AUSTIN — Just a few of Texas’ 31 Senate members and 150 House members filed a total of 523 pieces of legislation on Nov. 14, the first day lawmakers could submit legislation for the coming session.
The 85th regular session of the Texas Legislature is scheduled to convene on the second Tuesday in January, that is, Jan. 10, at noon. Final adjournment — 140 days later — is set for the last Monday in May, that is, May 29.
Now, back to those bills filed on Nov. 14. Not that it’s a competition, but Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, filed 20 bills, the highest total of any House member. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was the top first-day filer among senators and all legislators with 42 bills and one joint resolution. Zaffirini also co-authored three bills she filed jointly with Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio.
The subject matter of early-filed bills is naturally wide-ranging. Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, Zaffirini and others filed bills regulating the use of a handheld communications device while driving. Craddick and others have filed such legislation in previous sessions. Reps. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, and “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, filed bills to establish a public law school in the Rio Grande Valley. Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, filed a bill to abolish the death penalty.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed a bill to prohibit the temporary closure of segments of the state highway system on days that scheduled events are being held in a municipality. Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, filed a bill to set term limits for elected officers of political subdivisions. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed a bill to require a training course on human trafficking for commercial driver’s license applicants.
During a typical session, legislators will file between 7,000 and 10,000 pieces of legislation. Of those, perhaps 20 percent will survive the process and become new laws, amend or repeal current laws or appear on a statewide ballot as proposed constitutional amendments.
Patrick lists priorities
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, on Nov. 14 released a list of his top 10 legislative priorities for the 85th regular session of the Legislature.
Patrick’s priorities including his comments on each:
1. 2017 Budget Proposal: “A budget estimate for fiscal years 2018-19 is not yet available, but we will pass a balanced budget that will strengthen the Texas economy and assure that it retains its global competitiveness.”
2. Property Tax Reform: “Texans pay the sixth-highest property taxes in the nation and the high rates are taxing people out of their homes and hampering business growth. This must change.”
3. School Choice: “There is broad support for legislation to ensure that every parent has the option to send their child to the school they believe is best for them.”
4. Sanctuary Cities: “No city in Texas should be allowed to ignore the law. We will end this practice once and for all this session.”
5. Photo Voter ID: “Nothing is more critical to our democracy than the integrity of the voting process. Photo Voter ID is essential.”
6. Women’s Privacy Act: “A majority of Texans in both political parties and in every ethnic and demographic group believe that women and girls should have privacy and safety in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms. Unfortunately, legislation is necessary to assure that they do.”
7. Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships: “With the rapid increase in the number of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, legislation is needed to strengthen the reporting and training requirements, and establish appropriate penalties. Priority must be given to protecting our students at every level of the school system.”
8. Fetal Tissue/Partial Birth Abortion: “We will continue to fight to protect the dignity and sanctity of life by increasing criminal penalties for buying or selling human fetal tissue, among other protections, and we will ban partial birth abortion in Texas.”
9. Spending Cap: “We will continue to fight to strengthen the state spending limit so our government lives within its means.”
10. Hailstorm Lawsuit Reform: “We will rein in the hailstorm lawsuit abuse that is damaging local economies around our state.”
Patrick also mentioned his plan for legislation to be introduced to bring about ethics reform, child protective services reforms, tuition reforms, and to reduce the hand-gun licensing fee, reduce the state franchise tax, and to prohibit the government collection of union dues.
Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association.