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Is a grueling special session ahead?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Brie Franco, the city’s intergovernmental relations officer, told City Council at Tuesday’s work session that although Austin had “some positive outcomes” during the just-ended legislative session, many of the items defeated by the city and its allies are likely to show up again at the special session starting July 18.

In his press announcement about the special session, Gov. Greg Abbott listed several items considered detrimental to municipalities, including caps on state and local spending, the elimination of city tree ordinances and what the governor called “municipal annexation reform.”

Most of the items on the governor’s list can be traced back to legislation that failed in the regular session. However, Franco and two of the city’s lobbyists, Brandon Aghamalian and Snapper Carr, told Council that they were not sure what legislation the governor might want to enact related to what he called “speeding up the local government permitting process.”

Another item on the governor’s list is “preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects.” (Chapter 245 of the Local Government Code was enacted many years ago to prevent that.)

Aghamalian said that during a special session committees can approve bills without having a hearing and public testimony, particularly on an item that was the subject of a bill during the regular session.

Carr explained that legislators can file bills that are not on the governor’s list. Those bills can have hearings, he said, but unless the governor adds them to the call, they are subject to a point of order if they make it to the floor of either the House of Representatives or Senate.

Franco explained that the governor’s list was not the official proclamation.

Carr told Council that Abbott would initially just call for the legislature to authorize extension of the Texas Medical Board, which oversees the licensing of doctors and some other agencies. Those agencies will lose the authority to operate without further legislation. The agencies fell victim to legislative bickering, with the House and Senate blaming each other for not taking action. Once that item is approved by the Senate, the governor plans to call for other items.

Council Member Delia Garza said she had received questions from the public about how to get involved. Franco said she would urge members of the public who are interested to contact their legislators and key committee members. Carr said he would also like to remind people that they can show up at the Capitol and visit the offices of their representatives.

Mayor Steve Adler echoed the remarks of House Speaker Joe Straus, who has called for the legislature to take meaningful action on school finance reform. While the House is willing to do so, the Senate is another story.

According to the governor’s announcement, he is interested in setting up a school finance reform commission and in “school choice for special needs students,” which refers to vouchers. Based on what happened in the regular session, the Senate is likely to go along with that, but the House is not.

A document accompanying the presentation but not discussed at the work session quoted the Texas Municipal League as saying, “If 2015 was the year local control began to lose its luster as a governing principle, the 2017 Session saw the culmination of this unfortunate trend. The new, improved mantra at the Capitol is ‘liberty,’ which translates to liberty to do anything you want in a city without consideration for the liberty or property values of your neighbors.”

Photo by Kumar Appaiah (http://www.flickr.com/photos/akumar/4195756025/) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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