Texas Politics

Texans readying for 2017 file bills about abortion, marijuana, corporal punishment in schools

Texas lawmakers began prefiling bills Monday that will be considered in the next legislative session at the Texas Capitol in January.
Texas lawmakers began prefiling bills Monday that will be considered in the next legislative session at the Texas Capitol in January. Star-Telegram

And they’re off.

Texas lawmakers cleared the gate and began pre-filing hundreds of bills Monday — addressing issues ranging from texting while driving to protecting pets left in hot cars — that they hope to take up during the 140-day 85th Legislature that begins Jan. 10 in Austin.

Not all will become law by the time the session ends May 29.

In fact, not many will.

“A lot of the bills brought forward on the first day of pre-filing are symbolic bills or perennial issues that come before the Legislature nearly every session,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “But in the Texas Legislature, to get anything passed, it doesn’t matter if you introduce it on the first day.

“It’s whether the lieutenant governor and House speaker have it on their priority list.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his top priorities Monday, including balancing the budget, reforming the property tax system, allowing school choice, creating a woman’s privacy, or restroom, act, boosting penalties for the buying or selling of human fetal tissue and preventing inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

At the same time, House Speaker Joe Straus has said his top goals include addressing the embattled child welfare system, school funding, making sure Texans can afford higher education, improving the state’s approach to mental illness, encouraging entrepreneurship in Texas and considering property tax reform.

Here’s a look at some of the hundreds of bills pre-filed on Monday, the first day possible to file legislation.

Distracted Driving: State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has filed — for the fourth session in a row — a bill to stop Texans from using their smart phones while driving. Statistics show 482 deaths occurred on Texas roads last year because of distracted driving. “ZERO Texans need to die because of the selfishness of Texas drivers who are addicted to their phones,” Craddick said in a statement. HB 62 State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a similar bill in the Senate. SB 31

The Texas Legislature will run from Jan. 10-May 29 next year

Corporal punishment: State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, filed a plan to ban corporal punishment as a way to discipline students. HB 166

Red light cameras: State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, proposes doing away with red light cameras, which some Texans have protested since since they began being used across the state to capture license plates of vehicles running red lights so that traffic enforcers can send out tickets in the mail. SB 111

Abortion procedures: State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, proposes modifying abortion procedures and removing the ability of a woman to have an abortion if “the fetus has a severe and irreversible abnormality.” HB 87

Marijuana sales: State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, has filed two proposals to allow the “possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis.” One proposal allows the sale of cannabis in the state. SJR 17 The other allows the sale of cannabis for medical use. SJR 18

Electronic voting: State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, proposes letting applications for mail-in ballots be completed online, rather than just on paper. HB 48

Ending daylight-saving time. State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, wants to exempt the entire state of Texas from the law that establishes daylight saving time. If approved, this law would go into effect Nov. 5, 2017, the same time daylight saving time would end next year. HB 95

Gun show sales: State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, wants to make it an offense to sell a firearm at a gun show without using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or without a record of the sale. HB 259

Standing with Israel: State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, filed a bill preventing the state from approving contracts with companies boycotting Israel. The proposal will require a company to sign off on a statement that it does not boycott Israel and will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract. HB 89 State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, filed a similar bill in the Senate. SB 134

Raising the minimum wage: State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, proposes raising the minimum wage in Texas to $15 an hour or the federal minimum wage. HB 285

Feminine hygiene tax relief: State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, wants to add feminine hygiene products — including tampons, panty lines, sanitary napkins and the like — to the items that are tax-free during the back to school sales tax holiday which generally runs every August. HB 55 At the same time, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, proposes eliminating sales and use taxes for feminine hygiene products year-round. HB 219

Reducing taxes: State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, proposes reducing the franchise tax rate 2.5 percent per year — as long as the Texas Comptroller says there’s enough money in state coffers to do that. “Texas must keep building an economic environment in which businesses can succeed, but we must balance that with the state’s ability to meet our needs,” she said. SB 72

Protecting pets and babies: Zaffirini wants to make sure pets aren’t left in hot cars. Under her proposal, anyone who smashes a window or pries their way into a hot car to rescue a pet can’t be sued for any damage caused to the vehicle. SB 69

Emergency leave: Nelson wants to create “clear policies” for emergency leave and have them posted online, to limit the ability of the head of a state agency to only give that time off as a form of severance pay or to workers they believe will return after the leave period is over. Any paid leave of more than 32 hours would have to be reported to the Texas Comptroller. “This bill will prevent abuses of emergency leave policies at our state agencies,” she said. SB 73

Eliminating the death penalty: State Rep. Harold V. Dutton Jr., D-Houston, proposes eliminating the death penalty in Texas and leaving just life or life without parole as punishment options for those convicted of capital crimes. HB 64

Parental rights: Nelson proposes letting a conviction of “sexual assault of the other parent” be enough to terminate parental rights. She said the need for this came from a Flower Mound case where a woman was brutally raped by her husband but even after he was convicted of the crime, he still had full parental rights. “No parent should be forced to co-parent with their rapist,” Nelson said. SB 77

Tax-free textbooks: Zaffirini proposes making two annual ten-day tax-free periods where low-income college students could buy or rent textbooks tax-free. SB 48

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Filed Bills

To look at an updated list of bills being filed for the 85th Legislature, go online to the Texas Legislature Online at capitol.state.tx.us.