The next special session of the 87th Texas Legislature will start on September 30, and though it has a much shorter to-do list than the previous two special sessions there are still many high-priority bills on the line for the Republicans.
By Texas constitutional law, the governor can call as many special sessions as he wants, but he is limited to announcing the agenda beforehand and the legislature must stick to it. That doesn’t mean that there will be no surprises, and the mass walkout of the Texas Democrats in the first session to deny a quorum to vote on the new voter rights and access restriction laws showed. Still, this session is likely to be the most predictable of them all so far.
The list is topped by the massive project of redrawing the district lines following the release of the 2020 U.S. Census. The Census shows that the Texas population has exploded since 2010, and that means adding on two congressional districts in addition to reconfiguring multiple other districts based on growth and decline.
The fight is liable to be long and bloody, but Republicans have a lot of incentive to get it done as quickly as possible. If they fail to have the lines drawn before the 2022 primary season starts in December, it’s possible that the matter will be thrown to the courts until after the election when the legislature would be given another shot. That’s exactly what happened in 2001. With control of the U.S. House of Representatives coming down to less than ten seats next year, Republicans will want every advantage they can get.
Though the redistricting is expected to take up most of the legislature’s time, there are other things that need doing as well. There are still billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that need assigning to various institutions. The legislature will decide how to allocate the money for various healthcare initiatives such as vaccine programs and to help nursing homes impacted by COVID-19.
Another item on the agenda is the passage of a law against the cruel restraint of dogs. The bill has bipartisan support and should clear both chambers easily if there is time.
Unfortunately, that is the end of the reasonable items on the agenda, and the rest is more of the regressive social justice pushback laws that dominated the legislature this year. A bill to prohibit school-age athletes from participating in University Interscholastic League sports outside of their birth gender is back on the menu after being derailed by State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), the chair of the Public Education Committee. The bill has passed the Texas Senate four times but has been held up by Democrats in the House who oppose the obvious discriminatory nature of the proposed law.
Governor Greg Abbott has also decreed that the legislature must pass a bill prohibiting vaccine mandates. The move came after President Joe Biden instructed OSHA to require any business with more than a hundred employees to vaccinate workers or submit those workers to weekly testing. Healthcare workers from employers of all sizes were also required to vaccinate. Abbott struck back against the law with an executive order stating that vaccine mandates were not lawful in Texas and wants a bill to shore up that position.
Unfortunately for the governor, his executive order is superseded by federal authority, backed up by more than a century of legal opinion stating that the federal government does has the right to require vaccination. Even if the legislature does take up the bill, the matter is so contentious that it’s unclear if the bill would pass the Republican-dominated chamber. Considering the size of the redistricting project, a fight over vaccines the state is almost certain to lose anyway is probably not going to get very far.