Gov. Greg Abbott orders third special session to address redistricting, vaccine mandates
Gov. Greg Abbott is calling lawmakers back to Austin for an anticipated third special legislative session of the year, scheduled to start Sept. 20.
In addition to redrawing the state's political boundaries — a decennial responsibility of the Legislature — Abbott tasked lawmakers with allocating $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds and revisiting two of his priority measures that were unsuccessful this summer: limiting participation of transgender student athletes in school sports and prohibiting vaccine mandates.
Abbott also called on lawmakers to take another stab at a bill he vetoed earlier this year that sought to protect dogs from dangerous restraints, addressing concerns he raised that the bill "micromanaged" Texas dog owners.
"The Texas Legislature now has the opportunity to redraw legislative and congressional districts in accordance with the new census numbers," Abbott said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon. "In addition to redistricting, there are still issues remaining that are critical to building a stronger and brighter future for all Texans."
But Democrats were quick to criticize Abbott over his agenda.
"You haven't picked on transgender kids enough this year?" state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a tweet directed at Abbott. "You're dissatisfied at the current rate of COVID-19 spread, hospitalizations and deaths? You really think you need to do more on these things?"
The session will follow an intense summer at the Texas Capitol that saw lawmakers deeply divided along party lines over several priority measures on Abbott's agenda for the first two special sessions, including a bill to rewrite the state's election laws that Abbott signed into law on Tuesday.
A special session focused on redistricting was on the horizon for this fall after it became clear that the 2020 U.S. census count would be delayed due to the pandemic and a legal fight over the Trump administration's unsuccessful attempt to keep people without legal residency out of the population count.
Data from the count were due to states in April but weren't delivered until mid-August.
Two Democratic state lawmakers sued Abbott in federal court last week arguing that adding redistricting to a special session agenda violates the Texas Constitution, which requires the process to take place during the "first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census."
The next regular session starts January 2023.
Transgender student athletes, vaccine mandates
Abbott also asked lawmakers to take another pass at two bills that fell short earlier this year.
Late in the second special session, Abbott asked lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting government entities from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, but the proposal did not advance before the final gavel fell on the session.
The transgender sports proposal also fell short in the second special session after a Texas House committee did not hold a vote on it, a necessary step to bring a measure to the full chamber for a vote.
But other proposals that were unsuccessful during the prior special sessions were not included in Abbott's new agenda, including a call to ban mask and vaccine mandates in public schools.
Relief dollars, dog tethering
Lawmakers also will be responsible for spending nearly $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds, as promised by Abbott during the regular legislative session.
State budget writers proposed provisions in the state's massive two-year budget that would have reduced Abbott’s role in spending federal COVID-19 relief dollars and given the Legislature that responsibility.
But after those provisions were removed during budget negotiations, Abbott promised lawmakers that he would ask them to tackle that spending issue during the same special session as redistricting.
Abbott also asked lawmakers to revisit Senate Bill 474 from the regular session, which sought to protect dogs from dangerous restraints. Abbott vetoed the proposal over concerns that the bill would micromanage dog owners and overly criminalize behavior.
The veto received a powerful backlash from dog lovers who had worked for six years to pass a law prohibiting pet owners from tethering unattended dogs outdoors without providing access to adequate shelter, shade and water. Forcing dogs to lie in standing water, feces or urine also would have violated the law.
Statesman staff writer Chuck Lindell contributed to this report.