Texas Gov. Rick Perry has the power to call the legislature into session at any time and to direct lawmakers to address only the subject matter of his choosing. On Monday, Gov. Perry exercised this power to call a special session starting less than an hour after the Texas House and Senate adjourned the 140-day regular session. The governor has sent the legislature into overtime for up to 30 days to enact permanently the redistricting plans temporarily put in place by federal judges last year for elections to the Texas House, Texas Senate, and to the 36-member Texas delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
So far, that is the only topic on the special session’s agenda, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has urged Gov. Perry to expand the subject matter to include “school choice.” This label could encompass recently defeated “parent trigger” and “achievement district” bills to privatize public schools as well as private-school voucher bills that also failed in the regular session.Also on Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s wish list for additions to the special session’s agenda is a college campus-carry bill (allowing possession of concealed handguns at state public colleges and universities). Other hot-button items Dewhurst says he would like to see addressed include anti-abortion bills and a bill mandating drug testing for recipients of Texas Assistance for Needy Families. Dewhurst also is talking up new legislation to impose a more stringent limit on growth in state spending—even though existing limits seem to be working all too well as artificial constraints to discourage needed investments in public education and other core state services.
Rep. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), already has introduced a couple of items on the Dewhurst wish list in bill form. Williams’ SB 8 is a private-school voucher bill that would make every student with a disability eligible for taxpayer-funded private schooling without meaningful public accountability. Williams also has filed SJR 1 and SB 7, a constitutional amendment and enabling bill that would put new and counterproductive limits on state spending growth.
Williams separately has urged the governor to open the special session to consideration of highway spending. In fact, the senator’s newly introduced SJR 2 would take half the funding stream that now automatically flows into the Rainy Day Fund and divert it into a state highway fund for road projects. This diversion of funds from the Rainy Day reserve to pay for highways would go on in perpetuity.
We repeat: Anyone can entreat the governor to add items to the “call” of the special session, but only the governor decides which topics will be within bounds. And the governor says he is not ready to add any other topics just yet. Hence it appears that no bills on topics other than redistricting will even get a hearing unless and until the governor adds them to the agenda.
Meanwhile hearings have been announced on the redistricting issue for thisThursday, May 30, at 9 a.m. in the Senate and for Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1, at 9 a.m. in the House. All these hearings will be in the same auditorium in the underground capitol extension, in case you’re of a mind to come to Austin on short notice and testify.