Here’s what happened to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda during the special session

Gov. Greg Abbott called the 85th Texas Legislature back for a special session that began July 18 and concluded Aug. 15. Lawmakers were initially asked to pass legislation needed to keep five state agencies in operation and then to address a longer list of proposals for everything from restroom regulations to local tree ordinances. The governor put forth a total of 20 issues for consideration; here’s our look at what happened with these issues during the special session.

Sent to governor

Sunset legislation

During this year’s regular session, lawmakers failed to pass "sunset" legislation needed to prevent some state agencies from closing. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held key sunset legislation hostage in a successful effort to force a special session on other issues. In announcing the special session, Abbott said he would only add 19 more issues to the agenda after the Senate passed sunset legislation. On the third day of the special session, the Senate did just that, and Abbott significantly expanded the session’s agenda. Though the House had its own sunset bills, it eventually passed the Senate’s bills in the last week of the special session, sending both measures to Abbott’s desk. Abbott quickly signed them.

Related bills: HB 1, HB 2, SB 20, SB 60

Sent to governor

Teacher retirement benefits

Abbott asked the Legislature to put more money into the Teacher Retirement System amid concerns that retired teachers would no longer be able to afford their medication amid rising health insurance premiums and health care costs. Both chambers passed measures that would inject $212 million into the system — but the bills drew funding from different sources. On the last day of the special session, the House reluctantly agreed to the Senate’s method of funding House Bill 21, which defers an upcoming payment to health care companies that provide Medicaid. (This issue and increasing teacher pay were treated as one item on Abbott's agenda.)

Related bills: HB 20, HB 21, SB 19

Failed to pass

Increasing teacher pay

Abbott asked lawmakers to require school districts to rearrange their budgets to increase teacher salaries by an average of $1,000, a measure  educators vehemently opposed and criticized as an "unfunded mandate." Neither chamber passed such a measure. (This issue and teacher retirement benefits were treated as one item on Abbott's agenda.)

Related bills: HB 198, SB 97, SJR 1

Sent to governor

School finance reform

At first, Abbott said he would task legislators with creating a commission to study the school finance system. But in July, he added immediate school funding reform to the session’s agenda amid complaints from Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House that the state’s beleaguered system for funding public schools deserved more concrete action. The governor also tasked legislators with helping small, rural districts struggling after the expiration of a $400 million state aid program. While the Senate has advocated for a study, the House has pushed to put more money into public schools immediately. On the last day of the special session, the House reluctantly agreed to the Senate’s version of House Bill 21, which put $351 million into public schools. That funding includes a $150 million transitional grant for small, rural districts to offset the upcoming loss of a state aid program, $120 million for charter schools and traditional schools to pay for new facilities, $41 million to remove an existing financial penalty for small districts and $40 million for an autism and dyslexia grant program for public schools. The bill also tasks a commission with studying future reform to the school finance system.

Related bills: HB 21, HB 23, HB 30, HB 191, SB 16

Failed to pass

“Private school choice” for kids with disabilities

During the regular session, the Senate passed a measure to subsidize private school tuition using state funding. But school-choice proposals have long faced significant opposition in the House, particularly from Democrats and rural Republicans. Abbott has narrowed the issue for the special session by calling for "private school choice" specifically for students with disabilities. The Senate passed a bill on this issue but the House never took it up.

Related bills: HB 253, SB 2

Failed to pass

Property taxes

There's a constitutional prohibition on the state levying a property tax, but property taxes are a major source of revenue that keeps cities, counties and special-purpose districts operating. Amid Texans' complaints about rising property tax bills – often driven by rising property values – Abbott called on the Legislature to tackle measures aimed at reining in increases in local property taxes. Local government officials argued the bills would hamstring their ability to deliver services their residents expect. The Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 1, requiring property tax rate elections if a local entity’s revenues would exceed 4 percent from the year before. The House responded by raising the trigger to 6 percent in a measure that chamber tentatively approved during the final weekend of the session. Leaders in both chambers tried to negotiate a compromise but on the 29th day of the session, the House abruptly moved to stick with their original proposal and then voted to end the special session. The Senate then adjourned as well, rejecting a final offer to accept the House’s plan. The lower chamber also considered more than a dozen other property tax proposals during the special session. None went anywhere in the Senate.

Related bills: HB 3, HB 4, HB 32, HB 72, HB 74,  HB 81, HB 82, HB 108, HB 155, HB 165, HB 192, SB 1

Failed to pass

Caps on state government spending

Under the Texas Constitution, state spending cannot grow faster than the state’s economy. Ahead of each legislative session, state leaders set a growth rate for state spending based on the estimated rate of growth in Texans' personal income over the next two years. Abbott asked lawmakers to require future legislatures to limit how much state spending can grow to the estimated combined growth in population and inflation, a figure that is often lower than the one lawmakers currently use. The Senate passed a bill on this issue. During the last weekend of the special session, a House bill was derailed by a parliamentary tactic known as a point of order and was then never revived.

Related bills: HB 41, HB 127, HB 208, SB 9,

Failed to pass

Caps on local government spending

Abbott asked lawmakers to cap how much additional money local governments could spend each year without an election, drawing immediate criticism from city and county officials. They say such a limit would make it difficult to develop long-term financial plans and fund maintenance and services that residents want from their local governments. Neither chamber passed a bill directly related to this issue during the special session.

Related bills: HB 206, SB 18

Sent to governor

Limits on local tree regulations

Dozens of cities and towns across Texas have ordinances protecting trees on private property; in many cases, property owners either have to pay a fee or plant new trees if they cut down larger trees on their land. Abbott tasked lawmakers with looking at measures that would weaken those local ordinances or make them illegal. While the Senate originally advocated for a more restrictive measure, it eventually agreed to a House proposal that was very similar to a bill Abbott vetoed in May that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

Related bills: HB 7, HB 70, SB 14

Failed to pass

Speeding local government permitting

Lawmakers considered measures to make it easier for developers to get approval for projects in cities. Abbott wanted state law changed so that permits would be approved automatically if cities didn’t respond to them fast enough. Lawmakers also considered outlawing construction permitting rules currently in place in Austin that expedite permitting for projects that include certain worker protections. The Senate passed a bill on this issue that never passed out of the House. The House passed three bills related to permitting from groundwater conservation districts that never received a vote in the Senate.

Related bills: HB 164, SB 13, HB 26, HB 27, HB 275

Failed to pass

Preventing local rule changes on already acquired properties

Advocates had hoped for a new state law that would have prohibited cities and towns from enforcing any local regulation on a property that was not in place when that property was purchased. Critics have expressed concern that such a measure could have far-reaching consequences on environmental, health and other local ordinances in place in communities across the state. Neither chamber passed a bill directly related to this issue.

Related bills: HB 188, SB 12

Failed to pass

Texting while driving

Texas will be under a statewide texting-while-driving ban starting Sept. 1. But Abbott has complained that this measure leaves in place a "patchwork quilt" of driving safety regulations that differ across cities and counties. He has called on lawmakers to effectively pre-empt local ordinances in more than 40 Texas cities that are stricter than the statewide ban. The Senate passed a bill on this issue, but it never reached the House floor.

Related bills: HB 171, SB 15

Failed to pass

Bathrooms, showers, locker and changing rooms

Among the most contentious issues during the regular session, proposals to bar transgender men, women and children from restrooms that do not match their biological sex are back under consideration in legislative overtime. Efforts to pass such restrictions fizzled out in May as part of an ongoing fight that's pitted Republicans against businesses and Republicans against Republicans. Lawmakers considered proposals that would have affected bathrooms overseen by both school districts and local governments like cities and counties. While the Senate again passed a bill on this issue during the special session, bathroom legislation never received a vote on the floor of the Texas House.

Related bills: HB 46, HB 50, SB 3, SB 91

Failed to pass

Union dues deduction

State lawmakers considered for the second time this year a measure that would have ended the practice of collecting membership dues automatically from the paychecks of certain public employees who are in labor unions or other associations. The proposal would have applied to public school teachers, corrections officers and other government employees, but firefighters, police officers, emergency first responders and charitable organizations would have been exempt. That carve-out drew a lot of pushback, even from some of the law enforcement groups that would have benefited from the exemption. The Senate passed a bill on this issue, but it never reached the House floor.

Related bills: HB 156, SB 7

Failed to pass

Taxpayer funding for abortion

State and federal law already prohibit using tax dollars to pay for abortions, but Abbott wanted the Legislature to broaden that ban to block local and state government agencies from entering into any financial contracts — including lease agreements — with clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers, even if those clinics don't perform abortions. The Senate passed a bill on this issue, but it never received a vote on the House floor.

Related bills: HB 14, HB 163, SB 4

Sent to governor

Abortion insurance

The Legislature approved a measure requiring Texas women to pay a separate health insurance premium if they want their health plans to cover abortions performed outside of medical emergencies. House Bill 214 was sent to Abbott, who signed it.

Related bills: HB 214, SB 8

Sent to governor

Abortion reporting

The Legislature sent two bills to the governor on this issue. House Bill 13 require physicians and facilities to report more details about abortion complications — and fine those who do not comply. Another measure, House Bill 215, requires additional reporting from doctors on whether minors seeking abortions did so because of a medical emergency and whether they obtained parental consent or a judicial bypass. Abbott signed both bills.

Related bills: HB 13HB 195, HB 215, SB 10SB 73

Sent to governor

Do-not-resuscitate protections

The governor asked lawmakers to ensure that doctors couldn’t issue a do-not-resuscitate order until a patient or legal guardian consented to it. Proponents argued such a law codified practices already in place at many hospitals, while some opponents said it would needlessly complicate the process of issuing such orders. Both chambers ultimately passed the same version of Senate Bill 11, which creates both a criminal penalty for doctors who willfully violate a patient's do-not-resuscitate wishes, and an exception to that penalty for doctors who err "in good faith."

Related bills: HB 12, SB 11, SB 80

Sent to governor

Mail-in ballot fraud

Amid an investigation of mail-in ballot irregularities affecting city council races in Dallas, Texas lawmakers this year put a newfound focus on mail-in ballot fraud, a documented vulnerability in elections. During the 2017 regular session, Abbott signed into law a bill that overhauls absentee balloting at nursing homes, in an attempt to shore up that process. During the special session, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5 which widens the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increase penalties for those who commit it. The bill also repeals the nursing home law Abbott had signed just weeks earlier, after various Republicans described their earlier support for that law as a mistake. Abbott signaled that he too believed he shouldn’t have signed that nursing home bill by signing SB 5 within hours of the Legislature sending it to him.

Related bills: HB 184, SB 5

Sent to governor

Maternal mortality

In 2013, lawmakers created The Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity to examine why so many Texas mothers die within a year after their pregnancies end. A study last year in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that Texas’ maternal mortality rates had nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014. While public health experts and legislators have not been able to pinpoint reasons for the spike in deaths and pregnancy complications, there was bipartisan support behind extending the task force until 2023 to continue its work. Though such a proposal failed during the regular legislative session, lawmakers were able to steer Senate Bill 17 to the governor’s desk during the special session. Abbott signed the bill.

Related bills: HB 9, HB 10, HB 11, SB 17

Sent to governor

Municipal annexation

A bill that would have allowed homeowners targeted by a city for annexation to vote on the proposal died during the regular session when state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, successfully filibustered it, claiming it offered inadequate protections to military bases from encroaching development. After Abbott added annexation reform on the special session agenda, lawmakers in both chambers debated tweaking the original measure. Eventually both chambers passed Senate BIll 6, which included a five-mile buffer around military zones, and Abbott signed it. Menendez told The Texas Tribune on Sunday that his filibuster was worth it because of the revised bill’s changes.

Related bills: HB 6, SB 6

Marissa Evans, Brandon Formby, Jim Malewitz, Cassandra Pollock, Morgan Smith, Patrick Svitek, Aliyya Swaby, Emma Platoff, Andy Duehren, Kirby Wilson, Ross Ramsey and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

Designed and developed by Ryan Murphy and Annie Daniel.