Texas Senate gives OK to must-pass “sunset” legislation in midnight vote

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

A fast-moving Senate gave unanimous approval to critical “sunset legislation” Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning, using two bills to extend the life of five state agencies held political hostage at the end of the regular legislative session.

The special session’s Senate Bill 20 and Senate Bill 60, authored by state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, would reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and four other state agencies. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he won’t add other hot-button items to legislators’ agenda until after they keep those agencies afloat. 

The Senate reconvened shortly after midnight and unanimously granted final approval to both bills — just two days into the 30-day special session.

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“I will bring the pizza and the soda pop,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked earlier in the day. At the midnight session, he delivered both wearing an apron.

The bills now head across the hall to the Texas House, which has made clear it’s not motivated by a speedy timetable. 

Senators also announced that several committees would hold public hearings Friday, including on the controversial “bathroom bill” that has yet to be filed. 

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said passage of the sunset legislation would allow lawmakers to begin considering other items.

The reason for the midnight meeting, he added, was so public hearings could begin taking place as soon as Friday morning. Legislative rules require a 24-hour notice for a public hearing during a special session. Bettencourt said  lawmakers made announcements Wednesday about committee hearings Friday to give “as much notice as possible.”

The House State Affairs committee on Wednesday approved sunset legislation of its own — House Bill 1 by Round Rock Republican Larry Gonzales — which would leave the five state agencies open for another two years. It’s unclear how soon that bill will head to the full chamber. 

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The House would also need to pass House Bill 2 to fund the agencies. 

Andy Duehren and Emma Platoff contributed to this report. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Gov. Greg Abbott snatched the spotlight from his rivals with a long, long list of priorities for a special legislative session — one that takes care of must-do legislation and buries everything else.

  • The state’s top leaders couldn’t close a session-ending deal over the final weekend, giving advocates of bathroom and property tax legislation — if the governor allows it — another chance.

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