Updated at 11:40 a.m.: Revised to include comments from Texas House members about potential special session.
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce later this week whether he will order lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special legislative session. Abbott made clear that only he can call a special session and determine what issues lawmakers can discuss during it.
“We will be, if we have a special session, convening only on the topics that I choose at the time of my choosing,” Abbott said.
The 140-day regular legislative session will end Monday with lawmakers having failed to approve a must-pass provision that would keep important state agencies, including the one that licenses doctors, up and running. Amid stormy relations between the state’s top Republican leaders, two other measures that Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick promoted also failed to pass: a property tax bill and a measure that would restrict bathroom use for transgender Texans.
Patrick, the loudest proponent of the bathroom and tax bills, has been clamoring for weeks for Abbott to call a special session to force lawmakers to pass his priorities. The Texas House, under Speaker Joe Straus, has rejected both of those proposals. Straus has said the bathroom bill is a potential economy killer, and House leaders have opposed tax measures Patrick wants.
Abbott made clear on Monday that the authority to convene a special session rests solely with him and he will not be cajoled into call one by the outspoken leader of the Senate.
Asked how much pressure he feels from Patrick to call a special session, Abbott said bluntly: “None.”
The governor said he was pleased that all of his priorities were approved by lawmakers, including a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” that provide safe harbor to immigrants, a package of new ethics laws, measures calling for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution and an overhaul of the state’s ailing child protective services agencies.
“I am very, very proud that all of my emergency items were passed,” he said.
But he added that he was disappointed that lawmakers failed to approve a key measure, known as a “sunset bill” to keep several state agencies from shutting down before the 2019 legislative session. The bill died late Sunday night as House and Senate leaders held dueling press conferences, each accusing the other chamber of sabotaging the sunset measures.
Patrick said the House didn’t complete its sunset review process in time. Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, Sunset Advisory Commission chairman, said senators intentionally delayed the bills to force lawmakers into the special session that Patrick wants.
“This is something that is incredibly easy to achieve that members could have very easily gotten together and agreed upon but simply was not done,” Abbott said.
Some House lawmakers who do not want to return for a special session were heartened by Abbott’s remarks that seemed to push back against Patrick’s demands.
“The governor is 100% correct,” Gonzales said. “He’s the governor. It’s his call — and his alone.”
But members of the self-styled House Freedom Caucus, ultraconservative Republicans who align with Patrick, said they will be urging Abbott to call a special session.
“We urge Gov. Abbott to make sure we finish our business on property taxes and women’s privacy,” said Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, the caucus chairman. “The ink’s not dry.”