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Gov. Abbott strays from ‘bread and butter’ legislative priorities this session

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 6:57 PM CST
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - In his State of the State address Monday night Gov. Greg Abbott outlined five emergency items, or legislative priorities this session that state lawmakers are allowed to begin working on immediately.

These emergency items — the areas of policy that Abbott thinks are most pressing — include punishments for cities that cut their police budgets, “election integrity” measures, changes to the bail system in Texas, an expansion to broadband access and protections for small businesses against COVID-19 lawsuits.

“The emergency item effectively allows for the governor to let these bills jump the line,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

The use of emergency items by governors is typical.

However, Abbott’s particular choices this year are a bit atypical, Rottinghaus said.

“Last session, Greg Abbott focused on bipartisan issues — meat and potato issues — so teacher pay using property tax caps, school finance,” he said.

“This time around he focused on issues that were slightly more conservative, slightly more political,” Rottinghaus said.

Rottinghaus said the governor’s 2022 re-election bid is likely weighing heavily on his mind, and he “needs to be able to excite the base.”

“We have a mixture of red meat for the base and then white rice for everybody who likes it,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

Jones characterized Abbott’s “election integrity” proposals as a red meat issue aimed at resonating with Republicans in Texas and around the country and “cracking down on the autonomy of some Democratic election officials.”

He also said that Abbott could be attempting to appeal to a national audience.

“The setting we saw last night was not a state level setting; that was presidential-level quality,” Jones said.

“When the governor is talking about penalizing efforts to defund the police, that’s really not occurring anywhere in Texas — maybe occurring in Portland, or Minneapolis or Austin — but by and large that’s not an issue for Texas,” he said.

“That’s really purely symbolic, playing to the base,” Jones said.

State lawmakers can begin voting on and passing bills related to Abbott’s emergency items immediately.

All other bills will need to wait 60 days — or until about mid March — unless they receive a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

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