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Texas Legislative Session Ends in Controversy

State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) at his desk on the House floor in the state Capitol during the final weekend of the 87th session of the Texas Legislature. Courtesy photo

Corpus Christi Rep. Todd Hunter to lead redistricting efforts in special session

The regular session of the 87th Legislature ended in controversy over the Memorial Day weekend as Senate Democrats walked out of the building, preventing a final vote on a bill that would have made Texas the state with the most restrictive voting laws in the country.

Gov. Greg Abbott immediately said he would call a special session to reintroduce a new version of Senate Bill 7. He also threatened to veto a section of the state budget that funds the legislative branch, meaning that legislators and their staffs would not be paid until a new budget was approved.

The Legislature, which meets during the first five months of odd-numbered years, was already due to return in the fall to take up redistricting, a decennial process delayed by late tallies from the 2020 U.S. Census count. Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) will chair the committee in charge of drawing the state’s new political maps this year.

According to preliminary counts, Texas earned three new congressional seats based on its population growth over the past 10 years. The state awaits detailed numbers showing where that growth is centered, which will determine where those three new congressional seats will go. Those numbers won’t be available until the fall. The count is several months behind schedule because of the COVID-19 lockdowns last spring.

Special sessions can only be called for 30-day time periods and are limited to the issues outlined by the governor — in this case, the voting bill and redistricting. Abbott said he also might add a bail bond bill, House Bill 20, which did not make it through before the final gavel. The bill would make it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash.

“I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation,” Abbott said.

The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, nonprofit civic organization, called the governor’s threat to defund the Legislature “unethical and anti-democratic.”

“By threatening to defund Texas’s legislative branch, Governor Abbott undermines the constitutional set of checks and balances upon which our government is built,” reads a statement issued Tuesday, June 1, by the League of Women Voters of Texas. “Furthermore, his threats distract from the real issue: SB7 is a deeply undemocratic bill rammed through without due process.”

The League objected to a last-minute rule change allowing amendments to the voting bill without the usual 24-hour negotiating period.

On a brighter note, as the session formally closed on Monday, May 31, Hunter led House members in a round of applause for Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Galveston).

“We always go through ups and downs — that’s the nature of the Legislature — but what we’re really here to tell you is: You did a great job,” Hunter said from the chamber’s back mic, where bills are argued during session. “Thanks for standing up for the Texas House.”

Phelan also spoke during the last day of session, mentioning the impending special session.

“Let’s just have a restful, peaceful summer and, hopefully, be back here in the fall,” he said. “But that’s not my decision; that’s someone else’s decision.”

Only the governor can call a legislature back into session. Phelen alluded to his hope that all the state’s business, including leftover bills and redistricting, can be handled at the same time in one 30-day stint of overtime.

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