AUSTIN - Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) spent Wednesday afternoon conducting interviews via satellite from his office on the Special Session, including talking with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau.
The Texas Legislature gaveled in for the Special Session Tuesday, but Texans have been making their feelings about the Governor's agenda known for weeks.
Monday, numerous groups traveled to the Capitol to protest several issues the Governor wants to be passed. Business leaders said bathroom legislation is discriminatory and will cost the state billions. Educators said the Governor's agenda will take money away from public schools.
Abbott said he's focused on protecting Texas values.
"My job is to make sure we continue to advance Texas, that we pass conservative policies that will promote freedom, that will reduce regulation, that will promote jobs and sometimes some of these issues do cause some people to push back," Abbott said. "But my job is to focus on what are the policies that will make Texas even better and get as many votes as I can for those propositions."
When Abbott called lawmakers back, he placed just one item on the Special Session Call; the "must-pass" sunset bills to keep a handful of Texas agencies, including the Medical Board which licenses doctors operating. Without passing the bill, the agencies would cease to exist come Sept. 1.
But Abbott said if he was going to call lawmakers back, at the taxpayer's expense, he also wanted them to pass bills related to 19 other items.
The items the Governor wants to be passed during the Special Session include:
1. Sunset legislation
2. Teacher pay increase of $1,000
3. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices
4. School finance reform commission
5. School choice for special needs students
6. Property tax reform
7. Caps on state and local spending
8. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
9. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
10. Speeding up local government permitting process
11. Municipal annexation reform
12. Texting while driving preemption
14. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
15. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
16. Pro-life insurance reform
17. Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
18. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
19. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
20. Extending maternal mortality task force
Abbott said once the Senate passes the sunset legislation, he will almost immediately issue a second call with the other 19 items.
Many lawmakers argue they were unable to pass bills on many of those issues during the Regular Session, so it is unreasonable to assume they can pass bills in the 30-day Special Session. But Abbott disagrees.
"Well one reason why they didn't get done in the original session is because some got killed in the midnight massacre, others got bogged down in calendars, things like that," said Governor Abbott. "The thing about this though Ashley, and that is, during the regular session, during the 140 days, legislators averaged passing about nine bills a day. All we need to do is to pass about less than one bill a day in order to get all 20 of my bills passed. This is something that is imminently doable it's just a matter of lawmakers coming in, casting votes, and especially Ashley, when you consider more than half of the propositions to be considered are issues that legislators have already considered. All we need is to get them to cast a vote."
Those votes could happen sooner rather than later. The Senate will return to the Capitol at 12:01 am to take the final vote on two sunset bills, paving the way for the Governor to add the other items to the call.
"I am pleased that the Senate moved so swiftly to get the sunset bills out of the way. These are bills that are necessary to ensure that agencies like the Texas Medical Board [are] going to be able to continue to operate. And as soon as that legislation passes out of the Senate, let's say it happens tonight, you will see me immediately add the other 19 items to the agenda," Abbott said.
One of the most controversial issues Governor Abbott wants to be passed is a bill to address bathroom privacy. In June, he said at a minimum he wants a policy for Texas schools.
"It is so important for people to understand that we are not trying to be discriminatory in any regard whatsoever. We want to be inclusive of everyone," said Abbott. "Here's the issue Ashley, and that is, there was no problem with regard to bathrooms in Texas from our very beginning in 1836 until 2016. What began all these challenges was last year when Barack Obama took action to rewrite Title IX of the education code to, in addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex identity. Well, that changed the whole education code paradigm and it altered what some school districts were doing. And it's very important that we be able to provide some guidance to our schools that's consistent with federal law and to make sure that schools are not violating federal law."
The "action" the Governor is referring to was an executive order issued by former President Barack Obama. When President Donald Trump took office he rescinded the order.
"Even though President Trump rescinded that order, some schools are acting consistent with the order issued by Barack Obama. And because Barack Obama's order was rescinded, those schools may be acting in contradiction of what Title IX provides," Abbot said.
"Schools and Texans need clarity on this issue," he said.
The Governor said the most important issue on the call to him is taking action to address rising property taxes. Governor Abbott supports Senate Bill 2 from the Regular Session that would have reduced the rate that cities and counties can increase taxes without a rollback election from eight percent to four percent.
While SB2 passed in the Senate, it failed to make it to the House floor for a vote. City and county leaders, along with emergency services personnel, from across the state opposed the bill during the Regular Session saying it would percent them from providing vital services for their growing communities.
"Well, two things Ashley, first, and that is, as it concerns what their funding priorities are, I happen to believe that emergencies and police and fire and things like that will be the first things they fund," said Governor Abbott. "It may mean that some other priorities may not get funded but I do know that their top priorities, which is keeping their community safe, they will fund. But the second thing is, this is tax relief for their taxpayers also. What I know and what I think they know and that is, the top issue for our fellow Texans is to reduce our property taxes and this is so important because, all we're really doing Ashley, we're not per se cutting property taxes. What we are doing is allowing voters, the people who pay the taxes, the opportunity to roll back the rise in property tax rates."
Leaders in the City of Austin particularly feel as though they have targets on their backs with the Governor's Special Session Call. He has added items to implement spending caps for cities, remove regulations and the city's tree ordinance that requires property owners to pay a fee if they want to remove certain trees from their yards.
"As it concerns things like spending caps, one thing that we're focused on doing and that is to try and make sure that Texans, whether they be in Austin or any other place are not going to be taxed into un-costly, unlivable conditions," said Abbott. "As it concerns private property rights when you buy a piece of property, you own what is on that piece of property and the city should not be micro-managing what you do on your own private property."
The Governor has also made comments about the city that aren't sitting too well with Austinites, for instance, he referenced the smell of Austin while speaking to Republicans in Bell County and called city leaders "a bunch of heavy-handed bureaucrats". But Governor Abbott said he loves Austin.
"I've lived in Austin a long time and this is my second time here. My first time was when I was a student at the University of Texas. I love the City of Austin. The City of Austin's one of the most attractive cities in the entire world. I just want to make sure it remains a bastion of freedom for citizens and that they are not overtaxed and overregulated."
In addition to leading lawmakers through the Special Session, the Governor announced last week he is running for reelection. His campaign reports he raised more than $10 million in 12 days and his cash on hand is almost $41 million.
"Well I'm feeling good but I never take anything for granted. I was pleased with our fundraising results, I was pleased with the announcement of my campaign and going down to the Rio Grande Valley, connecting with so many people, knocking on doors. I'm the kind of governor who will actually knock on doors and ask people for their vote," said Abbott. "But on top of that, we're putting together the largest ground game in the history of Texas politics so that my campaign will be connecting with voters better than any other candidate ever has."
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