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Texas just concluded one of the most eventful legislative assemblies in state history.
The Texas Legislature entered its 85th Legislative session in January; it came to a close in late May. The session was one of the most eventful in recent history, it ended with a brawl, some heated words, and a threat from the state Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, to urge a special session. His threat had a noticeable impact on Governor Greg Abbott as he called for the Texas Legislator to reconvene in July. Now, before we get to the headline-making and short-lived conclusion of this year's regular session, let's examine what made it so capricious.
The Texas Constitution requires for its elected Legislators to meet for 140 days every two years. The state Governor has the power to call for a special session of no more than 30 days per session after the regular session ends. He also has the authority to dictate what legislation gets worked on during the special session. So, why did Lt. Gov. Patrick push for a special session? The answer is Senate Bill 6, or the bathroom bill. The measure, which was introduced in January by Senator Lois Kolkhorst and Lt Gov. Patrick, would force Transgender people to use the bathroom correspondent to their birth sex, and not the gender they identify with when using a government building, public schools or universities. The bill made it through the Texas Senate in March but stalled in the House after Speaker Joe Straus voiced his disapproval of the bill. Lt. Gov. Patrick responded by threatening to force a special session if Speaker Straus did not refer the Senate bill to a committee and a vote. Long story short, Straus stood his ground and had the Texas House start a debate on a new bathroom bill that would only apply to public schools and be voluntary. Lt. Gov. Patrick responded by taking some agency renewal bills hostage in an attempt to force his special session; the Legislative session ended with no transgender bathroom bill passed. However, it appears the Lt. Governors legal tactics had an influence on Gov. Abbott as he called for a special session set to begin July 18th. Gov. Abbott has prioritized legislation that is vital to keeping state agencies afloat for the next two years. However, once the Legislator completes the prioritized bills, the Governor has promised to give the bathroom bill, among other conservative legislation, priority.
Texas Republicans appear incapable of learning from the mistakes of other states such as North Carolina and now Arizona. The majority Republican state Legislator sent SB 4, or the Sanctuary Cities bill, to the governor's desk in early May. The bill not only punishes cities, universities, and counties that do not comply with federal immigration law but also creates criminal charges for state law officials who violate the ban. The bill goes as far as penalizing local jurisdictions per violation, per day the violation's not resolved. What may be the worst provision of the law is that it allows local police to question anyone they detain about their immigration status. Proponents make the argument that the ban of sanctuary cities is necessary to lower the number of criminal immigrants. However, critics argue that the bill not only creates a rift between law enforcement and minority ethnic groups but also condones racial profiling and discrimination against the Latino community.
Lawmakers also looked to pass a variety of bills during the regular session relating to everything from school lunches to anti-abortion measures. These bills were part of the more than 100 bills killed during the ‘Mother's Day Massacre" that occurred on the days leading up to Mother's Day. The legislative "massacre" transpired when a small faction of "Tea Party" Republican turned on their party members and blocked multiple bills as the deadline to pass them loomed. The defecting Republicans claimed that House leadership was ignoring their proposals as retaliation for the ongoing obstruction tactics the defectors placed on moderate leadership and their allies.
The Legislative session wasn't all about passing, or killing, bills. Governor Greg Abbott made headlines during a news conference when he joked about shooting journalist. Abbott also had quite the package, or packages, delivered to him at the beginning of the session after women mailed him used feminine hygiene products as a method of protesting the state policy that required clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages. The policy was blocked by a federal judge soon after. House Republicans also got a taste of their own medicine when Democrat Representative Jessica Farrar introduced a bill to fine males for "unregulated masturbatory emissions." Rep. Farrar claimed she authored the bill to address the hypocrisy in the legislation that her Republican counterparts passed restricting access to women's reproductive health care. The bill did not make it to the governor's desk.
The most nationally headlined story from the 85th Legislative Session was probably the brawl between Representative Ramon Romero, a Democrat, and Republican Representative Matt Rinaldi. Rinaldi made the claim, through social media, that Romero had physically assaulted him after he made a threat aimed at protesters gathered in the State House. The demonstrators, many of which were Latinos, were protesting the Legislative passing of SB 4, or the sanctuaries city law. Rinaldi threatened them by claiming he had called the Immigration Costumes and Enforcement Agency. Rinaldi argued that not only was he physically assaulted by Romero, but he was also threatened multiple times by another colleague who Rinaldi claimed to have threatened to shoot if he followed through with the threats. Romero said in a statement that he did not assault Rinaldi and that various House members witnessed the scuffled and can solidify that no assault took place.
Texas' 85th Legislative Session will be known as one of the most eventful assemblies in the state's history. However, whether this summer's special session will be as momentous as the regular one, we will have to wait and see.
Originally from Mexico, Jose grew up in North Texas before moving to Dallas where he works as a behavioral therapist for a nonprofit. Jose has a strong passion for politics, world events, and writing.