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Texas House Members Have Their Own Priorities – And They're Not The Governor's

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
The governor lays out the agenda for the special session, but that hasn't stopped House members from introducing other items they consider a priority.

The rules of a special legislative session are pretty simple: The governor rules. Only the governor can call a special session, and only the governor can set the agenda. That's why it was a little curious when three bills dealing with groundwater popped up in the Texas House on Thursday.

Groundwater, in case you were wondering, is not on Gov. Greg Abbott's ambitious agenda of 20 items for the special session. But lawmakers who consider it a priority think they can link it to an item aimed at reforming municipal permitting – because, hey, shifting around groundwater requires a permit. 

That tenuous connection is actually all that's needed, as long as the Senate is willing to pass the groundwater bills and the governor is willing to sign them. Remember, the governor rules in a special session.

That made another bill up for debate Thursday even more interesting. This one would restore controversial cuts made to therapy programs for disabled children

"We were passing a budget. We had to make tough decisions. But now we're seeing the really devastating outcome of that decision," state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) said as she laid out the bill. "And so I am here asking the body to rectify the mistake that we made."

The bill has overwhelming support in the House. But again, it would still need the Senate and governor to sign on. Halfway through the special session, no bill has reached Abbott's desk.

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) wants the governor to add ethics bills and an effort to reverse child therapy cuts to the special session agenda.

Davis, who chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, isn't stopping there. On Wednesday, she held a press conference rolling out a series of bills to address various ethics and campaign finance issues. Again, these items were not on the governor's agenda. But Davis and others think he would be willing to add them because of how important he's considered the topic in the past.

"In fact, as many of us know, the governor thought ethics were so important that he made them emergency items each session that he has served as governor," Davis said during the press conference. "And the House stands ready to continue working on this priority."

Davis has sent a request to the governor's office asking for the ethics bills and the effort to reverse child therapy cuts to be put on the session agenda. The governor has said he won't expand the agenda unless all 20 of his priorities make it to his desk, which is unlikely to happen. As far as expanding it specifically for those ethics bills, Abbott's spokesperson said Davis and others on her ethics committee are “showboating.”

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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