AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) Opening day of the special session of the Texas Legislature on Tuesday was mostly procedural, filled with paperwork, rules, and a reunion of sorts for the legislators, staffers, and Capitol community who haven't seen each other since the 85th legislative session ended on May 31.
(Photo by Matthew Ablon)
But day one was likely the calm before the storm.
Central Texas lawmakers described the special session as a high-speed game of chess, with moves starting to be made, and some pieces finally to be played, on Wednesday.
"We have some serious issues to tackle and it's time to get after that, and so tomorrow (Wednesday) will be the beginning, we come in at ten again tomorrow, and we'll be able to start our day and process," said state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station.
A process sped up by the looming shutdown of the Texas Medical Board and four other state agencies if lawmakers' idleness from the regular session carries over to this special one.
Governor Greg Abbot called the Texas Legislature back to Austin to tackle a 20-item agenda in 30 days.
Controversy surrounds several agenda items including the "bathroom bill" to regulate the access of transgender people to public bathrooms, school finance reform where vouchers and possibly Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding may be discussed, tax reform, and more.
However, a decision on the "sunset bills" to avoid state agency shutdowns through re-authorization is needed before any of the other 19 items on the agenda can be considered.
"By the rules of the House, we've got 48 hours to lay out so we'll work on the 'sunset bill,' which is the reason we're back, and we have other priorities the governor's laid out for us, but we've gotta tackle that one before we move on any further," said Kacal.
Republican Waco lawmaker Charles "Doc" Anderson agrees, and hopes they'll get through that set of bills quickly and move on to other pressing issues that were never settled in the 85th session, like the ASATR funding cuts leaving 300 school districts statewide including several in Central Texas, especially ones that are small, rural, and mineral-rich, in a bind.
"We'll see if some of those can be reinvigorated under a different heading, and we do have to address that (ASATR), those smaller communities also are dramatically affected by the decrease in funding," Anderson said.
While there isn't any legislation in front of them yet, they hope the state's embattled House and Senate come together to pass needed bills sooner, rather than later.
"Let's get in, take care of what we need to, and get home to our families and constituents and not cost the tax payers anymore money than we have to," said Kacal.
Experts say this special session is expected to cost between $700,000-$800,000.
There hasn't been one since 2013 under former Gov. Rick Perry.
However, Gov. Greg Abbott said it was necessary.
"Hopefully things will come along and we can serve the State of Texas," said Anderson. "There are some important issues, some school finance, tax reform is a big issue, and so we'll need to deal with these and hopefully that will come along in a reasonable amount of time and without to much contention."
If Abbott isn't satisfied at the end of the 30 day session, he can call another one.
Former Gov. Bill Clements called six special sessions in 1989.