Capital Highlights: House, Senate have not yet engaged in back-and-forth on key bills

by | Aug 7, 2017 | Opinion

By Ed Sterling

Director of member services at the Texas Press Association

AUSTIN — Not a single bill had been agreed to by the state House and Senate as of July 28, exactly 10 days into the 30-day special session of the Texas Legislature.

Lawmakers have a tall order served up to them by Gov. Greg Abbott in the form of 20 must-resolve matters in the first called session of the 85th Texas Legislature. Something could be on Abbott’s desk in short order if top-priority “sunset” legislation to ensure the continuation of the Texas Medical Board and several other healthcare-related state oversight boards gains approval by both chambers. The Senate’s version is SB 20 by Van Taylor, R-Plano; the House has produced two versions: HB 1 and HB 2, both by Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock. There are enough differences in the bills to spark elongated floor debates, if lawmakers are so inclined.

Last week, both chambers moved beyond the as-yet unresolved sunset legislation. The House approved and forwarded two bills to the Senate: HB 7 by Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, legislation creating a tree planting credit to offset tree removal fees imposed by a municipality, and HB 13 by Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, creating reporting requirements for abortion providers about surgical complications.

A number of Senate bills have gained approval and now await consideration by the House. Those bills would, for example:

– Reform how local property tax rates are set and the tax programs administered;

– Revise school finance;

– Prevent the transfer of state funding to any healthcare provider that also performs abortions;

– Amend municipal annexation laws;

– Enable a constitutional limit on the rate of growth in appropriations; and

– Add new requirements for do-not-resuscitate orders.

Along with SB 3, the “bathroom bill” by Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham — legislation that cleared the Senate and now awaits consideration by the House — there are a number of bills with the potential to ignite time-consuming tussles between the upper and lower chambers. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has signaled his disapproval for the bathroom bill, despite pressure from Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who have more or less agreed as to how public schools might accommodate transgender students.

Education bill moves

The full Senate on July 25 tentatively approved SB 2, school finance reform legislation by Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.

SB 2 contains $212 million in additional spending over and above appropriations passed during the regular legislative session, to help needy school districts bridge funding gaps until the Legislature devises a more broadly functional finance system. SB 2 also would create a mechanism to provide financial assistance for children with disabilities to attend private schools.

DPS reports on gangs

The Texas Department of Public Safety on July 25 released the Texas Gang Threat Assessment, an overview and update of gang activity in the Lone Star State.

Gangs are evaluated and classified according to threat level. Also, according to the report, there are as many as 100,000 gang members across Texas.

“Gangs and their associates remain a significant threat to public safety in our state, not only because of their penchant for violence and criminal activity, but also their relationships with other criminal organizations, such as Mexican cartels,” said DPS Director Steve McCraw.

Zika infection is possible

The Texas Department of State Health Services on July 26 announced a Hidalgo County resident who previously had a Zika infection was most likely infected in Texas.

Because the individual has not recently traveled outside the area or had any other risk factors, the infection probably was transmitted by a mosquito bite in South Texas sometime in the last few months, health officials said.

Texas previously had six locally transmitted cases of Zika in Brownsville in late 2016. More information on Zika is available at TexasZika.org.

AG Paxton joins in brief

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on July 25 announced he joined West Virginia’s amicus brief in Robinson v. United States, along with Indiana, Michigan and Utah in the United States Supreme Court.

The case was brought over a warrantless frisk search of an individual.

Paxton said an interpretation of the case by the Richmond, Virginia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit “places an unlawful burden on Second Amendment rights.”

“The Constitution plainly guarantees law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms, whether through open or concealed carry,” he said. “We must ensure the court continues to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”

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