Skip to main content

The Texas Legislature just ended its session. Here's what to expect next.

How do special sessions work? When does the governor start vetoing bills? Is Texas headed to court? Now that Texas lawmakers have officially ended the 85th legislative session, you've got questions. We've got answers.

The Texas Capitol at sunset on May 23, 2017.

The Texas Legislature ended its 85th regular session Monday, having passed hundreds of bills but leaving several high-profile issues unresolved.

While both chambers successfully passed a two-year $217 blllion budget — the only item the Legislature is required to pass — other controversial items, such as a "bathroom bill" to regulate which restrooms transgender Texans can use, didn’t make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, prompting speculation that a special session is inevitable. 

Meanwhile, some measures that did make it to the governor are likely headed for a lengthy court battle.

And, then of course, there are hundreds of less controversial bills that the governor can decide whether to sign, veto or become law without his signature. 

Here are answers to some questions about what to expect in the coming weeks:

For how long and when would a special session happen?

The Texas Constitution requires lawmakers to meet every two years for no more than 140 days. Beyond that, the governor can call the Legislature back for as many special sessions as he wants, with each lasting no more than 30 days.

“I can tell you this, and that is when it gets to a special session, the time and topics are solely up to the governor of the state of Texas,” Abbott told reporters Monday at a bill-signing event. He added he would make an announcement about a possible upcoming special session “later this week.”

In a special session, lawmakers can’t consider anything that isn't on the governor’s call, though they can file bills on other topics in hopes that the governor might add their issue to the agenda.

A special session also can be a lot shorter than 30 days. In 2009, then-Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session on July 1 — a full month after the end of that year's regular session — with three items on the agenda. Members addressed all three issues the next day, returning home in time to celebrate the Fourth of July with their families.

In the final weeks of the most recent session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged Abbott to call the Legislature back if lawmakers didn't manage to pass measures addressing property taxes and a "bathroom bill." Abbott signaled that he too viewed both items as priorities, but he also emphasized Monday morning the need for both chambers to pass routine legislation that would prevent certain state agencies from shuttering. 

None of those measures made it to his desk before the session ended Monday afternoon.

Will any of the bills the Texas Legislature just passed land the state in court?

The legal fight has already started. Multiple lawsuits have been filed over an immigration law that would allow police officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest and ban "sanctuary cities." The sheriff of El Paso County has sued in his own capacity over Senate Bill 4. So has the City of El Cenizo and Maverick County. Other cities — like Austin — have announced their intent to sue. 

Lawsuits are also expected over a sweeping anti-abortion bill — which would ban the second most common second-trimester abortion procedure and require health care facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains. The bill is en route to Abbott’s desk — and he’s expected to sign it.

After both chambers passed the anti-abortion bill, state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said Texas was “just inviting a challenge," pointing to states such as Louisiana and Kansas that have similar legislation tied up in court.

Under the bill, health care facilities, including hospitals and abortion clinics, would also be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth.

Both the immigration bill and the anti-abortion bill are scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 1, though legal challenges could delay implementation.

Another bill that could spark a lawsuit is House Bill 25, which bans straight-ticket voting in Texas. Straight-ticket voting has been a staple of Texas’ election booths for years, but the measure that passed both chambers would end the practice in 2020. Abbott has not said whether he would sign the bill.

Prior to the measure passing the upper chamber, there was heated exchange between Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Democrats who argued eliminating straight-ticket voting would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters. A federal judge found as much last year in Michigan and blocked the bill from being implemented.

How long does the governor have to decide on whether to veto any bills?

Abbott has three options once a bill reaches his desk: He can sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature. He has until 20 days after the end of the session to make that decision regarding hundreds of bills. That day this year is June 18.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was known for wielding a hefty veto pen. He vetoed 82 bills after his first legislative session as governor — a stunning number that became known as the “Father’s Day Massacre.”

Abbott, after his first legislative session as governor, vetoed about 40 bills. While the Texas Legislature has the power to override a veto, they can only do so while in session. And since governors traditionally wait until after the session is over to implement most of their vetoes, they usually have the final say.

If Abbott signs a bill, the date it goes into effect depends on the language in the bill — usually that date is either Sept. 1 or 90 days after the governor signs it. In some cases, the bill will go into effect immediately.

Alex Samuels contributed to this report. 

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Yes, I'll donate today

Explore related story topics

State government 85th Legislative Session Texas Legislature