State

Democrats Seek to Let Legislature Hold Emergency Special Sessions Without Governor Approval

A Dallas duo of Democrats in the Texas Legislature has added a constitutional amendment to the growing list of proposals meant to curb the governor’s emergency powers.

The joint resolution, submitted to the Texas Senate by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) and to the Texas House by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), would allow the legislature to meet in a special session to respond to a disaster.

Governor Greg Abbott has exercised all but sole authority during the COVID-19 crisis, controlling the state’s response and occasionally ceding power to mayors and county judges through executive orders under the Texas Disaster Act. State lawmakers in both parties have felt caged since the authority to call them into action rests with Abbott, who has been loath to loosen his grip on the helm.

Johnson’s and Anchia’s joint resolution would call a special session to respond to such disasters if at least two-thirds of the lawmakers from both chambers petition to meet.

“The lieutenant governor and speaker of the house of representatives shall by joint proclamation convene the legislature in special session on receipt of a petition that is signed by at least two-thirds of the members of each house of the legislature requesting the special session for the purpose of responding to a fiscal crises, war, natural disaster, or emergency,” the text reads.

“When the legislature is convened… the legislature may not consider legislation on a subject other than a subject directly related to the state’s response to the fiscal crisis, war, natural disaster, or emergency for which the special session is convened.”

The text would cut the special session short at 30 days, the same as if the governor were to call for a special session now. The amendment would not change the current requirement that the lawmakers in a special session can only consider the subject chosen by the governor, though it does alter the wording of that requirement.

Disaster as defined by the Texas Disaster Act doesn’t quite match the list of emergencies in the joint resolution. Texas government code limns this quick description of the term:

“Disaster means the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or man-made cause, including fire, flood, earthquake, wind, storm, wave action, oil spill or other water contamination, volcanic activity, epidemic, air contamination, blight, drought, infestation, explosion, riot, hostile military or paramilitary action, extreme heat, cybersecurity event, other public calamity requiring emergency action, or energy emergency.”

Like all constitutional amendments, the voters of Texas would have to approve it if the legislature passes the legislation in a November election this year.

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