Special session underway as Texas' 'Big Three' look to find common ground

With a special legislative session in Austin underway, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick expressed anger with the Texas House and specifically House Speaker Dade Phelan.

"Members, I hope you enjoyed your summer. I sure did," said Speaker Phelan (R-Beaumont) sarcastically as the first special session of 2023 got underway in the House on Tuesday.

Phelan came under fire on Tuesday morning from Lt. Gov. Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate.

"I'm tired of the dysfunction in the House of passing legislation to us in a timely manner, and I'm tired of these points of order that are called on good legislation," Patrick said.

Patrick blames Phelan for how the House operates for triggering the special session, including sending 150 bills to the Senate with less than a month left in the regular session.

"The Democrats have total control of the House chamber, total control. So we're a Republican majority and the rules of the House are set up to allow the minority to kill bills they don't like," he said. "Things have to change."

He also said that he has had little to no communication with Speaker Phelan.

Patrick said he recently received a text from Phelan for the first time in two years.

The "Big Three" in the state's leadership - Gov. Abbott, Patrick and Phelan - have not been politically in sync this session.

Texas Tribune reporters who covered every moment of the 140-day regular session shared their view of what went wrong.

"Speaker Phelan said ‘Get out of the way, I’m coming through, and I'm going to stand for what I want my chamber to push for,'" said Alexa Ura, a reporter for the Tribune.

Governor Abbott called for "multiple" special sessions to take on more bills he wants to pass.

The first special session will focus on property taxes and border security.

Gov. Abbott and Patrick tried to broker a deal on property tax relief into the late hours of the regular session on Monday night.

"I think that underscored their desperation to get something done, because they knew how bad it looked if they were to walk away from this regular session without a compromise," said Texas Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek.

"In hindsight, I don't know if they were really that close, because the House really wanted the appraisal cap reduction and extension. The Senate and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said that was a total non-starter from the beginning," said Brad Johnson with the Texas Tribune.

Under Governor Abbott's special session order, lawmakers are supposed to be limited, lowering property taxes by only applying some of the state's budget surplus to school finance, not increasing homestead exemptions or shrinking appraisal caps.


Texas House, Senate push competing plans to rein in rising property taxes

Experts say while the two proposals would save the average Texans about the same in taxes each year, they would have drastically different consequences.

But immediately, the Senate went its own direction with a joint resolution that would raise homestead exemptions, as a companion to its property tax relief bill.

Both the joint resolution and Senate Bill 1 have already received unanimous approval in the Senate, but the change to the homestead exemptions would have to be approved by voters because it would amend the state constitution.

The Senate is clearly sending a message to the Governor: if you want property tax relief, you're going to have to consider more than taking money from the budget surplus and applying that to public school finance.

Lieutenant Governor Patrick says he's ready for a battle.

"I didn't get elected to come here and sugarcoat anything for the voters," said Patrick. "I intend to lead on the things I think that matter to them and if I rub a few people the wrong way, I'm sorry."

Fort Worth Rep. Charlie Geren raised a parliamentary question. 

"I think I heard these measures contain provisions relating to residents homestead exemption is that subject matter germane to the governors call," he asked.

"SB1 and SJR1 therefore will not be referred to a House committee," Phelan said.

After the House blocked the Senate version, it unanimously passed House Bill 1. 

"The governor directed us to act upon legislation that cuts property tax rates by reducing the school district maximum compressed rate, and HN1 does exactly that," Rep Morgan Meyer said. 

The House also passed House Bill 2, a second priority bill for Gov. Abbott in reference to human smuggling. 

And with nothing left on the agenda. Rep. Geren moved the House sine die for special session 1. 

Minutes after the House ended their special session, Gov. Abbott sent a statement that appears to show him taking Phelan's side and not the lt. governor's.

Abbott said, "The Texas House is the only chamber that passed a property tax cut bill that is germane to the special session that I called to provide Texans with property tax relief." 

Abbott says he looks forward to signing the bill. 

The problem is the Senate passed their version and went home until Friday. It’s unlikely the Senate will fold to the hold, so we could be in a weekslong stalemate.