Texas House OKs sunset bills, only must-pass legislation

Texas Capitol Building. (CBS Austin)

The Texas House of Representatives preliminarily passed the Senate's 'sunset' legislation in a voice vote Thursday.

The pair of bills will keep five state agencies open, including the Texas medical board.

"We have protected the health and mental health of the people of Texas by extending these agencies," said Representative Larry Gonzales, who authored identical legislation in the House.

The sunset bill has always had bipartisan support, but was held hostage in the regular session and used as leverage to get other bills passed.

"For the purposes for which we've been called, the sunset bills, we're done," said Gonzales. "There is no hostage. The absolute must pass (bill) is going to pass."

Gonzales said he expects conversations about other legislation to continue in the remaining 6 days of the special session.

But at the start of the special session, many Democrats, including Rep. Joe Moody said sunset bills should be the only legislation on the table.

"Let's do what is necessary and then let's go home and stop wasting tax payer dollars," said Moody, in July.

Senator Larry Taylor is still working to pass a bill he authored that would create a commission to study the broken school finance system. He said he is optimistic additional bills will get passed.

"If we don't do it now, I think we've wasted a lot of effort," said Taylor.

Most lawmakers admit passing all of Governor Greg Abbott's 20 priorities on his special session agenda is now unlikely. Still, far right Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Matt Schaefer believes the Governor has the ultimate leverage.

"The leverage belongs to Governor Abbott," said Schaefer. "He is the one who can call us back to special session again if we don't get his conservative agenda passed."

That agenda includes 19 other items, including the so-called bathroom bill and several anti-abortion bills.

Governor Abbott said passing a property tax relief bill is his top priority, after sunset legislation. Schaefer believes not passing a property tax bill increases the chances of being called back.

As this point, the House and Senate haven't been able to agree on a rollback rate. The House's property tax bill is slated to be debated on the floor Saturday.

"If we don't finish, it's not because we didn't have time," said Schaefer. "It's because the political courage was not there to get the job done."

The sunset bills will be up for a final, procedural vote Friday before heading to the Governor's desk.

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