AUSTIN, Texas — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is clamoring for a special legislative session unless the Texas House approves legislation it was already expected to pass: a North Carolina-style “bathroom bill” and property tax cuts.
Only Gov. Greg Abbott can order lawmakers back after the Legislature adjourns May 29, and he’s said previously he’s hesitant to do so. Legislators in small-government-loving Texas meet only every-other year.
But Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, said Wednesday “people don’t care how many sessions it takes.”
The Senate already passed property tax cuts and rules on transgender Texans’ public restroom use. Both still have time to clear the House and have been backed by Abbott.
House Speaker Joe Straus responded by calling “regrettable” Patrick’s “threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way.”
URESTI COURT APPEARANCE
A Texas state senator says he’s innocent of fraud, bribery and money laundering charges that could bring a 200-year prison sentence if convicted on all counts.
Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio, turned himself in Wednesday to authorities in his hometown before appearing in federal court. Outside the courthouse, Uresti said he is innocent of all charges.
Federal indictments accuse the 53-year-old Uresti of engaging in an investment Ponzi scheme to market hydraulic fracturing sand for oil production. He’s also charged with aiding a bribery scheme to secure a prison medical services contract.
Uresti said he would immediately return to the state Capitol, where he is one of 11 Democrats in the 31-member Senate.
RAPE KIT FUNDING
The Texas Senate has approved a bill allowing drivers to offer donations to help the state clear its backlog of untested rape kits.
The proposal asks drivers renewing their licenses to donate $1 or more to help test rape kits awaiting analysis.
Advocates say that while the driver license renewal approach is new, turning to crowdfunding isn’t. In 2007, Texas enacted a $5 fee from sexually oriented businesses to help finance initiatives like rape crisis centers and programs for sexual assault survivors.
The GOP-controlled state Senate approved the bill Wednesday, and it cleared the House last month. Though sponsored by Democrats, it also has found support with spending-conscious Republicans.
Texas has thousands of untested rape kits statewide. Bill sponsors say processing a single one can cost up to $2,000.
The Texas Senate has voted to create statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies, potentially voiding a local Austin ordinance that caused Uber and Lyft to stop operating in the state capital.
Given final approval 20-10 on Wednesday, the bill brings ride-hailing companies under Texas regulatory control and imposes fees.
The bill previously cleared the House, which included tea party-backed language defining “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” That’s a reference to the Legislature’s contentious “bathroom bill,” which is separate legislation regulating transgender Texans’ public restroom use.
The Senate preserved that language. Sponsoring Sen. Charles Schwertner, said, “it’s stating the obvious.”
Uber and Lyft left Austin last year, protesting an ordinance requiring drivers to be fingerprinted in background checks. The bill requires annual background checks, but not fingerprinting.
The Texas Senate has preliminarily approved a bill eliminating straight-ticket voting statewide beginning in 2020.
The chamber voted 20-10 to advance the measure prohibiting voters from choosing a party’s full slate of candidates with just a single ballot marking, over Democratic objections.
It still needs a final Senate vote, likely coming Thursday, while the House approved a similar measure earlier this month — after hours of heated debate.
For now, Texas is one of 10 states allowing straight-ticket voting. Twelve states have scrapped it since 1994, though.
Backers say doing so forces voters to do more research on down-ballot races. Opponents note that people can still vote for all candidates from one party, but that the process will get more onerous and time-consuming, possibly adding to lines at polling places.
The Senate has adjourned until 11 a.m. Thursday. The House is working late on Wednesday but on Thursday is expected to tackle the property tax cut bill that constituted half of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s special session ultimatum.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I want to avoid a special session, but I’m prepared to go into one” — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, intensifying on Thursday his war of words with fellow Republican and House Speaker Joe Straus.