Virus Outbreak Texas

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, center, stands next to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, during a news conference where the governor announced he would relax some restrictions imposed on businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

(The Center Square) – The Texas Senate has passed seven of the 11 legislative items prioritized by Gov. Greg Abbott during the ongoing special legislative session. The Texas House remains unable to conduct business because it can’t meet quorum with more than 60 Democrats still out of state.

Within one week, the Texas Senate passed bills related to election integrity, bail reform, social media censorship, youth sports, benefits for retired teachers, a measure related to family violence, property tax relief, and tax reductions for the elderly and disabled.

Two bills related to election integrity and bail reform were identified as emergency legislative items by Abbott in February. Since they didn’t pass during the regular legislative session, Abbott called a special session to prioritize both bills and added nine additional items.

An additional session is likely to be called in October when the Legislature will meet to address redistricting and appropriate billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funding.

Senate committees also passed a bill to restore Article X funding, after Abbott used a line-item veto to halt it, effectively ensuring that no state lawmaker, their staff members or employees of some agencies would receive a salary after Democrats walked out of the regular session in May, preventing key bills from being passed. Democrats fleeing Austin for Washington, D.C., last week was the second time they left the Capitol in two months, effectively blocking legislative business from being conducted.

Restoring Article X funding would need to be done by Sept. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. The longer House Democrats remain outside of Texas, the longer they and their staff, and thousands of state employees, go unpaid.

The Senate has yet to consider bills related to border security, prohibiting abortion-inducing drugs, improving bill Abbott signed into law that partially bans teaching Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools, improving protections for foster care children and a bill related to cybersecurity threats.

The Texas House has not considered any bills because they cannot meet unless they have a quorum. House Democrats have pledged to remain outside Texas through the end of the special session. Assuming they do, every bill passed in the Senate remains in limbo.

The special session lasts for 30 days after which time it can be renewed for another 30 days, which Abbott has said he will do, and continue to call until all of the 11 legislative items are passed.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, has publicly called on Abbott to change the current quorum requirement of two-thirds to a simple majority in the next special session.

“Texans expect their legislature to work and not be held hostage by a few legislators who are exploiting the quorum requirement," Patrick said. "The majority of other state legislatures require a simple majority plus one. For that reason, I am respectfully requesting that you add to the call, a change the quorum requirement to a majority through a constitutional amendment. The Texas Legislature should be able to move forward and serve the people of Texas when a majority of its members are present.”

The governor has not issued a statement on whether he intends to do this, although he has said on multiple occasions that the absconding Democrats can be arrested as soon as they return to Texas.