Immediately upon expiration of the Third Special Session, Gov. Abbott convened the Fourth Special Session, continuing to require the legislature to remain in session to consider private school vouchers and border issues. This is the first time in Texas history that the legislature has been compelled to meet for four special sessions in the same year as the regular legislative session. Special sessions are limited to 30 days each, but the governor has an unlimited power to call additional sessions. At the end of this session, the legislature will have been in Austin for 260 days this year.
Because the duration of each session is limited to 30 days, special session legislation often moves quickly without the usual research and review of a regular session. Additionally, legislators are eager to complete their business and return to their regular occupations. Unfortunately, this combination can lead to “unintended consequences.” For example, proposed legislation to create a new Class B misdemeanor for illegal entry may lead to higher county property taxes. Budgets in smaller counties will be severely impacted if a truckload of migrants are apprehended in the county and held in the local jail for six months. However, state leaders have expressed reluctance to provide county reimbursement for this new unfunded mandate.
In the haste to complete the session, it is also difficult to gain attention for needed legislation to repair prior “unintended consequences.” S.B. 23 by Sen. Springer/ H.B. 70 by Rep. Cook would correct the prior unintended repeal of the ability to combine election precincts in the primary elections. Unless this legislation is approved, taxpayers will be required to incur unnecessary expenses to hold the 2024 elections. At this time, Gov. Abbott has not allowed this legislation to be considered.
With the regular session limited to 140 days in odd-numbered years, there will be an occasional need for a special session to consider emergency items. However, state leaders should resist the temptation to utilize the special sessions as opportunities to coerce legislators through economic hardship. Unable to justify the continuing burden on their families and careers, several legislators have announced their retirement at the end of the current term.
Some changes in the Texas Constitution would alleviate some of the current problems:
- Special sessions should be limited to three per year.
- Legislative compensation should be set by an independent commission, instead of the current $7,200 per year provided in the constitution since 1975.
- The Texas Senate should be enlarged from 31 to 49 members to reduce the cost of campaigns and broaden representation.
Texans deserve dedicated, independent representation. Let’s assist those who will provide it.