Special session kicks off: call includes legislation on 13th check for TRS retirees and more on ‘critical race theory’

Gov. Greg Abbott finally published his legislative agenda today for the special session of the Legislature that kicks off tomorrow. On the public education front, we’ll likely see a13th check for Teacher Retirement System of Texas retirees, as well as another look at critical race theory legislation, another attempt to pass a law regarding transgender students participation in sports, and possible legislation requiring “appropriate education” on “dating violence, domestic violence, and child abuse, but that recognizes the right of parents to opt their children out of the instruction.”

The governor has the sole ability to call special sessions—which are limited to 30 days—and to decide which issue areas or specific legislation can be addressed.

Texas AFT wholeheartedly supports the 13th check for retirees. What’s truly needed is a continuing cost-of-living increase (COLA) for monthly checks. While TRS is in a financial position to make a COLA possible, only the Legislature can authorize those increases, and legislators were hesitant to make that step until 2023. Many lawmakers, however, have supported an additional check for the year, which was evident in this exchange between Rep. Rafael Anchia and lead budget writer Rep. Greg Bonnen during the regular session.

Previous 13th checks have been an additional monthly payment, usually a few months after being authorized, and usually capped at a maximum amount. (A 2019 13th check was capped at $2,000, while a bill in the regular session that didn’t pass had the cap at $2,400.) 

Texas AFT has vigorously opposed any legislation attempting to stifle the freedom of teachers on curriculum regarding race. The bill that passed in the regular session, HB 3979, is just that, an attempt to politicize race—under the moniker of critical race theory—and paint an inaccurate picture of how our professional teachers instruct on controversial topics in the classroom. You can read more on the bill here. The governor signed the bill into law, but put it on a special session call because he said “more” needed to be done on the issue.

Texas AFT also opposed a bill that would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” The bill died after missing a deadline for House passage, but the governor is intent on trying to pass similar legislation.

Also included in the special session agenda are an attempt to pass the voter suppression law—which died at the end of the regular session when Democratic House members walked out and broke quorum—as well as:

  • Bail reform
  • Border security
  • Issues around “censorship” on social media
  • Legislation addressing the governor’s veto of the legislative operations budget
  • Prohibitions on providing abortion-inducing drugs by mail and reporting on abortions
  • Property tax reductions
  • Examination of safety issue in foster care
  • Addressing cyber security threats to the state