From The Texas Tribune:
Texas lawmakers won’t gavel in for the new legislative session until January, but they got their first chance to file bills Monday.
By 1 p.m., Texas legislators filed more than 800 bills pertaining to an array of matters. Thousands of pieces of legislation are filed each session, but most never make it into law. The first day of bill filing, though, can shed light on legislators’ priorities and what battles could be shaping up in Austin next year. Republicans continue to hold both chambers — and narrowly expanded their control of the Legislature.
When the 88th legislative session convenes, the state is expected to have an unprecedented amount of funds at its disposal. The state comptroller forecast that there will be at least an extra $27 billion in the two-year budget compared with the last regular legislative session. Lawmakers will also see an increase in their savings account, also known as the rainy day fund.
Filing early means bills will typically get a low number. But the lowest numbers are reserved for the highest-priority bills set by the House speaker and lieutenant governor. House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have yet to announce what their priorities are.
Here’s a look at some of the notable bills filed Monday, which will be updated regularly.
Two Houston Democrats have filed legislation pushing for more inclusion of ethnic studies in schools. House Bill 45, filed by Rep. Christina Morales, D-Houston, would mandate most public school districts to offer Mexican American and African American studies. Meanwhile, House Bill 368 by Rep. Jarvis Johnson would create an African American studies advisory board within the State Board of Education to expand the teaching of “citizenship, culture, economics, science, technology, geography, and politics as they relate to the history of African Americans.”
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, has filed a bill that would change how the state funds Texas’ 1,204 public school districts and open-enrollment charters. With House Bill 31, Hinojosa wants to fund schools based on their average enrollment.
Currently, schools are funded on their average daily attendance. The average daily attendance is calculated by the sum of children present divided by days of instruction that schools are required to give. Texas schools have to be open for a minimum of 75,600 minutes over a school year, which includes recess and lunch.
This means if a kid is absent, the school loses that money. Some superintendents have been calling to be funded based on enrollment so they don’t lose money regardless of attendance.
House Bill 338, filed by Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, would require publishers to assign content ratings to books that they want to sell to schools. The scores, which function similar to movie ratings, would place restrictions on which books students can access depending on their age. If the ratings are not deemed proper, the books could be recalled.
The legislation follows a year of rapid book banning in the state. PEN America, a free expression advocacy nonprofit, found that 22 school districts in Texas banned 801 books — the highest number in the country — between July 2021 and June 2022. The bans particularly targeted books focusing on race, abortion and LGBTQ issues. — Brian Lopez and Alex Nguyen
Following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas legislators filed a flurry of bills aimed at limiting who can possess firearms, where they can be purchased and increasing accountability around gun purchases.
Limiting firearms purchases or who can own guns could be an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Legislature. Despite several mass shootings in recent years, Texas Republicans have repeatedly loosened gun laws.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, filed similar bills that would require sales of multiple firearms to be reported to law enforcement agencies. Moody’s bill, which includes the sale of multiple magazines, would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to inform the sheriff where the purchaser resides. The shooter who targeted Robb Elementary School legally purchased multiple AR-style rifles immediately after his 18th birthday.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, has also introduced Senate Bill 145 to raise the minimum age to purchase some weapons. — William Melhado and Sneha Dey
Texas law bans all abortions from the moment of conception, except to save the life of the pregnant patient. A group of Democrats have filed two bills that would expand those exceptions.
Senate Bill 122 would add an exception to the ban in the case of rape. It would not require the pregnant patient to file a police report, provide forensic evidence or prosecute the crime to obtain an abortion under this exception. Several Republicans have said they would consider supporting rape or incest exceptions.
Senate Bill 123, filed by Democrats, would allow abortions to save the life of the pregnant patient, to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health, or in cases of lethal fetal anomalies or other fetal conditions that are incompatible with life “without extraordinary medical interventions.” The bill would require those decisions to be made by a doctor and patient, not a medical review board.
Republicans are expected to file bills this session to tighten and ensure enforcement of existing abortion laws. Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas, has filed House Bill 61, which would stop Texas municipalities from helping people pay for out-of-state abortions. — Eleanor Klibanoff
LGBTQ Texans’ rights
Texas Republicans have targeted transgender people several times in recent sessions. Already, there is a wave of bills aimed at gender-affirming health care.
House Bill 42, filed by Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, would expand the state’s definition of child abuse to include providing gender-affirming health care under the guidance of a doctor or mental health care provider. The Legislature declined to pass a similar bill last session.
House Bill 112, filed by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, would also criminalize gender-affirming health care. In particular, the legislation would bar health care providers from offering various gender-affirming procedures and treatments for children, including puberty blockers and testosterone or estrogen doses. Violations could result in a second-degree felony. Toth also introduced this proposed ban in House Bill 41, which would also take away professional liability insurance policy from providers who offer these treatments.
Gender-affirming care is recommended by all major medical associations to treat gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their physical presentation does not align with their gender identity. For teens and youth, gender-affirming care is often limited to social transition — using different pronouns or wearing different clothes — but can include puberty blockers, which are fully reversible, and hormone therapy.