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Texas Legislature reconvenes for a special session focusing on border security

A Texas DPS vehicle sits at the border fence in El Paso on May 11, 2023
Julian Aguilar
The Texas Newsroom
A Texas DPS vehicle sits at the border fence in El Paso on May 11.

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Texas lawmakers on Tuesday began their first overtime session of the state Legislature after failing to pass several items deemed priorities by Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans.

Included on the list of unsuccessful proposals were bills on border security that fell victim to disagreements between the House and Senate over what they should contain.

Abbott addressed that shortcoming immediately Monday when, just hours after the Texas Legislature gaveled out to end its regular session, he told members to come back to address border security and property tax cuts.

In a proclamation announcing the first special session, Abbott ordered lawmakers to pass: “Legislation solely for the purpose of increasing or enhancing the penalties” for people who engage in human smuggling or operate stash houses. A major piece of legislation, House Bill 800, that contained these provisions failed to reach Abbott’s desk after it was derailed on procedural grounds late last week. Democrats successfully challenged the bill on the grounds that the Senate changed the legislation by adding offenses that were not part of the original language. Time eventually ran out for the chambers to settle their differences.

By Tuesday afternoon, several bills that would address Abbott’s order on border security had already been filed, including a measure by state Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, who filed the original proposal, HB800, in the regular session. On the Senate side, Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound and Pete Flores of Pleasanton, filed separate proposals on border security.

“These bills target human smuggling & stash house operations, raising penalties to discourage this abhorrent criminal conduct. Our priority: safeguarding Texas & upholding the rule of law,” Parker stated in a tweet about his legislation.

Guillen’s original proposal, HB 800, passed the lower chamber by a margin of 94 to 52 and the Senate 25 to 5, so it’s likely a similar bill will receive the same support in the special session. Abbott’s order that the legislation be “solely” for the purposes stated could be interpreted as a message to lawmakers to pass legislation without a heavy mark up to avoid any procedural maneuvering that could risk its fate.

As spelled out in Texas law, special sessions of the state Legislature can only last for 30 days, and lawmakers can only address topics added to the call by the governor. But Abbott also has the authority to call as many overtime periods as he wishes and can add subjects to a special session that are already in progress. That means it could be a long summer for lawmakers as Abbott said Monday that “several special sessions” will be needed to address everything that came up short during the 140-day regular session.

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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