Dan Patrick Is Holding the Legislature Hostage Over ‘Bathroom Bill,’ Property Tax Reform

The lieutenant governor said Wednesday he is prepared to force a special session if those two bills aren’t passed.

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Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus  Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick courtesy Texas Senate/House Speaker Joe Straus by Patrick Michels

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Wednesday he will force a special session unless the House passes versions of the anti-transgender bathroom bill and a property tax reform bill.

“I want to avoid a special session, but I’m prepared to go into one unless the House passes [these bills],” Patrick said. “The votes are there; the bills shouldn’t be blocked.”

Though Patrick made the comments to reporters at a press conference, they were clearly directed at House leadership, particularly Speaker Joe Straus. The two leaders have sparred all session, with Straus calling the “bathroom bill” “manufactured and unnecessary.”

“Governor Patrick’s threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope that he reconsiders. The best way to end this session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want,” Straus said in a statement after the press conference.

Patrick said he had planned to continue negotiations behind closed doors, but that changed because of the “private letter the Speaker sent to me that he released to all of you yesterday.” Straus penned a letter to Patrick that said the Lege could avoid a special session if lawmakers pass the budget and a “safety net” bill that, if not passed, would force the closure of more than two dozen state agencies.

Patrick has the ability to hold the House hostage after members of its far-right Freedom Caucus torpedoed the “safety net” bill, along with hundreds of others, last week. Now that the deadline for all House bills to pass that chamber has come and gone, passing the Senate version of the safety net measure is the last chance. If the must-pass bill fails, Governor Greg Abbott would be forced to call a special session to save agencies like the Texas Medical Board and the Department of Transportation.

The final day of the regular session is May 29. Abbott has the authority to call a special session, which can last up to a month, and set the agenda. The governor, who has said he supports the “bathroom bill,” would likely be forced to cave to Patrick’s demands to protect himself from backlash from Republican primary voters. Some Lege watchers believe Patrick is interested in challenging Abbott.

“If we must go to a special session, I will respectfully ask the governor” to prioritize the two bills, Patrick said. “If they’re blocked again, I will ask the governor to call a special again and again and again.

“Voters expected me to be bold to move this legislation forward,” Patrick said. “It’s not a personal battle between Speaker Straus and myself, or between parties.”

State Representatives Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie (left), and Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas  Sam DeGrave

House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, told reporters after that the House “should not be blackmailed.”

“It’s just extraordinary that, with less than two weeks to go in the session, the lieutenant governor would essentially throw a Donald Trump-style temper tantrum and threaten to blow up the session just to try to force passage of his unnecessary and harmful bathroom bill,” Turner said.

In terms of the budget, which is the only bill lawmakers are required to pass before the end of the session, Patrick said he thinks the Senate can reach an agreement with the House, but “we have a long way to go.”

“I have not changed my position, nor has the Senate,” he said. “We will not spend rainy day money for ongoing expenses. That is a no-go. We will only consider it for one-time-only expenses.”

The House and Senate are beefing over whether to pull a chunk of money from the Rainy Day Fund or use an accounting trick to defer payments to the next budget cycle.

“People don’t care how many sessions it takes us to get home,” Patrick said. “These aren’t my demands, they are the demands of the electorate.”

“Whether we go to a special is now in the hands of the House,” Patrick said in conclusion, without taking questions from the press.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Straus and Turner.

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