Texas governor once again orders GOP legislators to try banning trans youth from sports

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks to the media before the 2016 Republican National Committee debate.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott Photo: Shutterstock

After Texas’s first special legislative session of the year ended with a significant number of lawmakers not in attendance, many contracting coronavirus, and several members skipping out of town to lobby in Washington DC, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has once again called a special legislative session to try to force his agenda into law.

An important priority of Abbott’s for this session, as it was in the last one, is passing anti-trans legislation.

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The regularly-scheduled legislative session for 2021 ran out of allotted time, and won’t resume until next January. Several legislative proposals considered during the term were subsequently inert. However, Texas’s Governor has the authority to call for a special session at any time with a simple order.

Last month, Gov. Abbott called the first of his special sessions, which he has pledged to keep calling until his legislative priorities are enacted.

His priorities included limiting voting rights, banning “critical race theory,” and limiting the rights of LGBTQ people. Abbott explicitly asked for the legislature to reconsider a bill to ban transgender youth from sports during this session.

In the first five business days of the special session, at least 12 anti-trans bills were introduced. None ultimately passed.

While Republicans have a majority in both houses of the state legislature, Democrats have successfully blocked much of their agenda over the last few months. For the special session, Democrats have done this by effectively skipping out on the session, refusing to attend or even cast any votes during the session.

Many Democrats hoped to force the legislature into quorum during the first special session, meaning business in the chambers can’t continue because they will fall under the required number of lawmakers in attendance to conduct official business.

When several Texas Democrats didn’t show up, Texas Republicans pushed on. Several of the Democrats travelled to Washington, D.C. where lobbied members of Congress to pass federal laws protecting voting rights and other issues on a federal level that would make what Texas Republicans are trying to accomplish null and void.

Several are still there, and have yet to return to the state. Speaker Phelan even tried to persuade them to return with a plane he chartered himself. It did not succeed.

Undeterred, Texas House Republicans voted to pass a motion to “track down” missing Democrats and order them to appear back at the session, or otherwise face imprisonment. The motion called for “the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, [to] send for all absentees … under warrant of arrest if necessary.”

Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction to enforce the motion outside of the state, but if they return or remain in the state when the legislators return to session, they risk arrest if they’re not in attendance.

Still, Republicans were unable to muster enough voting members to adequately address the proposals in time before the 30-day session ended.

When the special session came to an end officially on August 6, though, Abbott had already requested another session, reiterating many of the same “priorities” — and adding even more.

As Abbott requested while calling the first session, he once again asked for “Legislation identical to Senate Bill 29 as passed by the Texas Senate” to be prioritized. Senate Bill 29, from the regular session held earlier this year, called for “interscholastic athletic team sponsored or authorized by a school district or open-enrollment charter school” to only allow participants to take part in sports under their “biological sex,” which would exclude trans youth.

The second special session — the third for which taxpayers will pay lawmakers for each day of business (per diem of $211/day) — officially commenced on August 7 at noon.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) told the Texas Tribune, “The bipartisan group of members who stayed in Texas look forward to being joined by their House colleagues to address the items on the call, including relief for retired teachers, improving the foster care system, and addressing election integrity.”

Yet, several lawmakers were not in attendance on both sides of the aisle. Most of the Democrats encamped in Washington decided that they will remain in the nation’s capital for now. Several Republicans were not present in Austin on Saturday either, with at least one currently carrying coronavirus.

Still, Republicans in Texas have not signaled any changes to the policies put forward from the first session.

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