The second special session of the 87th Texas Legislature was much more impactful than the first, which was mostly impotent following the mass exodus of Texas Democrats. With a third session starting on September 20th so that the legislature can proceed with redistricting, here’s a look back on these tumultuous thirty days.
The Election Restriction Bill
By far the biggest story is the passage of a massive bill highly prioritized by Republicans that restricts voter access and empowers poll watchers. Based on completely unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud, the bill does away with drive-thru voting, makes it harder to sign up to vote by mail, and keeps election workers from curtailing the actions of poll watchers that may try to intimidate voters. The fact that this bill almost exclusively targets voting practices faced by minorities and marginalized people led to widespread opposition and the Democratic walkout that prevent the House from coming to a quorum. With the return of three Houston Democrats, that barrier was breached, and the bill was passed.
Red Meat Bills
The legislative agenda was a veritable buffet of socially regressive red meat favored by the far right. Many of these ended up passing. These include a bill restricting the way teachers can speak about the role of white supremacy in history in public schools, bans on certain types of birth control pills, a massive cash infusion for border security, and a bill designed to punish social media companies for moderating content. The latter is part of a long-running Republican belief that conservative speech is being censored on Facebook and Twitter, culminating with the suspension of accounts associated with former President Donald Trump.
At least one of these social injustice bills failed to make it over the line. The proposed ban of high school trans athletes competing under their current gender rather than the one they were assigned at birth was unable to make it out of committee in the House. The issue is likely to make it into the next special session, though with the amount of work involved in redistricting it’s possible that it will not pass then either.
No Electrical Reform
The most conspicuous item missing from Governor Greg Abbott’s agenda in the second special session was any sort of electrical grid reform. The issue was a major public concern following the devastating power outages during Winter Storm Uri that left millions of Texans without electricity for days in freezing temperatures as dozens of people dead.
Obsessed as the governor has been with proving his far-right bonafides now that a 2022 primary challenger has arisen in the form of Texas GOP Chair Allen West, it’s possible that his hands-off approach to fix the Texas power grid with another winter coming will severely hurt him, especially should another storm happen. The fact that Abbott has raked in huge donations from energy companies, who made millions during the blackouts, is another possible explanation for why he has failed to tackle the problem.
Overall, it was an extremely busy session for the legislature despite the late start on much of the work from the absent Democrats. Republicans managed to push through far-right bills with few concessions. What Abbott will try to make happen in the next session will likely be buoyed by his successes with the previous one.