Republican-led Texas Legislature adjourns without passing most GOP priorities
Near the beginning of the 88th Texas Legislature, Gov. Greg Abbott released his priorities, laying out what he wanted state lawmakers to address during their time at the Capitol.
“This session, we will ensure Texas remains the leader of this nation as an unflinching force in this world,” Abbott said during his State of the State Address in February. “Together, we will build a Texas for the next generation — the Texas of tomorrow.”
Abbott’s list ranged from curbing COVID-19 restrictions to creating school vouchers to reducing homeowners’ property tax bills.
But four months later, most of Abbott’s priorities stalled.
As of Monday — the last day of the legislative session — lawmakers had not reached a compromise on key issues like border security, property taxes or school vouchers.
This means that a special session is almost guaranteed.
None of this may surprise you — the 2023 legislative session has been marred by controversy and historic moves.
The Legislature expelled a member for the first time in nearly 100 years, impeached the Texas attorney general, and Texans watched as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan feuded over policy at the Capitol, over social media, and on cable news shows.
Here’s a recap of the most important things that happened in the last 140 days:
Failure to pass top priorities
Every two years, Gov. Greg Abbott releases his priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
This year, the list was seven-issues long: cutting property taxes, ending COVID-19 restrictions, creating school vouchers, increasing school safety, shutting “revolving door” bail, enhanced border security, and addressing the fentanyl crisis.
The Legislature did pass legislation addressing COVID-19 rules, school safety and fentanyl. But it failed to pass bills targeting the other four priorities — including two of Abbott's biggest asks.
Arguably, property tax relief was the one priority House and Senate members, Republicans and Democrats agreed on.
During his State of the State speech in February, Abbott said he wanted the state to spend $15 billion to lower property taxes.
“As I travel across Texas, there’s one thing I hear loud and clear: Property taxes are suffocating Texans,” Abbott said, adding the budget surplus should be used to help. “We should return it to you with the largest property tax cut in the history of Texas.”
Patrick and Phelan agreed. But, the disagreement started when each chamber presented their proposals.
Patrick wanted to use $16.5 billion to increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000.
But Phelan wanted to use $17 billion to cut the appraisal cap from 10% to 5%. Patrick, the leader of the Senate, has said that’s a no-go.
He called Phelan’s plan “bad math.”
“Just on math, their plan gives far less, their plan disrupts the market, their plan isn’t needed,” Patrick told reporters last month.
Phelan, on the other hand, said he was open to negotiation.
“What we need to do is what’s best for all Texans, and that is sit down and hammer out our compromise,” Phelan told reporters last month.
Ultimately, the chambers didn’t reach an agreement on property taxes. This is the issue that could trigger a special session.
Ken Paxton gets impeached
There have been a lot of surprising moments in this legislative session (at least for this reporter who is new in Texas).
Perhaps the biggest moment happened over the weekend, when the Texas House of Representatives moved to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Rep. David Spiller, a Republican who sits in the House General Investigating Committee, said Paxton had a “brilliant legal mind” and praised his job as the state’s top cop, but said not even he is above the law.
"He put the interest of himself over his staff who tried to advise him on multiple occasions that he was about to violate the law,” Spiller told members on the House floor Saturday.
The final vote for impeachment was 121-23.
Rep. Ann Johnson, a Democrat who is also a member of the investigating committee, said the overwhelming vote recognizes that “the top cop was on the take, engaged in, as accused, on issues of bribery, public corruption, official abuses, abuse of capacity, and so many other potential state crimes.”
The Senate must now hold a trial to decide whether to convict Paxton. A date has yet to be announced.
Of particular note is that Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, will be one of the Senators in charge of voting, unless she recuses herself.
Only two other public officials have been impeached in the history of Texas — Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1976.
On Monday, Phelan spoke on the issue.
"What happened this week is nothing I take pride in. It is not anything I was proud of, but it was necessary, it was just," Phelan said from the House chamber. "The House spoke — we sent a strong message for the future of Texas."
House expels a member
In early May, the Texas House expelled a state representative — a first since 1927.
Former Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, was accused of having sexual intercourse with a young legislative aide. He is also accused of giving her alcohol despite her being under age.
Unlike the vote to impeach Paxton, the final vote to oust Slaton was 147-0. Three members, including Slaton, were absent.