reports on the meeting of the House GOP Caucus us that it was a “love fest” for Straus. It was intended by the Freedom Caucus to try to change the way the Speaker is selected but it seems most of the GOP reps at least for now like their Speaker..

    • John Bernard Books

      Bs as usual, not what I’m hearing atall….

  • sherwood

    Patrick is a pathetic bigot. His smug arrogance sickens me.

  • John Bernard Books

    so did the whole House flee to Oklahoma…or just the dems?

  • Kozmo

    Heritage trees across the state can breathe a sigh of relief, being saved for the moment from the Orc Governor.

    But the lege managed to kick women around some more, just to remind them of their place (barefoot & pregnant).

    Now, what’s gonna happen with this new redistricting decree?

  • WUSRPH

    A thought for the day….

    “Sperm Count in Western Men Has Dropped Over 50 Percent Since 1973, Paper Finds” NY Times

    Isn’t that about time that all those women started getting uppity with all that Women’s Lib
    stuff?

    Maybe Abbott and Patrick can put something on the call for the next session to address this…Of course, a lot of what they have been pushing for years seems to have had that in mind.

    • John Bernard Books

      or you could put on your pussyhat….with the rest of liberal men

    • SpiritofPearl

      Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing as we are bursting our seams on Mother Earth at 7.5 billion.

    • José

      After a quick trip to a local clinic (and a snip snip) my count dropped 100%. One side effect was that I slept better at night.

  • WUSRPH

    Here is a scorecard on Abbott’s 20 demands…He got about half. Does this constitute a victory, a defeat or a draw for his leadership?

    http://tinyurl.com/yd7tq2fj

    Does the fact that he did NOT get the really “big ones” other than controls on annexation (and that only covers the few counties with more than a half-million residents) while bathrooms, spending limits for state and locals and property tax caps all failed make it a failure?

    Or can he slide by claiming victory in his war against trees and women’s constitutional rights plus the sunset bills that were always going to pass and his commission on public education?

    A rating for the season while probably depend both on how the mm and, for Abbott, the radical right outlets such as Empower Texas describe it; whether he needs to throw some red meat to the GOP primary voters before the primary; or whether he really wants to try to stick it to Speaker Straus and his followers.

    From the posts by such as Hannibal and I presume the Troll (although since I don’t see his slime I can’t really say) the word going up from the paid radical right is that they should be more disappointed and more dedicated than ever to purging Straus…..How far that goes in the rest of the GOP is uncertain….but, perhaps, they like most us have grown tired of having the Legislature meet and will be willing to postpone more of the circus till January of 2019. At least I hope they will.

  • John Bernard Books

    Do bloggers here worship at the foot of th https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0a45b4e73c86facb45932687e790f59ad9b0dc9f633828fc1261d8e531d4b28f.jpg eir Stalin statue in Seattle?

  • WUSRPH

    I am told that the Troll, once again, insulted me and questioned my integrity….I have to be told because I block his stuff. My response is fairly simple—I don’t think I have read or seen more than two people that agreed with anything the Troll has slimed onto this blog in years…..and, considering the source, it does not bother me…After all, as has been said, You are known by your enemies….and I’m quite happy if he considers me to be his.

    I am also told that he questioned that I could have been a Republican for many years (born and raised) and have worked for Bob Bullock….If he did, he missed the point where I said “had been a Republican” but no more….He also, as usual, does not know his history very well. Bullock, himself, was no “yellow dog Democrat” and had a number of GOPers among his aides…..He also, at least quietly, helped a few running for office, including George W Bush both when he was running and after he was elected. And it was just not a coincidence that his top political aide, the late Tony Proffitt, was part of the group calling itself Democrats for Clements in the 1982 campaign when Clements lost his re-election race to mark White. I did not tell him how to vote…(although I may have wore a campaign button to work sometimes). Nor did he tell me how to cast my ballot.

    • SpiritofPearl

      Booksie is a junkyard dog. Pay no attention.

    • John Bernard Books

      Your boss was known to take what belonged to others and take cocaine fueled junkets to Vegas and NO’s. You’ve been on the dole your whole life.

  • chriscolumbus

    Patrick is a pompous, pious neanderthal and he is a direct reflection of the voters of Texas …..

  • steve talbert

    Thankfully, we were able to escape enactment of Patricks misguided ideas. Be ready for his next onslaught.