The Legislature’s special session begins this Tuesday. It’s 30 days long with 20 items on the agenda and Gov. Greg Abbott is calling the shots.
Yesterday, Abbott got a head start with a speech at a sold-out auditorium blocks from the state Capitol. There, he defended his decision to call lawmakers back to Austin, and took specific aim at the need to reign in what he considers over-regulation by local governments. He says local tree ordinances, which have been in the headlines statewide lately, are promoting "socialism" and "collectivism." They’re promoting “California-like policies,” he says, and it’s hurting the Texas brand.
Well, when it comes to the Texas brand, there might be a bigger problem.
CEOs from some of the nation's biggest companies are urgently calling for the governor’s attention to the prospect of the Texas brand taking a serious hit. In a letter to the governor on Monday, CEOs from 14 Dallas-area companies, including IBM, AT&T, Southwest Airlines and Texas Instruments said they were concerned about the so-called bathroom bill legislation, and that its implementation would have an impact on their bottom line.
Dallas Morning News State Politics Reporter Lauren McGaughy says the CEOs argue the bill hurts their chances of recruiting and retaining employees.
“They specifically said they believe the bathroom bills are discriminatory against the LGBT community and that they don’t belong in the 21st century or in Texas values,” she says.
In his response to the companies, Abbott said he doesn’t foresee a bathroom bill having a negative impact on the Texas economy.
“He’s rejecting that characterization for now, even in the face of all this business opposition,” McGaughy says.
A crowd gathered at the Capitol yesterday to rally against the bathroom bills, while, concurrently, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke at a large meeting at a conservative think tank down the street.
“It felt like the session had already started. …A lot of people are making known their feelings on some of the top issues that they are expected to take up in the next month,”McGaughy says.
Abbott also said during his speech at the think tank that he’s going to pay attention to which legislators help him pass his 20-item agenda.
“He said, ‘We need to call people out,’” McGaughy says. “He called for other conservative organizations to make their own lists, and said that he will be publishing his lists of, kind of, his naughty and nice lawmakers: those that support him and those that don’t,” she says.
The Governor’s office has not responded to McGaughy’s request for details about his list.
Abbott is stepping into the spotlight for this special session after taking a lower profile during the regular session, when Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus were the political driving forces. McGaughy says it did appear that way to the public, even though it’s unclear what he was doing behind the scenes.
“At least publicly, it’s like night and day. During the regular session, he was very much behind the scenes. …Now he’s, you know, making it very clear that he wants to be incredibly involved and that he’s going to try to steer the conversation as much as he can,” she says.
Despite Abbott’s political advantage as the only person who can call a special session, it’s up to the legislators to pass his agenda items. McGaughy says that could reignite the conflict between Patrick and Straus that started during the regular session.
“I don’t know if it will come to fisticuffs as it did in the last days of the session but we’re all, kind of, keeping an eye out for tensions being high,” she says.
Written by Caroline Covington.