Texas

Texas lawmakers gavel out: ‘We didn’t get 100 percent what we wanted, but we got a lot’

Texas governor announces school finance plans

Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.
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Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.

It’s a wrap.

After 140 days of working to pass new laws, the 86th legislative session ended Monday — in the midst of handshakes, hugs and smiles — as lawmakers signed off on technical corrections, thanked staff members and posed for pictures.

“We didn’t get 100 percent of what we wanted, but we got a lot,” said Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

This session saw a new leader swinging the gavel in the House, after members elected Dennis Bonnen in January to lead the lower chamber.

Bonnen worked hand-in-hand with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in what some have called the “Super Bowl” of legislative sessions, to pass high profile property tax reform and school finance measures geared to keep dollars in Texans’ pockets while pumping more into Texas schools.

“Great session, members,” Bonnen said as he gaveled out the House before 1 p.m. on Memorial Day.

Now it’s up to Abbott to plow through more than 1,000 bills and resolutions — touching on issues ranging from letting more Texans use medical cannabis to turning off red light cameras statewide — to determine which measures he’ll sign or veto.

“We are all going to miss each other tomorrow,” Patrick said, when calling the Senate to order for the last time this session. “It’s like the last day of school, only our summers are a year and a half.”

He gaveled out the Senate for the last time this session around 4 p.m.

Tarrant County lawmakers from both parties hailed the session as one of the most productive in years, with less rancor and animosity compared with recent past sessions.

“We didn’t see the divisiveness and tension that you’ve seen in the past,” said Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican. “And I think it speaks volumes that we were able to do those big things.”

There were flareups earlier this session, security concerns, after a Republican lawmaker essentially killed a bill that could result in women who have abortions being charged with homicide and after a gun-rights advocate visited the homes of Bonnen and other lawmakers while they were in Austin, advocating for a constitutional carry law.

But Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the Democratic leader in the House, said the session produced “good bipartisan cooperation” that helped pave the way for enactment of the school finance measure, which Abbott and legislative leaders designated as the session’s top priority.

“I think it’s overall been a good session,” Turner said.

Social issues

Social issues nearly overwhelmed the 2017 legislative session, but, for the most part, they stayed on the back burner this year.

Among those to pass: a religious freedom measure known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill geared to keep government from negatively impacting people or businesses based on their religion.

Senate Bill 1978, carried in the House by Krause, was inspired by the San Antonio City Council’s recent decision to not allow a Chick-fil-A to open in the airport there, citing a “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior” by the chain.

After some initially thought they killed the bill, it ended up passing through the Legislature and has been sent to the governor for consideration.

Another measure that passed was SB 22, which prevents state and local governments from partnering with abortion providers, even for programs such as how to not get pregnant or about sex health education in general.

The goal of this bill is to prevent any governmental agency from giving money — or goods or services — to any abortion provider for any reason. It also has been sent to the governor.

Impacting Texans

During the past five months, lawmakers passed bills that could impact Texans in big and small ways.

In addition to sending more money to schools across the state, and working to reduce property taxes Texans pay now and in the future, Texas lawmakers approved a plan to let more Texans use medical cannabis, or CBD oil.

That measure, by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, lets Texans suffering from medical conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to terminal cancer use the oil that comes from the hemp plant, which is related to the marijuana plant.

“We’ve worked really, really hard this session and I think we’ve done great things for Texans,” Klick said.

They also approved a measure by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, geared to prevent health care providers from sending “surprise bills” when patients had no ability to choose a provider, such as when he or she receives care from an out-of-network provider at an in-network emergency room.

“We’re determined to protect Texas patients from contentious, after-care disputes between insurance companies and providers,” Hancock has said.

Lawmakers also signed off on a plan that makes it legal for Texans to carry brass knuckles and self-defense plastic key chains shaped like dogs or cats with pointy ears.

They approved a bill to let churches and other places of religious worship the ability to decide whether to allow handguns on their premises.

And they passed a measure finally making kid-run lemonade stands legal across the state.

‘Missed opportunity’

A controversial moment in the session was spurred by Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s constitutional carry measure, which would let Texans carry their handguns — openly or concealed — without first getting a license.

An activist supporting this House Bill 357 visited the homes of several Texas House members, hoping to encourage them to support the measure.

Bonnen, who said he has received death threats this session, declared Stickland’s bill dead. So did Stickland.

Even so, Stickland this session passed his first bill since taking office in 2013, a measure to ban red light cameras across the state. That bill has been sent to the governor for consideration.

“I would describe this session as a missed opportunity,” Stickland said. “There was so much more we could have done that we didn’t get done.”

‘Moderate tone’

Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, said he looks forward to telling constituents about all the work the Legislature did this year.

“We did incredible things for the betterment of Texas this session,” he said. “We passed major pieces of legislation this session. I’m extremely proud of that. (It) will better Texas and the people of Texas.”

Turner said lawmakers displayed a “more moderate tone” that he attributed to Democratic gains in the 2018 election.

“All this has led to some productive work on education, and a few other issues, and less of the divisive harmful issues that we saw a lot of over the last two or three sessions,” said Turner.

Sen. Beverly Powell, a Fort Worth Democrat who finished her first legislative session, said she’s proud of what the Legislature accomplished and is looking forward to what’s to come.

“We’re really excited about the legislation we’ve been able to get through the pipeline here,” she said. “I feel like we’ve had a very good season and lots of success. It should set the platform for us to have a big year in the second session of my term.”

Resignation

In the last hours of the last day of the session, embattled Texas Secretary of State David Whitley submitted his resignation to Abbott.

He couldn’t gain enough support in the Senate to be confirmed to the post Abbott appointed him to last year, after the controversial citizenship review of voters that he proposed earlier this year. That review ultimately was stopped after lawsuits were filed against the state by civil rights groups.

“I am forever indebted to Texas for all it has done for my family and me,” Whitley wrote in his letter.

The next regular legislative session in Texas begins Jan. 12, 2021.

Dave Montgomery and Austin bureau reporter Tessa Weinberg contributed to this report.
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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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