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Special Session Agenda: Voting Rules, ‘Red Meat’ Conservative Items And A One-Time Bump For Retired Teachers

Gov. Greg Abbott
Gabriel C. Pérez

From Texas Standard:

On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott released his call for the special legislative session that will begin on Thursday. As expected, the voting measures Democrats stymied with a walkout during the regular session top the agenda. The other ten items include bail reform, border security and family violence prevention, along with several conservative cultural priorities. There's also an item to restore funding for the Legislature, which Abbott vetoed after the Democrats sunk the voting bill.

Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau Chief Bob Garrett told Texas Standard that Abbott's call doesn't address the state's electrical grid. On Tuesday, Abbott issued an order requiring the Public Utility Commission to investigate ways to improve transmission of energy via coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

During the regular session, Abbott did not propose or endorse a blueprint for fixing the electrical grid. Garrett says lawmakers "nibbled around the edges" of addressing the causes of the blackouts caused by power plant failures during this February's winter storm.

"Kind of surprising in a way that we've gone five months, and neither the Legislature nor Abbot has put down a real specific blueprint for getting the additional megawatts that we need."

University of Houston energy fellow Ed Hirs says the grid should have been included in the session.

"The grid needs to be revamped, and that’s not in the special session. It does appear that the governor thinks that his letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas and ERCOT, the letter that he posted yesterday, gives those officials the way to solve the problem. But really, I don't think that goes far enough."

Garrett says the agenda does includes a number of "red meat" items designed to appeal to conservative voters. They include new restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs, controls on so-called "social media censorship", a proposal to curb they use of "critical race theory" in schools and a requirement that transgender youth only be allowed to compete in sports based on the gender they were assigned at birth.

"I see a governor who has two Republican primary opponents who are attacking him from the right," Garrett said. "And he already, of course, had a lieutenant governor in Dan Patrick who he was always trying to manage, or at least not open himself to attack from."

Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, says Abbott is focusing on issues that other conservative officials have championed in their sates.

"This is a Luby’s style conservative buffet of items: election reform, transgender athletes, critical race theory, social media censorship. It's designed in small part I think to allow him to keep up with [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis, who's leading the Republican charge and is definitely making more of a splash in a national scene than Abbott is," Rottinghaus said.

Garrett says the abortion measure would prevent the shipment of drugs that cause a medical abortion to Texas. The Legislature passed a law during the regular session that makes abortion illegal after six weeks of pregnancy – before many women know they are pregnant.

The social media censorship item has to do with the freedom Internet platforms have to control speech on their platforms, and the protection those companies are provided by the federal rule, Section 230. Under that law, platforms like Facebook and Twitter can't be held liable for what's said on their platforms.

"Abbott is saying conservative viewpoints are being censored and he wants the ability to sue Facebook and these other platforms," Garrett said. "...There's an open question whether a Texas state law on this will survive."

Garrett says other items on the agenda, including property tax relief and a one-time bump in benefits for retired teachers, have wide bipartisan support.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.