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Analysis: With a Week to Go, the Most Important Fights Are Over

With one week left in this legislative session, hundreds of bills are still pending. But if legislative action ended right now, there would be little reason for Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back for overtime.

From left: Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are shown on May 21, 2015.

Somebody’s favorite legislation will fall victim to deadlines during the last week of the 84th legislative session. But the big stuff is done.

The budget, tax bills, border security legislation, open carry of handguns, a dash of ethics and a swipe or two at local control — the things state leaders were talking about before the session started — are mostly out of the way. Add an asterisk for transportation issues still awaiting a House-Senate parlay.

Hundreds of bills are still pending. But if legislative action ended right now, there would be little reason for Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back for overtime.

During the 14 years that Rick Perry was governor, he called lawmakers back for a dozen special sessions. There were none during George W. Bush’s six years in office and three during the four years Ann Richards was the state’s top elected official.

One of those Perry sessions is cautionary. In 2009, lawmakers came back in the first week of July for two days to wrap up some issues they somehow didn’t manage to complete during the regular session. One bill got some roads built. Another got some bonds authorized. A third bill had to pass in order to keep some state agencies authorized to do business for two more years. It was important stuff, but not the kind of thing you can set to music.

And it probably should have been finished in regular time.

Special sessions have been rumored several times during the current session — usually during conversations about temporary or supposed differences between the House and the Senate on issues like taxes, guns and border security. But in mid-May, the governor and legislative leaders from both sides negotiated settlements to their biggest differences. Barring a fumble, they won’t have any unfinished business to worry about when the clock runs out on June 1.

Some predicted fights never heated up. An effort to allow carmakers to sell directly to the public — pushed by Tesla Motors and resisted strongly by the state’s car dealers — didn’t materialize. Neither did the latest attempt to allow big retailers to start selling hard liquor in Texas. Or the push for ride-for-hire and ride-sharing legislation opposed by cab companies and promoted by companies like Uber and Lyft.

Some things that looked like late-session party poopers fizzled out. A bill that would have blocked automatic payroll deductions to cover dues to unions and non-union groups for public employees arrived late from the Senate and died in a House committee. Forces in favor of it (conservatives and some business groups) and against it (Democrats and unions) assembled for what promised to be a big battle.

Forget the merits of either side for a moment; a big fight on any issue in the last days before a major deadline kills a lot of other bills behind it on the calendar. And this one, coming as it did very late in the session, could have empowered the greatly outnumbered Democrats in the House to drag out a debate while Republican bills fell victim to the deadlines.

It died in committee, failing to beat a Saturday deadline. It might turn up as an election issue next year, but that one isn’t going to kill any more bills.

Special sessions can be useful. They’re focused on whatever a governor wants done, and lawmakers work faster when they’re anxious to go home. But they fray tempers and political relationships, and they’re really only worth it when important issues — whether they are political or policy concerns — are at stake.

With a week to go, the big issues appear to be safely in hand.

Ending with a whimper instead of a bang this time would simply mean they got their regular work done in the time allotted. For this crew — a new governor and lieutenant governor, and a speaker interested in keeping the rowdier elements of both parties at bay — that probably beats the alternative. 

Disclosure: Tesla Motors and Uber are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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