Special Session Wraps as Finger-Pointing Continues

AUSTIN, Texas - State lawmakers could be headed home a day earlier than anticipated, but the uncertainty of a second special session looms.

The House adjourned Sine Die, the term for the formal end of legislation, after the lower chamber sent a public school finance package to the Governor's desk. The funding is a hollowed out version of what House Education Committee chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, proposed.

The House voted 94 to 46 to agree with the changes made by the Senate that gutted $1.5 billion from the original plan. It includes funding for retired teachers to the tune of $212 million, grant allotments for students with autism and dyslexia, and additional money for charter schools.

Huberty shared his disappointment with the legislation that he said would hardly amount to a temporary fix.

"We've got $12 billion in the rainy day fund, the economic stabilization fund," he said. "We have the franchise tax that's broken, we've made promises to our school districts back in 2006 to fully fund education, and to make sure that we took care of it. You can't have property tax reform we have school finance reform."

"But, we're going to continue to beat our heads against the wall, and you know we passed many important things, but there's nothing – nothing was more important than school finance reform the session, and I feel like we failed the 5.3 million children in the state of Texas," Huberty added.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said before the vote that she would, "tell the Senate to take back this crap and fix it."

Meanwhile, representatives across the aisle argued the special session was a misguided use of resources.

"I don't think we've addressed anything that is urgent to the state of Texas," Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint. "We have not addressed clean water infrastructure, we have not addressed our Medicaid cost, we have not addressed half the things we need to do-- instead we've been fooling around on social issues which I think Texans deserve a little better."

Lubbock Republican John Frullo disagreed.

"We have done a lot of good accomplishments that have happened, a lot of the items that were put on the call we've addressed," he said. "It always gets down to these last couple of days, hammering out the differences between the House and the Senate."

House Democratic Caucus Chair, Rep. Chris Turner, D- Grand Prairie, issued the following statement after the House adjourned.

“The last 29 days have been nothing more than a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick showed that they lacked leadership on the issues that really matter to the people of Texas, instead choosing to focus on dangerous, political policies aimed at hurting our communities.
 
“In contrast, House Democrats focused on real solutions for all Texans and policies that would help our state’s kids, our economy, our health, and our communities.
 
“The good news is that some of the most dangerous ideas, including the “bathroom bill,” attacks on teachers and other public employees, and attempts to further eliminate women’s healthcare services all failed.”

In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick argued that House Speaker Joe Straus let "personal politics" interfere with productivity.

"The Governor called 20 issues on the special session call, and the speaker said they were horse manure and he treated it like horse manure," Patrick said in a press conference after the Senate adjourned Sine Die.

Patrick expressed his disdain for the House's handling of the expiring clock on the legislature.

"I think what I'm most unhappy with is the House quit tonight. They quit on the taxpayers of Texas," Patrick said. "The most important issue, property taxes. Number one priority for the people, the Governor, myself, the people behind me, and many members of the House. With 27 hours to go, they walked off the job."

In a passionate speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, addressed his continued fight to provide property tax relief.

"We are not going to accept the take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the House, and we are going to fight another day," the author of failed Senate Bill 1 said.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said the final discussions related to education and property taxes served as strong reminders that the work done at the Capitol is important and impactful.

"I'm struck by the fact that we have the passion in this room, we have some great minds in this room, we've got great experience-- former mayors, school board members," he concluded. "And, I'm just sorry, quite frankly, but as much as we want to go home, the state of Texas needs us to continue to pursue our hard works."

Gov. Abbott has the power to call another special session, which would bring lawmakers back to the pink dome to continue working.

“Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before,” Abbott spokesperson John Wittman said in a statement released late Tuesday night.



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