The 88th biennial Texas legislative session ends at the end of May — and the heat is on for lawmakers who want to get bills passed.
Kimi Lynn King, a political science professor at the University of North Texas, said one of the main issues that will keep legislators busy for the next two weeks is the budget.
“The budget, it seems, is going to be one of those things that they continue to push forward, because you do have the Senate, which is being more aggressive about passing its budget,” she said. “While the House, as it usually does, tends to be more tempered and look through things. So given that property tax relief, concerns about the grid – especially this summer with new reports out that there will be a problem – and improvements to infrastructure have been at the top of the budget in terms of the direction that they are heading. And it is going to most likely be acrimonious as it has been all session.”
Another issue that lawmakers are still debating is education savings accounts — often called a school voucher program — which would give families in public school state funding to send students to private school.
“It’s pretty clear that the House is putting forward a more limited view on the school vouchers, wanting to give the greatest amount of relief to persons with educational disabilities or folks that are financially challenged,” King said. “What is going to be a battle and what you’ll want to watch for — especially in light of Rep. Slaton’s resignation and then expulsion from the House — is the extent to which they remove things about gender orientation and identity, and gender in general, that gets moved out of the Senate bill, which currently is what’s been put before the House.”
Property tax relief has also been a major priority for Republican leaders, especially Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
“One question comes down to how you assess that property tax relief and whether or not you put caps on it or whether you provide relief in any given year back to individuals,” King said. “One of the things you’ve seen since the House and Senate fight on this is the battle over what is the best way to bring that tax relief out. And if you look at Tarrant County, for example, they have been very concerned because their property values have gone up and down. But the way we assess property values is at a given time in the year, and that can make a huge difference for those modest homeowners that are the ones really squeezed by this.”
Lawmakers are also expected to pass bills related to what Republicans call election integrity. King said no matter what gets passed, Texans should expect lawsuits against the state.
“The biggest area has to do with Harris County,” she said. “There’s some legislation currently pending that only targets Harris County because they have had issues trying to retain control at the state level, giving the secretary of state greater authority for auditing, appointing conservators, raising penalties if you vote and were not supposed to have voted from a misdemeanor to a second degree felony. All of this around the issue regarding voter fraud, or concerns that are claimed about that, despite the fact that there’s been absolutely no evidence regarding voter fraud.”
King said Democrats and Republicans will also debate border security.
“It looks like in the House the Democrats have stopped it short procedurally, because last night at 10 p.m. you really start to begin the final countdown for getting things on the House calendar by Thursday morning. And as a result, early morning hearings revived that legislation,” she said. “So while folks thought it had been stopped, it is continuing to move forward again, giving a new bureaucracy for the state, the ability to mobilize troops at the border and to continue to spend money the way we’ve been spending in Operation Lone Star. And so you’re going to see increased consternation over that and how much it’s going to cost.”
King said she expects a special session this year, which would give lawmakers more time to pass bills after May.
“I think that there is a great likelihood that you will see a special session,” she said. “Because of our unique system in the biennium where you only meet for 140 days in the citizen Legislature, it has become much more common, beginning with Gov. Perry and continuing through with Gov. Abbott to call repeat sessions. And he’s been extraordinarily successful in calling the special sessions. So as much as people think that it will be over at the end of May, it’s never really over until it’s over.”