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Emails show Abbott’s vetoes ruffled feathers at the Capitol

The emails reveal how the governor's vetoes caught some state lawmakers by surprise, while his staff has let evangelical Christian leaders know about vetoes of bills they opposed.

Gov. Greg Abbott lays out items for a special session at a press conference on June 6, 2017.

A few weeks ago, The Texas Tribune asked for emails sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff as he was deciding which of the thousands of bills on his desk he would sign and which ones he would veto.

The documents, produced by Abbott’s office Friday, reveal how the governor's vetoes blindsided some Democratic lawmakers, while his staff kept evangelical Christian leaders informed when he shot down legislation they opposed.

This year, Abbott vetoed 50 bills passed by the Legislature — the most bills tanked by a governor's pen since 2007 — setting a personal record for the governor in his second legislative session.

Those vetoes included Senate Bill 667, by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would have created a state-run compliance program for people who serve as guardians to elderly Texans. Abbott torpedoed the program, saying it would have created a “new state bureaucracy” that would cost more than $5 million every two years.

Zaffirini appeared stunned by the decision. In an impassioned email to Abbott’s staff, she wrote that the veto meant “bad actors, including corrupt judges and conspirators who abuse, neglect, and exploit persons under guardianship, will rest more easily.”

In all, Zaffirini said Abbott vetoed 10 pieces of legislation that she was involved in. The Laredo Democrat called that “a harsh blow that is difficult to accept, especially since I was confident in what I thought was our productive and open working relationship.”

Another bill that fell to the governor’s veto pen was Senate Bill 1444 by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. That proposal sought to improve efficiency in certain child protection court cases because, its supporters say, court delays can slow a child’s placement in a permanent home.

Explaining his decision, Abbott said the bill would “expand the power of unelected judges” while infringing on Texans’ rights by making certain rulings unable to be appealed.

An email sent by Graham Keever, one of West’s staffers, indicated his office was caught unawares by the veto. The text of the email included only a link to Abbott’s press release announcing the governor had killed the bill. Keever’s subject line read: “ummmm.”

Jay Dyer, Abbott’s legislative affairs director, responded the following day that he had spoken with the senator.

Earlier this month, Abbott also vetoed about $120 million from the state’s two-year, $217 billion budget. Among the programs that faced cuts were the Houston Crime Stoppers, a non-profit that encourages people to report criminal activity to a tip line.

Rania Mankarious, its executive director, wrote to the governor’s staff urging them to reconsider the decision to cut $4 million from their program’s budget. “We all believe … that there is no way Governor Abbott would veto our item and knowingly hurt an organization like Crime Stoppers of Houston, a non-profit that is literally bringing the community together to do everything Governor Abbott champions and stands for.”

The governor’s office did not produce any documents showing an emailed response to Mankarious’s note.

Other groups received emails from the governor’s staff informing them of Abbott’s vetoes. Those included the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Texas Eagle Forum, a social conservative group.

Ben Taylor, the governor’s outreach director, sent a note to Cindy Asmussen, the Baptist group’s ethics and religious liberty adviser, and Trayce Bradford, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, letting them know that a piece of legislation they apparently opposed had been killed by the governor.

The proposal, House Bill 1342, would have created an optional curriculum for public schools to teach students about sexual abuse prevention. Abbott said he opposed the bill because it would not have allowed parents to opt their children out of receiving the training. A similar measure, Senate Bill 2039, allows parents to let their children opt out of the lessons and was signed by the governor.

"That is great news," Asmussen wrote back.

Read more of the Tribune's related coverage:


Abbott veto emails

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State government Governor's Office Greg Abbott Texas Legislature