Austin Mayor Steve Adler ‘dumbfounded’ by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for special legislative session

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Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he was “dumbfounded” by the news that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special legislative session aimed largely at pre-empting local control.

During his press conference at Austin City Hall just hours after the governor’s announcement, Adler expressed disbelief at the 19 items that Abbott picked for the special session, which the governor called to begin July 18. Adler said he felt the move was an attack on city governance.

“I admit to being a little dumbfounded when I hear what sounded to me almost like a call for a war against cities and individual liberty as expressed at the local ballot box,” Adler said. “Local control was kind of flipped on it’s head, where people, that for years advocated that the government closest to the people was best able to govern, became the enemy of that principle, which we still hold dear here in Austin.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that the Texas Legislature will head into a special session on July 18 to take up 19 bills that failed to pass in the 140-day session.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that the Texas Legislature will head into a special session on July 18 to take up 19 bills that failed to pass in the 140-day session. (via Texas Tribune)

These 19 items include bathroom legislation in House Bill 2889 that would regulate usage based on biological gender as well as property tax reform in Senate Bill 2, school finance reform, school choice for special needs students, mail ballot fraud and other proposed new laws that would scale back the power of local governments.

Many of the 19 items chosen by the governor focused on limiting the perceived local government overreach.

“I’m calling for further legislation that fully pre-empts,” Abbott said during his announcement on Tuesday. “We don’t need a patchwork quilt of regulations.”

Although the Legislature should have a special session, Adler said, the items chosen by the governor could result a wasted effort. While listing some of the bills slated for the special session—the bathroom bill, local tree ordinances, vouchers, Adler stopped periodically with a disbelieving, “Really?”

“We should be having a special session that actually deals with and resolves school finance reform, because that is the only way to materially reduce property taxes in this state,” Adler said. “Instead it looks like we’re having a special session about a bathroom bill. Really? One that looks at school finance and the fullest extent of the ask is to form a committee. Really?”

The Texas Legislature 85th session was filled with bills that would pre-empt local policies, most notably the state’s override of Austin’s ride-hailing policy that allowed Uber and Lyft to return, and the “sanctuary cities” bill that enables law enforcement officials to inquire about the immigration status of any individual and threatens to punish cities and government officials who fail to comply with the law. The city will take the state to court over the constitutionality of the latter.

Adler said there is a reciprocal relationship between states and their cities.

“Our state will succeed to the full extent that our cities succeed and vice versa, we are partners,” Adler said. “I hope when the legislature comes back to this call recognizes that.”

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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