Politics

Special session delivers half of Abbot’s agenda

After the dust settled, Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a special session resulted half of his list of emergency items surviving the ordeal known as the Texas legislature to reach his desk for approval.

Abbot initially asked lawmakers to pass legislation needed to keep five state agencies in operation. The governor expanded the agenda to 20 issues for consideration; here’s a look at what happened with these issues during the special session. Teacher retirement benefits and increasing teacher pay were treated as one item on Abbott’s agenda, hence our count of 21 issues on this list.

PASSED

1. School finance reform

Abbott first charged legislators with creating a commission to study school finance. He later added immediate additional school funding to address immediate needs. On the last day of the special session, the House reluctantly agreed to the Senate’s version of House Bill 21, which put $351 million into public schools. That funding includes a $150 million transitional grant for small, rural districts to offset the upcoming loss of a state aid program, $120 million for charter schools and traditional schools to pay for new facilities, $41 million to remove an existing financial penalty for small districts and $40 million for an autism and dyslexia grant program for public schools. The bill also tasks a commission with studying future reform to the school finance system.

2. Limits on local tree regulations

Abbott wanted legislation to abolish local ordinances limiting how property owners can cut down their trees. While the Senate originally advocated for a more restrictive measure, it eventually agreed to a House proposal that was very similar to a bill Abbott vetoed in May that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

3. Abortion insurance

The Legislature approved a measure requiring Texas women to pay a separate health insurance premium if they want their health plans to cover abortions performed outside of medical emergencies.

4. Abortion reporting

The Legislature sent two bills to the governor on this issue. House Bill 13 requires physicians and facilities to report more details about abortion complications — and fine those who do not comply. Another measure, House Bill 215, requires additional reporting from doctors on whether minors seeking abortions did so because of a medical emergency and whether they obtained parental consent or a judicial bypass.

5. Do-not-resuscitate protections

The governor asked lawmakers to ensure that doctors couldn’t issue a do-not-resuscitate order until a patient or legal guardian consented to it. Senate Bill 11 creates both a criminal penalty for doctors who willfully violate a patient’s do-not resuscitate wishes and an exception to that penalty for doctors who err “in good faith.”

6. Mail-in ballot fraud

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5, which widens the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increase penalties for those who commit it.

7. Maternal mortality

In 2013, lawmakers created The Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity to examine why so many Texas mothers die within a year after their pregnancies end. There was bipartisan support behind extending the task force until 2023 to continue its work.

8. Municipal annexation

Both chambers passed Senate BIll 6, which allows homeowners targeted by a city for annexation to vote on the proposal and includes a five-mile buffer around military zones.

9. Sunset legislation

“Sunset” legislation was needed to prevent some state agencies from closing. After some back and forth between the two chambers, the House eventually passed the Senate’s bills in the last week of the special session.

10. Teacher retirement benefits

Abbott wanted more money put into the Teacher Retirement System to address concerns that retired teachers would no longer be able to afford their medication amid rising health insurance premiums and health care costs. House Bill 21 puts $212 million into the system and defers an upcoming payment to health care companies that provide Medicaid to cover the additional funds.

FAILED

1. Increasing teacher pay

Abbott asked lawmakers to require school districts to rearrange their budgets to increase teacher salaries by an average of $1,000, a measure  educators vehemently opposed and criticized as an “unfunded mandate.”

2. “Private school choice” for kids with disabilities

During the regular session, the Senate passed a measure to subsidize private school tuition using state funding. But school-choice proposals have long faced significant opposition in the House, particularly from Democrats and rural Republicans.

3. Property taxes

There’s a constitutional prohibition on the state levying a property tax, but property taxes are a major source of revenue that keeps cities, counties and special-purpose districts operating. Amid Texans’ complaints about rising property tax bills, often driven by rising property values. Differences between the two chambers on how to achieve that goal ultimately doomed the various measures.

4. Caps on state government spending

Under the Texas Constitution, state spending cannot grow faster than the state’s economy. Abbott asked lawmakers to require future legislatures to limit how much state spending can grow to the estimated combined growth in population and inflation, a figure that is often lower than the one lawmakers currently use.

5. Caps on local government spending

Abbott asked lawmakers to cap how much additional money local governments could spend each year without an election, drawing immediate criticism from city and county officials. They say such a limit would make it difficult to develop long-term financial plans and fund maintenance and services that residents want from their local governments.

6. Speeding local government permitting

Lawmakers considered measures. Abbott wanted to make it easier for developers to get approval for projects in cities so that permits would be approved automatically if cities didn’t respond to them fast enough.

7. Preventing local rule changes on already acquired properties

Advocates had hoped for a new state law that would have prohibited cities and towns from enforcing any local regulation on a property that was not in place when that property was purchased.

8. Texting while driving

While Texans will be under a statewide texting-while-driving ban starting Sept. 1, Abbott wanted to effectively pre-empt local ordinances in more than 40 Texas cities that are stricter than the statewide ban.

9. Bathroom Bill

This had been one of Abbott’s priority and remains the most contentious issue. Proposals to bar transgender men, women and children from restrooms that do not match their biological sex passed in the Senate but never received a vote on the floor of the Texas House.

10. Union dues deduction

The proposed measure would have ended the practice of collecting membership dues automatically from the paychecks of certain public employees who are in labor unions or other associations. The proposal would have applied to public school teachers, corrections officers and other government employees, but firefighters, police officers, emergency first responders and charitable organizations would have been exempt.

11. Taxpayer funding for abortion

State and federal law already prohibit using tax dollars to pay for abortions, but Abbott wanted the Legislature to broaden that ban to block local and state government agencies from entering into any financial contracts, including lease agreements, with clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers, even if those clinics don’t perform abortions.

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