AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has threatened to force a special session if bills dealing with property taxes and access to bathrooms don’t get approved.
“People elect us to come here and get the job done – not to pass a budget and go home, call it a day," Patrick said during a Wednesday morning press conference. "The people elected me to be bold and move this legislation forward."
While the governor is the only one who can call a special session, he could be forced into one. Wednesday, the Lt. Governor laid out why that might be the case.
Patrick held a press conference to tell the lower chamber that if they don't pass a property tax bill, and some version of a measure regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans, they will go into overtime.
"Unfortunately several important bills that the people have demanded have not passed the House and time is running out," said Patrick.
The legislative session ends May 29.
Both bills have passed the Senate but remain in the House.
"People elect us to come here and get the job done, not to pass a budget and go home," said Patrick.
Patrick’s message comes one day after House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to Patrick urging him to come to an agreement on the budget, the only bill the legislature is required to pass, and for the senate to pass what's known as the "sunset safety net bill," which is critical to keep a number of state agencies functioning.
Patrick is now using that sunset bill as leverage to force a special session.
"I agree with the speaker that it would be good to avoid a special session," Patrick said. "But I do not agree with the speaker that we can just pass the budget and a sunset bill and call it a day."
"My experience in the House is, is the House doesn't take to threats terribly well," said Straus.
In the wake of Wednesday's news conference, Straus says he still wants to work with the Lt. Governor to hammer out both chambers' priorities, though even when asked, Straus wouldn't mention the bathroom bill.
"We don't do anything in one chamber or the other. We either agree to do something together, or we don't do it," he said.
However, Patrick was adamant that his bills be passed.
"If property tax relief and privacy do not pass in that special and they're blocked again I will ask the Governor to call us back again and again and again," said Patrick.
Meaning someone will have to budge, or legislators will need to get used to living in Austin.
A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated that he thinks lawmakers can get the issues addressed in the regular session.
"The Governor made clear yesterday (Tuesday) that property tax reform and maintaining privacy in restrooms and locker rooms are legislative priorities that must be passed, and he believes both items can be achieved before the end of the regular session," John Wittman said. "The governor is grateful that the House has set the property tax bill to be heard on the floor tomorrow, and is making progress on privacy legislation. The governor will continue working with the House and Senate to conclude another successful legislative session."
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus released the following statement on Wednesday:
"I was encouraged by much of what Governor Patrick said today. I was especially glad to hear that Governor Patrick wants to start passing bills that are priorities of the House, such as mental health reforms, fixing the broken A-F rating system and cybersecurity. These are not poll-tested priorities, but they can make a very real difference in Texans' lives. I am grateful that the Senate will work with us to address them.
"Budget negotiations are going well but are far from finished. The Senate has indicated a willingness to use part of the $12 billion Economic Stabilization Fund. In addition, the two sides, along with the Comptroller's office, are working through concerns about the use of Proposition 7 funds to certify the budget. I'm optimistic that we will produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget. I appreciate the work of the Senate conferees and Governor Patrick on these issues.
"As I said in my letter to Governor Patrick, the House has worked diligently to pass priorities that are important to him. Senate Bill 2 has been scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House tomorrow. The House has already acted on a number of issues that are important to the Lieutenant Governor and will continue to do so. I'm glad that the Senate is beginning to extend the same courtesy.
"Governor Patrick talked about the importance of property tax relief. The Texas House is also concerned about property taxes, which is why we approved House Bill 21 to address the major cause of rising property-tax bills: local school taxes. As it passed the House, this legislation would begin to reduce our reliance on local property taxes in funding education. Nobody can claim to be serious about property-tax relief while consistently reducing the state's share of education funding. The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour. The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April. The House is also serious about providing extra and targeted assistance for students with disabilities. This is why we put extra money in House Bill 21 to help students with dyslexia. We also overwhelmingly passed House Bill 23 to provide grants for schools that work with students who have autism and other disabilities. The Lieutenant Governor has not referred that bill to a Senate committee.
"Governor Patrick's threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope that he reconsiders. The best way to end this session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want. But we can come together on many issues and end this session knowing that we have positively addressed priorities that matter to Texas."
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