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A Not-So-Brief History of Recent Special Sessions

Lawmakers are not known for being short and sweet in delivering on legislative promises. Bills take time to craft, to mold, to throw away and to rebuild, with the ultimate intention of becoming a necessary, practical addition to Texas law.

But it takes time. And, more often than not in Gov. Rick Perry’s tenure, it requires the overtime of a special session. So, in honor of a session that just won't (sine) die, here's a history of special sessions under Gov. Perry.

82nd Called Session (2011): Lawmakers focused on Medicaid, education funding-related budget battles, the perennial redistricting kerfuffle, and a last minute reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency, which nearly caused another special session. Legislative casualties of the session included a controversial bill banning so-called “sanctuary cities,” a statewide ban on smoking in bars and a bill banning TSA pat downs at airports.

81st Called Session (2009): This mercilessly quick special session focused on infrastructure – including a $2 billion bond approval for highways -- and approving agencies under the legislative sunset review – including the Texas Department of Transportation, the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Racing Commission and the state Affordable Housing Corporation. Members of the House and Senate were only in session for two days, just enough time to enjoy the Fourth of July weekend.

79th 1st Called Session (2005): The first of three special sessions in 2005 lasted a month from June 21 to July 20, with the governor declaring 9 education-centric priorities –charter school reform, teacher payments, school finance, textbook standards, end-of-course exams, financial reporting for school districts, as well as a requirement to elect school board trustees. The laser focus was in response to a ruling from Judge John Dietz that the state’s school finance system failed to provide adequate funding under the Texas Constitution. Perry’s proclamations also shifted to tax reform mid-way through the session, which was also a part of Dietz’s decision. As he put it in an announcement, “[L]egislators will overcome their differences and deliver reform. They won’t have a choice. And I’m not going to stop talking about these issues until they do.” He didn’t. This would be the first of three sessions.

79th 2nd Called Session (2005): Gov. Perry called yet another special session just two days after the previous session ended so, as he explained, “members of the legislature [could] come back to Austin and get education funding right.” Perry also championed tax cuts – pushing for homestead tax cuts and voter approval for raising property taxes. The session was a bit of a rehash of issues from the previous session with only a few issues passing, save for a bill restricting eminent domain, a bill to raise pay for judges and a bill meant to limit monopolization of cable providers. The session stretched into August, but it wouldn’t be the last of this string of special sessions.

79th 3rd Called Session (2006): The third salvo of legislative special sessions began in April 2006 and was billed by Perry as a way to both reform Texas' tax structure and education. A bill to fund education and promote tax relief came in the dog days of the session, just two days before the session’s end. The session was in response to a partial reversal of Dietz’s ruling by the Texas Supreme Court, which said that the statewide property tax was illegal under the constitution. By the end, Perry touted $16.4 billion in savings for property owners. The session also included an increase in tobacco taxes and a ban on protests at funerals of U.S. soldiers.

78th 1st Called Session (2003): Much like this session, special sessions in 2003 focused on redistricting after a dust-up alleging that Texas' redrawn Congressional maps didn’t properly reflect population changes, particularly among minorities. Earlier in the regular session, Democratic representatives walked out of the House, fleeing to Ardmore, Okla. to break quorum and block a vote on the redistricting plan. On the last day, Senate Democrats took note and adopted the same tactic, this time fleeing to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

78th 2nd Called Session (2003): You guessed it. This session was about redistricting as well, but this time, without the 11 Democratic Senators that walked out in protest. Though Gov. Perry did issuea school finance executive order, no bills made it to his desk.

78th 3rd Called Session (2003): After 46 days, Senate Democrats returned to the Capitol, passing the redistricting maps, with the Governor signing the plan the next day. While the drama was over, the Governor was still poised to call yet another special session.

78th 4th Called Session (2004): Though it was billed as a chance to correct school finance reform, the session fizzled – perhaps still reeling from redistricting rancor. Gov. Perry did suggest yet another special session in the “very near future” following the adjournment of the 4th special session, but did not follow up. School finance reform woes would be addressed finally in the next session’s special sessions.

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