Thursday, July 13, 2017

Texas special session may limit cities and towns' control over local issues, please rural voters

Urban Texas leaders are fuming over a 30-day special legislative session which many believe will give conservative state officials more control over local issues in more liberal cities, report Andy Duehren and Shannon Najmabadi for The Texas Tribune. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick applauded the session for addressing issues important to conservative, rural Texans, saying it "solidly reflects the priorities of the people of Texas."

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called the session, which will begin Tuesday, July 18, after partisan gridlock kept necessary legislation from passing earlier in the year; without this "sunset legislation," several state agencies would have to shut down. But Abbott also announced 20 items he plans to add to the agenda, including "how much cities can collect in property taxes, how much cities can spend, how cities can physically grow in size, permit construction projects, regulate land use and prohibit texting while driving," reports Matt Dotray for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Mike Ward of the Houston Chronicle reports that Abbott also wants to pass a transgender bathroom bill, prevent most union dues from being deducted from government paychecks, give teachers a raise by restructuring how schools spend their money, toughen mail-voting fraud penalties, expand a task force studying maternal mortality, limit state and local spending, and prohibit local governments from using taxpayer money for abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

The Texas Municipal League says the bills are "an all-out assault on the ability of citizens to decide what’s best for their communities and neighborhoods." Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope told Dotray that these bills are coming from "the same state legislature that sued the Obama administration countless times for interfering with state decisions." He says he agrees with some of the proposed items, but they should still be decided locally.

Some believe Abbott called the special session partly to outflank his more conservative lieutenant governor, writes Ward. "This was clearly to take control of the situation back from Dan Patrick and to be clear that he's in charge of the right wing of the [Republican] party in Texas," says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. The session will cost at least $800,000 and could be as much as $1 million.

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