Gov. Abbott threatens special session if House and Senate don't agree on school voucher plan

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Texas special session looms over school vouchers
There are two weeks left in the legislative session at the state Capitol but it might not be the end of the work for legislators this year.

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- The fight over school vouchers or school choice could lead to a special session at the Capitol this summer.

The Senate and House versions of the bill that would provide public money for students to attend private schools are vastly different. Different enough that Gov. Greg Abbott threatened extra time in Austin for state legislators if the House can't agree to something akin to what the Senate already passed. It may not work.

SEE ALSO: Gov. Greg Abbott threatens to veto pared-down school choice bill, warns of special sessions

"When they're threatened like this, the House doesn't respond to that threat," State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said. "The House basically ends up going in a different direction."

State Sen. Brandon Creighton is the author of the Senate Bill. He remains hopeful the House will come around.

"It's a process," Sen. Creighton told ABC13. "We don't have much time on the clock, but I think we'll have either expanded school choice in Texas here right at the goal line or we will find we will be in a special session working on the same."

Mark Wiggins with the Association of Texas Professional Educators said he thinks the governor's focus is on the wrong part of education.

"I think it's telling what the governor is not threatening a special session over," Wiggins said. "He's not threatening a special session to make sure we fully fund school safety, or special education or to give teachers a raise to make sure our schools aren't empty when we start school next fall."

A special session is common in Texas. Gov. Abbott called three special sessions two years ago, the first of which led Democrats to leave the state for Washington, D.C., over a voter integrity bill. He also called one in 2017.

Gov. Rick Perry called 12 special sessions. Ann Richards called four. George W Bush is the only Texas governor in the last 30 years to not call a special session.

"It's a real power that the governor has," Mark Jones, a political science fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University, said. "That is, the legislature decides it's not going to pass something the governor wants passed. The governor can call the legislature back into special session every 30 days up until January of 2025 if he doesn't get what he wants."

Also at play is property tax relief. The Senate wants to offer larger homestead exemptions. The House would cut the maximum increase in half. Like vouchers, property tax relief is among the governor's top priorities, and it too could lead to a summer of work under the dome.

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