Austin, Freedom, and the Texas Legislature

Texas Capitol Building

It’s not over yet. Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he would be bringing back state lawmakers for a special session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

(For those not as familiar with the inner workings of our state government… the Texas Legislature only meets for 140 days every other year. That is, unless the governor decides to call a special session. These sessions last for a maximum of 30 days. During that time, the only new pieces of legislation that are allowed to be passed are those that the governor has specifically called for.)

For this special session, the “call” is quite long (covering 20 topics) and in many ways, seems to be directed at Austin in particular, which has been a trend throughout the regular session as well.

As the Austin American-Statesman reports, earlier this week Abbott spoke at the Bell County Republican Dinner. During his speech, he said that, “As I was coming up here from Austin, Texas, tonight, I got to tell you, it’s great to be out of the People’s Republic of Austin. As you leave Austin and start heading north, you start feeling different. Once you cross the Travis County line, it starts smelling different. And you know what that fragrance is? Freedom. It’s the smell of freedom that does not exist in Austin, Texas.”

That said, with your senators and legislators, I can tell you that today, Austin is more free than it was before the legislative session began because the state of Texas passed laws that overrode the liberal agenda of Austin, Texas, that is trying to send Texas down the pathway of California.”

Shortly after the dinner, during the press conference when we announced the special session, Abbott continued to talk about Austin, saying that, “local governments like the city of Austin are doing everything they can to overregulate.” In response, he added three items to his special “call,” including:

  • Preventing cities from passing protective tree ordinances that affect trees on private property – Austin currently has several of these ordinances in place, which are designed to preserve the city’s urban forest
  • Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
  • Speeding up local government permitting processes

Other issues that Abbott included on his special session list include:

  • Reauthorizing several state agencies (including the Texas Medical Board) – This bill needs to pass, or the state agencies will stop running by September. As the Texas Tribune reports, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had held these bills “hostage” during the regular session, in an effort to force a special session with more of a focus on his priorities, including the controversial bathroom bill legislation.
  • Bathroom bill legislation – Based on the bill drafts that are currently floating around, if passed, this legislation would override local government and school district rules regarding bathroom use for transgender students.
  • School Finance
  • Abortion
  • Property Taxes
  • Election Fraud

Not surprisingly, many of Austin’s local elected officials have responded with outrage over the governor’s decision. “We’re having a special session about a bathroom bill?,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted on his Facebook page. “Really?”

Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool (District 7) also chimed in, releasing a statement saying that, “It is extremely short-sighted for the Governor to target local tree ordinances as one of the agenda items for a Special Called Session… Governor Abbott must not remember the 2011 drought that killed or weakened millions of trees across Texas. Those trees will take decades and decades to replace. It is my hope that cities in Texas will join forces as they have before to protect and preserve our way of life.”

The special session will begin on July 18th

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