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[Session]Election bill will likely get lawmakers’ attention in special session

2021-07-04 10:47:43 

   The Texas Legislature will return to work July 8 following Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a special session on a to-be-determined list of priorities. While the governor’s office was reticent regarding issues to be tackled, there have been indications of what to expect.

   Previously, the governor has said work on election legislation and bail reform, two priorities that bit the dust as the contentious regular session drew to a close on Memorial Day, are likely contenders for attention in the special session.

   The election bill, or Senate Bill 7 in the regular session, was a source of controversy in the waning days of the session. The 38-page proposal as approved in the Senate would have brought significant change to the way Texas manages elections.

   ?Republicans have framed the measure as one intended to strengthen election integrity. Democrats have characterized it as a mechanism of voter suppression. Opposition was so fierce in the House that Democrats walked out, breaking quorum, and thwarting any possibility of it being passed.

   That move led Abbott to veto the section of the budget that funds the Legislature, staffs and agencies that support and augment their work.

   According to a recent report from the Texas Tribune, it remains unclear whether the election legislation will be adjusted for the special session. Republicans had indicated possibly changing one aspect of the bill that addressed early-voting hours on Sundays. Originally, the provision was added late, sparking concerns it would reduce the efforts of Black churches that historically have been instrumental in organizing voters.

  ? While Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have expressed satisfaction with the bill as it is, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, suggested the possibility of taking the bill as it is and breaking it into smaller bits, which he told the Tribune might allow lawmakers to “feel more comfortable … and give everyone a better opportunity to vet the ideas.”

  ? That’s a sensible idea and one that merits consideration..

  ? Whether that happens or not will depend on the agenda. In addition to the two priority bills that did not pass (the bail bond bill was House Bill 20 in the regular session), Abbott has recently indicated other items that could be weighed include addressing the manner in which schools can teach critical race theory and taking aim at ending the practice of behemoth social media companies restricting users because of the viewpoints. A measure along those lines got little traction during the regular session.

   Other possibilities include two measures that did not pass in the regular session – banning taxpayer-funded lobbying and restricting participation of transgender student athletes in school sports. There are also calls for additional work reforming the electric grid and providing additional access to health care, per the Tribune report.

   This will be the first of what will be at least two special sessions with another one loosely scheduled to take place during the September-October time frame that will take up a couple of other issues with varying degrees of political thorniness: redistricting and the disbursement of billions of COVID-19 federal relief funds.

  ? Whatever shakes out agenda-wise, lawmakers will once again have plenty to do and must figure out a way to work together and focus their efforts on crafting legislation in the best interest of the state and its citizens.