AUSTIN — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called an unusual midnight Senate session Wednesday after hitting a speed bump known as the Senate Democratic caucus.
Patrick is driving hard to have senators pass all of Gov .Greg Abbott’s agenda for the special session by the middle of next week.
On Wednesday, though, he and the staunchly conservative Republican members of the Senate couldn’t coax the usually cooperative 11 Democrats in the chamber to help them give rapid-fire approval to an agency-continuation bill.
The bill must clear the Senate before Abbott will widen the scope of the special session’s agenda to include bills on, among other things, bathrooms, property taxes, school voucher type help for parents of disabled students and abortion.
Patrick wanted the so-called agency "sunset" bill to win final Senate approval Wednesday so Abbott could act. That would allow Senate committees to jump into action, approving the 19 other bills sometime this weekend. Floor passage would follow early next week. As early as next Thursday, senators then would recess for several days.
To make the plan work, Republicans on Wednesday needed as many as five Democrats’ votes to suspend a state constitutional requirement that bills be read on three separate legislative days.
In a regular session, Democrats usually grant their consent. But angry about what they say is Patrick’s trampling of some long-honored prerogatives that allow a senator to stall a bill’s committee hearing for 48 hours, Democratic senators refused.
Patrick and Republicans delayed final action on the sunset bills, but Patrick then stunned observers by announcing senators would come back into session at 12:01 a.m. Thursday to resume their work – not in late morning or early afternoon, as is customary.
"I’ll bring the pizza and the soda pop," he quipped from the chamber’s dais. "Thank you very much."
Democrats later explained why they didn’t rubber-stamp the GOP majority’s timetable.
The public’s rights to participate are being trampled solely because Patrick wants to ram through bills early, said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman José Rodríguez of El Paso.
"It is a sad day," he said. Patrick’s in a rush so he can proclaim that the House has "enough time to act on all of these and no excuse" for not passing them, Rodríguez said.
"We’re acting more like Washington every day," added Houston Democrat Sylvia Garcia.
Patrick, though, emerged from a private huddle with all 31 senators and downplayed any dissension.
"We’re right on schedule, everybody’s good," he said.
Asked why he wants the Senate to move so quickly, Patrick replied, "It’s a hurry because we have 30 days and 20 bills. … You know, we like to work fast."
The public will be fully informed about a rash of Senate committee hearings, which begin Friday morning and will be completed over the weekend, Patrick said. Members of the public will have a chance to testify on all of the bills, he said.
"Our goal is to have all 20 passed sometime mid to the end of next week," he said. "We’ll get 20 for 20. We’re all in. These are the people’s priorities and we’ll pass them."
Staff writers John Savage and Lauren McGaughy in Austin contributed to this story.
The Texas Senate is led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and is dominated by staunchly conservative Republicans. The Senate leans harder right than the Texas House, which led to battles between the two chambers on key issues during the regular session and landed lawmakers in a special session. Among the sticking points were Senate-favored plans to spend taxpayer dollars for private school and ban transgender Texans from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.