Texas Governor Greg Abbott revived a failed “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people Tuesday while also resurrecting anti-abortion proposals, anti-union efforts and more as an encore to a rancorous legislative session that ended with Republicans feuding and one GOP lawmaker threatening to pull a gun on a Democratic colleague.
A lengthy special session agenda set by Abbott – nearly 20 issues in all – now threatens to rekindle those hostilities at the Texas Capitol through summer and was announced just a week after lawmakers had returned home and began cooling off.
Legislators won’t return to work until July 18, but already Democrats and some outside groups are fuming, particularly over a North Carolina-style “bathroom bill” that big business opponents including Amazon, IBM and the NFL called discriminatory and hoped had been extinguished for good. Before lawmakers adjourned last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg signed a letter reiterating their opposition and called the proposal bad for business.
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” Abbott said.
The first try collapsed when social conservatives who set Texas’ political agenda and Republican moderates deadlocked over how far the bill should go. No state has followed in the footsteps of North Carolina following the economic and political upheaval wrought by a 2016 law that required transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.
The fallout prompted North Carolina to partially repeal the law in March, but Abbott has committed to pursuing a similar measure even as other GOP governors across the U.S. have backed away. One version he again endorsed Tuesday stops short of requiring people to use the bathroom listed on their birth certificate but would rollback transgender protections in major Texas cities.
The decision was a significant political test for Abbott, who faces re-election in 2018 and didn’t begin publicly supporting a “bathroom bill” until weeks after the full legislative session began in January. It ended Memorial Day with Republican leaders feuding over the failure of the original proposal and – in another sign of raw tensions – a skirmish between lawmakers over a “sanctuary cities” crackdown.
Tensions had flared when Republican Matt Rinaldi announced he had called federal immigration authorities on protesters in the gallery of the Texas House of Representatives who Rinaldi said held signs saying they were in the country illegally. He was then confronted and pushed by Democratic lawmakers and told one that he would shoot him “in self-defense” if needed.
Abbott said he expected lawmakers to return “with a calm demeanor.”
Democrats, who are vastly outnumbered in the Texas Legislature and are powerless to stop most bills, balked at the agenda. The special session lasts 30 days and lawmakers are not required to pass every bill that Abbott has demanded.
“Governor Abbott needs to be reminded that he was not elected president of a local Tea Party chapter; he holds the office of governor in the greatest state in the county,” Democratic House Caucus chairman Chris Turner said.
Abbott also ordered the Legislature to work on increasing teacher pay and a limited form of school vouchers, which gives public money to private schools. Another is an anti-abortion effort that would prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions and bar some insurance plans from covering the procedure. He also wants to strengthen regulations mandating that clinics and other health facilities report all complications arising after abortions are performed, even though such complications are rare.
He is also reviving an effort stalled during the regular session, but has passed in other Republican-controlled states, that would end voluntary payroll deductions of union dues from state and public employee paychecks.