As of Tuesday, 56 days remain before the start of the next Texas legislative session. But in some sense, it’s already underway. Monday was the first day lawmakers could file bills for consideration, and it also marked the official beginning of an elaborate changing of the guard in the Texas House.
Speaker Joe Straus announced at the end of the last session that he would not return. He had long held a line against more rigid social conservatives in the Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And now, it’s clearer who Straus’ replacement will be: House members appear to have coalesced around Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen who announced Monday that he had the support of 109 members.
Samuels says Bonnen is a 46-year-old Republican who has been a top ally of Straus, and Bonnen has spent almost half of his life in the Texas House.
“[He] emerged over the past decade as one of the House’s most outspoken members,” she says. “He would go to bat for the House over high-profile issues like property tax reform and border security,”
Samuels says some 40 House Republicans met in October to talk about who should be Speaker, since no clear front-runner had emerged. The group rallied behind Bonnen, who wasn’t even a candidate for the office at the time.
Philpott says that in addition to Republicans, Bonnen has the support of a number of prominent Democrats. This, despite the fact that conservative Republicans had a plan to head off the election of another moderate House speaker.
“This was supposed to be a race where the Republican caucus made its choice first, and said, ‘This is the only Republican we’re going to support,'” Philpott says.
Samuels says Bonnen looks likely to prevail. Two other Republican candidates dropped out after Bonnen’s announcement.
Bills that have already been filed may signal which priorities will take hold during the upcoming session, which begins in January. Bonnen’s priorities include school finance – a longstanding thorn in the side of legislators.
“I think that [Bonnen] understands that Republicans, of course, lost 12 seats in the House,” Philpott says. “And he understands that while it’s not 50-50, it’s getting closer than it has been, in terms of the partisan split.”
Philpott says the issues that are important to the suburban Texans who chose Democrats over Republicans will likely be priorities, next session. School finance is among these.
Samuels says property-tax relief, something with which Bonnen has experience, will probably be taken up in the House. She says Bonnen was often at odds with proposals for tax relief last session.
Philpott says another Republican bill that has already been filed would amend the Texas Constitution to require that the state provide at least 50 percent of public- education funding. The proposal aims to reduce local property taxes, which currently fund schools.
Samuels says El Paso Democrat Joe Moody has filed a bill to eliminate criminal penalties from marijuana possession.
“What’s interesting to me is that though this bill has been filed in prior sessions, it now has a bit more momentum,” Samuels says. “Because both Republicans and Democrats, in their respective platforms this year, said they are in favor of this legislation.”
Philpott says that the 2019 session could se a renewal of the battle between social conservatives and more moderate members. He says Bonnen has not been a fan of the House Freedom Caucus, or the socially conservative initiatives championed by Lt. Gov. Patrick.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.