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Straus to Patrick: Pass two bills, avoid a special session of the Texas Legislature

Texas lawmakers can avoid a special session if the House and Senate can pass two bills, House Speaker Joe Straus said in an unusual letter sent late Monday to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick at a Texas Legislative Budget Board meeting on December 1, 2016.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Texas lawmakers can avoid a special session if the House and Senate can pass two bills, House Speaker Joe Straus said in an unusual letter sent late Monday to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“The House wants to finish all of our work in the regular session, and we believe that this goal is well within reach,” Straus wrote. “While I respect and defer to Gov. [Greg] Abbott’s right to call a special session on any topic, I believe that such a session will not be necessary if we work together to pass two critical bills.”

Those bills? The state budget — Senate Bill 1 — and legislation that would save agencies meant for review from closing their doors if lawmakers don’t complete those reviews.

The letter is an out-of-the-ordinary note in a 140-day session where the leaders of the two chambers — and the governor whose office sits halfway between them — are in regular contact. It underscores the deadlines looming over legislation that still hasn’t passed — like the two required bills Straus mentioned — and the public positions around the private negotiations normal at this point in the process.

“As is usual at this point in the session, negotiations between the leadership have been going on intensely for the last couple of days,” said Sherry Sylvester, a senior advisor to Patrick. “We are negotiating in good faith — and we are not negotiating in the media.” 

It will probably take more than those two bills to get out of town. Patrick put more than two dozen bills on his own list of priorities early in the session. Many of those haven't passed yet.

“We are in the process, last night and today, of identifying the priorities of the House, the Senate and the governor, and we are working diligently around the clock to hammer those out to try to get this done,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday morning. “I have identified my priorities and ... we are on a pathway where those priorities can be addressed during the regular session. It’s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page.”

In his letter, Straus referenced written comments by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, that were handed out to reporters last week, noting the work the Senate had done early and the slow pace of legislation in the House.

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

Read more from Ross Ramsey: 

  • As the Legislature grinds its way through the final three weeks of the regular session, the state's top three leaders are pushing and shoving, figuratively speaking, to the finale and beyond — to the 2018 elections.
  • The Texas Legislature is moving into the part of the calendar when certain dates are circled in red. More bills are killed by clocks and calendars — by those circled deadlines — than by votes.
  • Texas governor's powers peak at the end of a legislative session, as deadline-haunted legislators begin to fear the threat of a veto from the state's chief executive.

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Politics State government 85th Legislative Session Dan Patrick Joe Straus Texas Legislature