A look back at the 85th Texas legislative session as a special nears
By Lauren Wied, Shayne Woodard and J Pete Laney, TAD government relations
The 85th regular session of the Texas Legislature gaveled to an end on May 29, but legislators are getting only a short break before they return to Austin on July 18 for a 30-day special session.
More on that later – first, let’s review what happened in the 140-day regular session, which was a successful one for the Texas Association of Dairymen (see “Dairy Bills of Interest” in TAD’s recent newsletter).
Overall, when the Legislature convened in January, everyone knew the state’s financial outlook would be tight. In the end, the two-year budget that passed (Senate Bill 1) stayed fairly flat, spending about $1 billion less than the current budget while leaving about $11 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
The Legislature also made good on Governor Abbott’s top four emergency priorities, including banning so-called “sanctuary cities,” overhauling the state’s broken child welfare system, implementing ethics reform and approving a resolution to support a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution. Other key Republican items that passed included additional anti-abortion legislation and tweaks to the voter ID law.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will remind you that 20 of his top 30 items became law. House Speaker Joe Straus will say the Legislature did what
it was sent here to do, which was to pass a conservative budget and fix direct problems associated with state government, such as: fiscal restraint on the budget, child protective services, mental health and tweaks to the public education system.
There was plenty of disagreement between the state’s top three leaders during the legislative session, and the “war of words” heated up in the waning days of session between Patrick and Straus.
Some of that tension spilled over into the rest of the Capitol. While the final day of session is usually filled with ceremony and celebration, instead this year the Capitol was packed with Texans protesting the “sanctuary cities” bill and a scuffle broke out on the House floor over comments made about some of those activists by a legislator.
Hopefully the time between Sine Day (as the adjournment of a session is called) and the start of a special session will allow legislators to get some much-needed R&R so that tempers will cool down by the time legislators return to Austin in the summer heat.
Abbott has set an ambitious agenda for legislators for the 30-day special session.
In a special session, lawmakers can’t consider anything that isn’t on the governor’s call, though they can file bills on other topics in hopes that the governor might add their issue to the agenda.
The 19 items on Abbott’s to-do list:
- Sunset legislation
- Teacher pay increase of $1,000
- Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring/retention
- School finance reform commission
- School choice for special needs students
- Property tax reform
- Caps on state and local spending
- Municipal annexation reform
- Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
- Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
- Speeding up local government permitting process
- Texting while driving preemption
- Privacy (“bathroom bill”)
- Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
- Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers
- Pro-life insurance reform
- Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise
- Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
- Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
- Extending maternal mortality task force