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Gov. Abbott: There is still time to avoid a special session of the Legislature

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday there is still time for a deal to be struck to avert a special session of the Texas Legislature.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to the Convention of States gathering at the Texas Capitol on Dec. 6, 2016

*Editor's note: This story has been updated with the news that the Senate has rejected the House's proposed compromise on a "bathroom" measure.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday there is still time for a deal to be struck to avert a special session of the Texas Legislature.

“The main thing I want to see is the House and Senate coming together," Abbott told reporters. "This is going to require compromise ... by both sides.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said he is prepared to go to a special session if the House does not act on property taxes and a "bathroom bill" that would regulate which restrooms transgender Texans can use. Abbott agreed Thursday that those issues remain front and center in the home stretch of the regular session, which ends Monday.

"We must see especially students in schools having their privacy, security and safety maintained, but also we want to do all we can to help women have privacy, safety and security to the fullest extent," Abbott said, speaking with reporters after a bill-signing ceremony.

On property taxes, Abbott said he wants "real constraints on the rise in property taxes on our fellow Texans." He continued to voice support for requiring local governments that want to raise property taxes by a certain amount to get voter approval, an approach the House has so far rejected.

"We've got plenty of time to continue in this regular session," Abbott said, adding that it would be "highly inappropriate" for a football player in the fourth quarter of a game to start talking about overtime. "We have enough time to resolve these issues in regular session."

Standing behind Abbott at the ceremony, Patrick was asked if he is still prepared to go to a special session.

"I'm prepared to give people property tax relief," Patrick told reporters. "I'm prepared to protect their kids in schools and bathrooms, and we're working towards that."

Talk of a special session has consumed the Legislature in recent days, especially following Patrick’s ultimatum to the House. At a Texas Tribune event earlier Thursday, two Republican senators — Konni Burton of Colleyville and Bryan Hughes of Mineola — predicted a special session was more likely than not at this point.

“If this were just about the budget, this wouldn’t be a concern,” Hughes said. “But given the other issues that are out there and given that all three of the 'Big Three' are engaged ... I think it’s an above-average likelihood of a special session.”

“I’m still hoping that we can come to some solutions that everybody is OK with, but I’m expecting one, yes,” Burton added.

Hours after Abbott's comments Thursday, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 12 conservative lawmakers, issued a statement saying it "strongly agrees" with the governor on property taxes and the bathroom issue. "If these important issues are not addressed by Sine Die" — the end of the regular session — "they should be addressed immediately in a called special session," the caucus said.

Further pushing the fight over bathrooms into the final days of the legislative session, the Senate — as expected — officially rejected the House's proposed compromise on Thursday.

Republican state Sen. Larry Taylor moved to not concur with the House’s changes on Senate Bill 2078, including its amendment to require school districts to provide single-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities for students who don’t want to use facilities associated with their “biological sex.”

The House amendment author, Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie, contends it would keep transgender students from using bathrooms that match their gender identity unless they use a multi-occupancy bathroom when no one else is in there. Echoing Patrick’s concerns with the amendment’s “ambiguous language,” Taylor had previously said the House’s language “doesn’t do anything” and would require “minor work” on the wording.

“This is a controversial issue that impacts all of our Texas schools and students, and I believe that a conference committee is needed to clarify some provisions of the bill to provide for better implementation,” Taylor said on Thursday.

The Senate appointed five of its members to the conference committee and requested that the House appoint five of its members to iron out the differences. They’ll have just a few days to work on the legislation. Sunday is the last day for the Senate to concur on House amendments or adopt conference committee reports.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Abbott and Patrick made clear Sunday there was still work for lawmakers to do on property taxes and the bathroom issue.
  • The legislative wrangling over where transgender Texans can use the bathroom isn’t over yet.  
  • The Texas Senate is looking to resurrect bills over bathrooms and property taxes.

Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

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State government 85th Legislative Session Dan Patrick Governor's Office Greg Abbott Texas Legislature