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By not hearing a critical bill before the Senate deadline to pass certain laws, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick could force lawmakers to return for a special legislative session this summer.
Only Governor Greg Abbott can call a special session, but by neglecting to pass a bill extending the life of state agencies, Patrick has essentially signed a death warrant for the law enforcement agency. from Texas. That is, unless Abbott finds a creative way to push back the agency’s abolition date himself or to call lawmakers back to fix it.
If they get Patrick’s blessing, lawmakers could also amend another bill this week to allow the agency to survive.
Patrick and Abbott, who are both Republicans, introduced bills to “support blue priorities” this year. Patrick had asked Abbott on Wednesday to call a special June session so that the Legislature could reconsider three Conservative measures that failed after missing a deadline in the House. The regular five-month session ends on Monday.
And if Abbott is forced to bring lawmakers back to Austin to save a state agency, it would be easier to ask them to hear again about Patrick’s priorities of banning transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity, prohibiting local governments from using taxpayer funds to pay lobbyists, and punishing social media companies for “censoring” Texans based on their political views.
Abbott’s spokesperson did not respond to questions about a special TCOLE-related session on Wednesday evening. Spokesmen for Patrick did not respond to questions on Wednesday evening on why he had not yet brought Bill 1600 to the House.
The high stakes legislation was a “safety net” bill for state agencies that was soon to be abolished. In what is known as a sunset review process, lawmakers periodically assess how well state agencies are managed and whether they should continue to exist. While agencies are considered individually, there is also a safety net bill every session to extend the life of any agency that has not been renewed individually by two years.
This year, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE, which sets minimum licensing and training standards for police, did not get a separate clearance. A scathing report from the usually moderate Texas Sunset Advisory Commission called toothless TCOLE, allowing for bad accountability and inadequate police training. The suggested changes – or even extending the life of the regulatory agency by two years while looking at the suggested changes – failed in the House, however.
While lawmakers are expected to return already this fall to redraw the state’s political maps, it would be too late to combine TCOLE’s resuscitation with this session. Without the safety net bill, TCOLE would have to be dissolved on September 1.
But a summer session is not guaranteed under the failure of the bill. In 2019, Abbott issued an executive order extending the life of the state’s plumbing board after a similar decision. The governor said he was able to overtake the Legislature because plumbers were still needed to deal with the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey. It is possible that the governor will use similar political maneuvers this year.
There is also another bill relating to the planning of sunset reviews which is currently the subject of closed-door negotiations between the House and the Senate. In theory, this bill could be amended to keep the state agency alive before legislation is due in chambers on Saturday, although Patrick could block that as well.
When Patrick called for a special session before tabling the sunset bill, Abbott responded by urging lawmakers to “work together to get important Conservative legislation to my office” in the remaining days of the regular session.