By Edwin Vega
For the Fort Bend Star
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced a blockbuster 20-item legislative special session to start Tuesday, July 18.
The session will have Texas lawmakers discussing topics ranging from maternal mortality and school finance to city regulations. First, the Senate will focus primarily on passing the Sunset Bill, a critical piece of legislation that regulates the practice of crucial state agencies such as, the Texas Medical Board, Texas State Bar and Texas Optometry Board.
“I share the Governor’s commitment to solving the 20 issues put forth in his call for the special session of the 85th Legislature,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. “Whether it is solving school finance challenges, lowering skyrocketing property taxes, protecting the privacy, safety and dignity of all Texans, or addressing the alarming maternal mortality rates in our state, I stand ready to serve.”
Lawmakers will discuss legislation that would prevent cities from regulating what people do with trees growing on private property, bills to prevent cities from changing rules in the middle of construction projects, and measures to speed up city permitting are all on state agenda.
Abbott announced that he also wants a law to take action in order to preempt all additional city regulations relating to mobile device use while driving. This comes days after signing the texting-and-driving ban bill into law.
Public and private school finances are on the special session agenda. Abbott wants a bill to raise teacher pay by $1,000 and plans to adjust the existing school finance structure and accomplish this without additional revenue. A House bill to add $1.5 billion into public schools was rejected when the Senate added a “private school choice” provision for special needs students, which the House opposed. In connection, Abbott wants a bill to let the parents of disabled children apply for public funds to pay for private school tuition. A bill proposed to create an interim commission on school finance was passed in the Senate but died in the House.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, had a mixed reaction to being called back to Austin.
“The 85th session started and ended with many controversial and terrible ideas,” he said. “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the ultra-conservative who leads the Senate, has been pressuring Abbott to call a special legislative session on his top priorities including restricting bathroom access for transgender Texans and limiting local property tax growth. Most of them had their chance to work through the system, and they failed to pass.
“Limiting the ability of local governments to raise revenue to pay police officers, firefighters and other first responders was wrong during the regular session and is wrong during a special session. I will also continue to fight against any voucher legislation that diverts funds from public education,” Reynolds said.
“A few surprising and positive items on the Governor’s special session call are approving a $1,000 pay raise for public school teachers, create a commission to study the Texas school finance system, studying the causes of our rising maternal deaths in Texas, and addressing issues of mail ballot fraud. As the author of HB 861 during the regular session, which would have provided teachers with a pay raise, and as a member of the Elections Committee, I am looking forward to working on these important issues that actually matter to Texans.” Reynolds said.
Lawmakers will be reviewing a bill that would require that voters have a say before the area in which they live gets annexed by a municipality; the original bill died to a filibuster on the second-to-last day of the regular session.
Legislation to regulate who can use what bathrooms in public buildings, commonly called “the bathroom bill” will also be discussed.
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” Abbott said.
Legislation to deal with property tax growth and efforts to overhaul the property appraisal and tax rate process will be addressed. The State of Texas is constitutionally prohibited from collecting property taxes; however, these revenues largely fund local governments.
Also on the agenda is a bill that would extend the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity until 2023. This task force is responsible for advocating in behalf of the state on how to reduce the rate of mothers dying less than a year after giving birth.
The special session can last a maximum of 30 days; however, Abbott has the power to call as many sessions as he wants.
“Legislators have six weeks to prepare for the special session, and then another 30 days to pass these proposals,” said Abbott. “If they fail, it’s not for lack of time; it would be because of a lack of will.”
Other topics being discussed are: Caps on state and local spending, speeding up local government permitting process, privacy, 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 and cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud.
Though the issues on the agenda for the special session are considerable, Abbott indicated that he thinks one session is more than enough time to deal with them.