According to prevailing wisdom, the Texas Legislature is not designed to pass bills. Conversely, it is designed to kill them. If that's true, then the 84th session of the Legislature looks to be on the precipice of having a blockbuster session.
In addition to the ambiguous fate of a few pieces of major legislation, namely dealing with reforming firearm restrictions, the other big question is if Gov. Greg Abbott will push hard for his suspect right-wing principles and call the Legislature back into special session for a variety of different reasons. My guess would be no.
When first taking office, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlined a reactionary vision for this state as leader of the upper chamber of the Legislature that would make Strom Thurmond look up from the grave and smile. Patrick wanted to repeal the Texas DREAM Act, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to this country as small children to pay in-state tuition at public universities. He wanted to ban so-called "sanctuary cities," locales where police prioritize things other than checking immigration status (like, say, catching murderers). He wanted to voucherize public education. Thankfully, all of those proposals died.
In the House, more extreme proposals have also languished. A proposal by state Rep. Cecil Bell, Jr. (R-Magnolia) that would have literally prohibited county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if it meant defying the U.S. Supreme Court — died even though it was ostensibly co-sponsored by nearly all of the chamber's Republican majority members. Other pieces of anti-LGBT legislation met the same fate. In one case, a bill by state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) that would have superseded municipal non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT people, the sponsor even took down the bill and had a total change of heart on the issue at hand.
Even on guns, the centrist bloc that runs the House seemed ready to strip away the most serious concerns many people — including myself — had with the bills. Open carry's clause that prohibited police officers from inquiring about someone's licensing was stripped away Thursday in conference committee before final passage, and the conference committee allowed for limited opt-outs in the case of campus carry. Both are probably still bad ideas, but they're not as bad.
The list of definite accomplishments for the 84th Legislature is rather thin. They tentatively passed a bipartisan budget that could have indubitably been much, much worse. (Defunding HIV prevention in favor of abstinence-only education, granted, was an especially egregious blunder within the budget.) They banned fracking bans. Perhaps best for the state, there are now modest increases to Pre-K education. Though perhaps the Legislature and I differ on our definitions of success.
But will all this be enough to stop Abbott from calling a special session? Under the Texas Constitution, the governor has basically unlimited power to call a 30-day special assembly of the legislature for basically any reason he wants. Former Gov. Rick Perry particularly enjoyed making full use of this privilege, using it for redistricting, abortion restrictions and juvenile sentencing. Abbott, though, is not Perry, and has not emulated him throughout his first five months as governor.
While Perry was a big, swaggering cowboy who made his opinion about everything under the sun known and known well, Abbott has loomed much smaller and has tended to operate more from behind the scenes. Perry let the Legislature know time and time again who was boss, firmly controlling and pushing the agenda, yet the relationship between Abbott and the Legislature is a tad more ambiguous. Perry, like him or not, had a firm moral ideology that he would never waiver from; Abbott, on the other hand, goes whichever way the wind blows.
"I think that over the next few days as we head toward June 1, that [sic] we will be able to achieve everything that needs to be accomplished this session," Abbott said on Thursday. "My hope is that we will be able to allow the legislators to return home and not return until 2017."
It sure sounds like the aforementioned right-wing stuff that Patrick had been so vociferously fighting for does not really matter to Abbott that much. Campus carry is still pending, as is a contentious ethics bill — SB 19, proposed by state Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) — that has split the legislature along non-traditional lines. But even these ostensible emergency priorities of Abbott may not prompt him to do much of anything. It may only exemplify his inability or unwillingness to meddle in legislative affairs. All in all, it looks as though Abbott doesn't have a problem with the legislative session's "success."