Some of Abbott’s must-pass bills lacking GOP support
July 28, 2017
Updated: July 28, 2017 7:46pm
AUSTIN — While a majority of House Republicans have signed on to support many of Gov. Greg Abbott’s must-pass bills during the special legislative session, as he had demanded, new tallies made public on Friday shows that a number of the measures still lack widespread support from GOP members.
Among them: school choice for children with special needs, a teacher-pay hike and prohibiting government agencies from collecting union dues still lack widespread GOP support.
Property tax reforms and measures to curb mail-in ballot fraud and to extend the life a special state commission studying Texas’ sky-high maternal mortality rates garnered the greatest support among GOP sponsors, with 98 members of the 150-member House already signed on to sponsor the latter, according to Abbott’s list.
The governor met with about 50 members of the House on Monday and told them he expected them to sign on as sponsors of his key bills by Friday — to get as many as possible publicly committed. Several members quickly complained they were being strong-armed.
Generally,the fewer House Republicans that support a bill increases the odds it would have trouble passing, with among numerous controversial items opposed by most Democrats in the GOP-majority House.
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A controversial bathroom bill, which House leaders have criticized and hinted may not pass, got support from 50 House GOPers, while a limited alternative that covers just schools got only 24 supporters. Abbott thanked supporters of both versions.
While Abbott earlier had promised to make public the lists of lawmakers who supported and opposed his 20-issue agenda by Friday, the lists he released were only of supporters. Missing, though, were key House Republicans whose committees must first approve the bills before they can come up for a vote by the full House.
Though the state Senate passed all but one of Abbott’s 20-bill agenda in the first seven days of the special session, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus and several of his lieutenants have signaled that much of Abbott’s agenda could be derailed for a lack of support. As a result, Abbott has ramped up the pressure on conservative House Republicans to sponsor all his bills as a signal of strong support.
Straus’ top committee chairmen refused to sign on to most or all of the bills by Friday, including Committee Chairman John Zerwas, Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty and Appropriations Subcommittee chairs Larry Gonzales and Sarah Davis. Other repeated absences include former House Speaker Tom Craddick and Education Committee member Ken King.
The school-choice bill got just 20 of the House’s 95 Republicans, meaning that 75 members of Abbott’s own party were not willing to sign on. The list included not a single member of the House Public Education Committee that must approve the bill first.
A bill prohibiting the collection of union dues for teachers, correctional officers and child-welfare workers got just 37 GOP sponsors. Police, fire and EMS workers’ dues could still be collected, a move that opponents including some House members have said is an unfair exemption that should doom the bill.
Abbott’s proposal to increase teacher pay by $1,000 a year got 38 supporters — 37 Republicans and one Democrat. Six Republicans on the 11-member House Public Education Committee did not sign on, an indication that bill could face trouble, as well.
A proposal to block cities from enforcing limits on tree cutting drew support from 42 GOP House members, and bills that could require cities to expedite constructing permitting and preempt local ordinances against cell phone use in vehicles got 47 supporters each.
Stronger support was registered for a bill to ban abortion insurance coverage (67 supporters), strengthen patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders (63) and curb mail-in ballot fraud (60). A bill to limit the growth of state spending has 56 supporters, although 10 Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee that must approve it did not sign on. The creation of a commission to reform school finance laws garnered 55 sponsors.
New annexation limits for Texas cities got 52 supporters, and property tax reform got 50 — a signal that played out later in the day when the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that will limit property-tax increases by requiring an automatic rollback election if cities, counties and special districts raise taxes by more than 6 percent. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the committee chairman and author of the bill, said he thinks there is enough support in the House for the bill to pass.
The Senate passed a similar bill last week.
Legislative leaders had earlier speculated that if Abbott was successful in pressuring 50 Republicans to sign on as sponsors for any of his 20 issues, they probably stood a good chance of passage — without specific opposition from Straus and other House leaders.
Straus has said he thinks the Legislature should be spending its time revamping the state’s complex and troubled school-finance system, rather than trying to keep men from using women’s restrooms in a controversial proposal that business leaders have warned could cost Texas jobs and billions in revenues from the loss of major sporting events.
While Abbott made public the lists of supporters bill by bill on Friday, and issued separate news releases throughout the day to call attention to the support, aides offered no comment on the lists after they were released.
House Republicans deciding whether to publicly back the governor’s preferred legislation attempted to cross three of his bills off their to-do list Friday, including one of three of Abbott’s preferred abortion bills. House Bill 13 would require abortion providers to report details of patient complications from the pregnancy ending procedure within three days, a task opponents argue is onerous and time-consuming.
Lawmakers also approved a bill that would curb costs for people who live in one of roughly 50 communities that charge plant mitigation fees when a private property owner cuts down trees in an effort zeroing in on local control. The governor vetoed a bill identical to House Bill 7 after the regular session and has told conservative Republicans he wants a different bill.
The House also agreed to fund the second half of a bill that would allow the Texas Medical Board and four other agencies to continue operations.