The legislative session may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s vacation time for many of the Capitol’s lobbyists.
With a Sunday deadline for Gov. Greg Abbott to veto legislation, some of them are still making a last-ditch effort to kill bills — and others are ensuring the bills they advocated for during the Legislature’s 140-day session aren’t knocked off by their foes.
“It isn’t just 140 days and then they go,” said John Fainter, a lobbyist who’s the president and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, which represents electricity providers. Fainter was previously chief of staff to Ann Richards when she was governor.
The governor has 20 days once the Legislature adjourns for the session to veto legislation. Any bill that Abbott doesn’t sign or veto automatically becomes law, unlike the federal “pocket veto,” where the president can effectively veto legislation by not signing it.
Abbott has used his veto pen a handful of times this session, and observers aren’t sure which additional bills — if any — he might veto by Sunday’s deadline. His office did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.
But as other governors have before him, Abbott’s office is hearing appeals during this 20-day window from both lobbyists and the public, advising him to take certain action on their pet bills.
Those who are paid to get legislation passed or slashed hope their appeals help the governor make up his mind on the massive stack of bills piled up on his desk by the end of the session.
Robert Floyd, a lobbyist at Hance Scarborough LLP, said he has no bills this session that he’s pushing the governor to veto. But it’s a request he’s made in the past, lobbying former Gov. Rick Perry successfully in the last session to veto a bill that allowed physicians to dispense some drugs — a measure opposed by the independent pharmacists Floyd represented.
“It’s really not a lot different than working on a bill in the Legislature, trying to pass it or defeat it,” Floyd said. “You just have a different audience.”
Lobbyists don’t just focus on stopping bills in this 20-day waiting period. They provide the governor’s office with information on bills they want Abbott to sign — and try to confirm that he supports them.
But conversations between lobbyists and the governor’s office shouldn’t start once bills pass the House and Senate, the lobbyists say. Experienced lobbyists flag potential problems with legislation early in the session so that the bill authors might address those issues before they land with the governor.
That way, lobbyists can avoid giving the governor just one option — the nuclear one.
“That’s an unfair position to put the governor in,” said Deirdre Delisi, who served as Perry’s chief of staff before becoming a lobbyist. “That’s your job as a lobbyist, to go work it and try to get it fixed before going to the governor and asking for a veto. A veto should be considered as the last resort.”
Disclosure: Robert Floyd and John Fainter are major donors to The Texas Tribune. The Association of Electric Companies of Texas is a corporate sponsor of the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.