As the legislative session heads into its final six weeks, lawmakers have a lot left to do. They face the task of reconciling budgets passed by the House and Senate into a single document. They must act on the governor’s emergency agenda items. And they’ll need to decide the fate of the more than 6,000 bills filed during the session.
Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey says conflicts between House and Senate Republicans that have been brewing all session will continue to play out as the two bodies work to produce a final budget for the state.
“We’re at the greatest difference right now,” Ramsey says. “This is a pretty normal state of affairs. They rattle their swords a bunch, and then five members from each body go into a room and go line by line through the budget and reconcile their differences. So they’re making a lot of noises right now. They have plenty of time to fix it. They do have some really significant differences to close though.“
Among the most high-profile fights this session has been the so-called ‘bathroom bill’ which would require people to use the bathroom associated with the gender on their birth certificate in selected public places. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is the bill’s staunchest advocate, and House Speaker Joe Straus is against it. The fight, Ramsey says, is partly about how conservative voters and business backers of the party differ no the bill.
“The Republicans in the Legislature are in a little bit of a box,” Ramsey says. “It looks like their voters are mostly for the bathroom bill. But if you poll businesses that have been supporters of conservatives, they’re against this bill. They think it’s discriminatory.”
But Republicans disagree about more than the bathroom bill, and that conflict is reflected in the makeup of each legislative chamber, Ramsey says.
“A long time ago we had a two-party state and both parties were Democrats,” he says. “And now we’ve got a two-party state where both parties are Republicans. The House is sort of the traditional, mainstream Republican party…The Senate is dominated more by movement conservatives, social conservatives and populists. And the two leaders of those bodies, Joe Straus in the House and Dan Patrick in the Senate, kind of embody those different Republican parties.”
Ramsey says there’s also a difference in the way the chambers move through their work.
“The Senate tends to work more quickly, in a more populist way,” he says. “The House tends to be the place where things slow down, and get a slow consideration and maybe pass and maybe die. “
Of course, there is another party represented in the Legislature. Ramsey says Democrats have had limited success in advocating for their priorities.
“The Democrats have a bigger voice in the House,” Ramsey says. “They have bigger numbers. They’re more likely to vote against things and rattle around and make people come to them to make deals.”
A few measures have attracted bipartisan support, Ramsey says, and two are priorities for the governor as well. One of these is anti-sanctuary city legislation, which Ramsey thinks will be approved by both houses. Fixes to the state’s child protective services system are also on the governor’s emergency agenda, and Ramsey expects the chambers to pass legislation.
“It looks like the members of both houses from both parties agree that child protective services in Texas is messed up, and needs some help, and needs some money,” he says. “And I think they’ve done both of those things. They’ve got some legislation moving. They’re throwing a bunch of money at it.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.