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Appeals court halts, for now, abortion for immigrant teen in Texas

The special legislative session starts Tuesday. Here’s what to expect.


Highlights

Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to tackle 20 issues.

Fights likely on school choice, transgender bathrooms and local control bills.

When we last left the Legislature it seemed everyone was in a foul temper.

With less than two weeks to go in the regular 140-day session, the dozen most conservative members of the House, known as the Freedom Caucus, blocked House approval of must-pass “Sunset” legislation to keep the Texas State Medical Board and four other agencies operating past Sept. 1. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, seized the opportunity, taking the Sunset bill hostage and refusing to release it until the House passed transgender bathroom and property tax rollback legislation that met his approval.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, called Patrick’s ultimatum “regrettable” and didn’t budge.

Gov. Greg Abbott decided that, yes, a special session was needed, and as long as everyone was coming back to Austin in the heat of midsummer they might as well sweat over a score of unfulfilled conservative priorities, issuing a 20-item agenda.

Also, mindful of the ugly scuffle on the House floor in the last hours of the session — replete with an apparent exchange of death threats between lawmakers — the governor punctuated his announcement of a special session with this: “I expect legislators to return with a calm demeanor and a firm commitment to make Texas even better.”

The special session starts Tuesday.

— Jonathan Tilove, American-Statesman

Here are the 20 items on Abbott’s special session agenda:

1. Sunset legislation

What happened in the regular session: The Legislature adjourned without extending the life of the Texas Medical Board, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors and the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners, meaning that come Sept. 1, those five agencies essential to the operation of those professions would shutter.

What to expect: The Senate will move quickly, perhaps as soon as Tuesday, to enact Senate Bill 20 to extend the expiration dates for those five agencies, at which point the governor will issue a proclamation allowing the Legislature to act on the other 19 items on his agenda for the session, and the House can join in approving the Sunset bill.

— Jonathan Tilove, American-Statesman

2. Teacher pay increase of $1,000

What happened in the regular session: Salary increases for teachers didn’t get any meaningful attention during session. Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, filed a bill to pump $1 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to pay for salary increases, but the legislation didn’t get a committee hearing.

What to expect: Raymond has filed the same bill again as well as one that would redirect general revenue to pay for teacher raises. Patrick on Thursday unveiled his teacher pay plan including a yearly bonus of $600 to $1,000 on top of the governor’s $1,000 pay raise paid for by existing state funds and, in the long run, by lottery money if approved by voters. Patrick also wants school districts to find the money in their budgets for raises. Many teacher groups and public schools are dubious of Patrick’s plans.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

3. Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices

What happened in the regular session: According to teacher groups, lawmakers didn’t address the issue of hiring and retention of teachers. Lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to add to a bill that scaled back the A-F accountability system, which the state will use to grade schools and districts starting in 2018 and 2019, that would have evaluated schools and districts on the quality of teachers and efforts to retain them.

What to expect: Teacher groups generally dislike tying teacher evaluations and pay to scores on the much-criticized state standardized test. Although it’s unclear what the governor expects in this agenda item, the Legislature could consider legislation that backs Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s attempt at creating a new merit pay system for teachers.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

4. School finance reform commission

What happened in the regular session: Many education stakeholders saw the regular session as the first opportunity to make real changes to the school finance system after the Texas Supreme Court last year deemed the state’s funding mechanism constitutional but barely so. Before passing sweeping changes, the Senate wanted to create a commission to study school finance, but House leaders, who pushed their own $1.6 billion school finance bill, dumped the idea, saying that the Legislature has studied the issue enough.

What to expect: Many education groups don’t see the harm in studying the issue further. Some ideas about how to change the school finance system have already been shopped around the Capitol, including one from the Equity Center which would strip down the funding formula to make it more fair for school districts.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

5. School choice for special needs students

What happened in the regular session: “School choice” is used to describe an effort to use state money to help K-12 students pay for private school tuition. A broad school choice bill in the Senate was narrowed to apply only to low-income students and students with disabilities in counties of at least 285,000 people. But school choice was a nonstarter in the House, where rural Republicans and Democrats opposed it.

What to expect: Public school advocates, teacher groups and certain disability rights groups are expected to lobby against any school choice bill. Without the support of rural Republicans, it will be hard for school choice to pass.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

6. Property tax elections

What happened in the regular session: One of Patrick’s top priorities for the regular session was to require cities and counties to get voter approval for property tax increases of 5 percent or more. The House, however, passed a separate, watered-down property tax measure that didn’t pass muster with Patrick, and neither version reached Abbott’s desk.

What to expect: Abbott has indicated he favors Patrick’s approach, but the bill still faces an uphill battle in the House, where Democrats and some rural Republicans oppose it.

— Sean Collins Walsh, American-Statesman

7. Caps on state spending

What happened in the regular session: Increases in the state budget are constrained by a spending cap tied to how quickly the state’s economy grows. For two legislative sessions, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, has unsuccessfully tried to pass a more restrictive cap tied to inflation and population growth.

What to expect: The Senate likely will pass the new spending cap quickly, but it’s unclear if it will advance in the House. If it passes both chambers, voters will have to approve it as an amendment to the state constitution.

— Sean Collins Walsh, American-Statesman

8. Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land

What happened in the regular session: Abbott has long expressed his view that landowners should have a right to do what they please with the trees on their property. Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, filed a bill that would have limited the mitigation fee that a local government can impose on a landowner for removing trees greater than 10 inches in girth. Testimony wasn’t taken, let alone a committee vote.

What to expect: House and Senate bills are filed that would restrict cities and counties from creating any rule that limits a property owner’s ability to remove trees or other vegetation. Leaders of cities around the state — at least 50 Texas cities have tree protection ordinances, including Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Lakeway and West Lake Hills — are expected to oppose the proposals.

— Elizabeth Findell, American-Statesman

9. Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects

What happened in the regular session: This proposal, which has caused head-scratching at Austin City Hall, didn’t appear to have been pushed by any lawmaker during the regular session.

What to expect: It’s unclear how broadly the bills, set to be authored by Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, will apply. But it’s likely developers will find the proposals a relief and city officials will consider them another swipe at local control.

— Elizabeth Findell, American-Statesman

10. Speeding up local government permitting process

What happened in the regular session: Austin has well-known problems with city processing of development permits. But the issue wasn’t debated during the regular session.

What to expect: Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, the bills’ planned authors, said in a news release that they would set standards for permitting expediency and cited living wage and union requirements as blockades. It’s safe to say officials in Austin, which requires payment of a living wage and construction safety training to expedite permitting, will push back against any move to overturn those rules.

— Elizabeth Findell, American-Statesman

11. Municipal annexation restrictions

What happened in the regular session: In the closing hours of the regular session, Sen. José Menéndez, R-San Antonio, filibustered SB 715, which would have required cities to get residents’ approval before annexing outlying areas.

What to expect: Given that it won support from both chambers in the regular session, the bill is expected to pass during the special session. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, who authored that legislation, have said they will file similar bills in the special session.

— Taylor Goldenstein, American-Statesman

12. Texting while driving pre-emption

What happened in the regular session: The Legislature passed and the governor signed House Bill 62, which as of Sept. 1 will make it a misdemeanor statewide in most cases to read, type or send an “electronic message” while driving a moving vehicle. The law, unlike more than 40 local Texas ordinances, doesn’t outlaw talking on a hand-held phone while behind the wheel.

What to expect: A Senate bill has been filed that would ban all local rules on telephone use while driving, and others are likely to follow. And if those don’t gather momentum, the governor’s desire for such a law could be folded into an omnibus bill canceling a number of municipal ordinances.

— Ben Wear, American-Statesman

13. Transgender bathrooms

What happened in the regular session: The Senate passed a sweeping bill to ban transgender-friendly bathroom policies in schools, colleges and government buildings, but the legislation stalled in the House before a compromise limited to public schools was approved as an amendment. Patrick rejected the compromise as inadequate.

What to expect: This should be one of the signature fights of the special session, with Straus making it clear that he sees no need for a law that he said could lead to economic boycotts and endanger transgender youths. Patrick believes this is a high-priority issue.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

14. Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues

What happened in the regular session: The Senate passed a priority bill that would have prevented some public employee labor organizations from collecting dues through paycheck deductions. The bill excluded firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel. Patrick said that taxpayer dollars were being used on such deductions. Union leaders disputed that assertion, calling the bill an effort to “union bust.”

What to expect: Teacher groups, which have robust membership and political clout, will likely be among the stronger voices at the Capitol against the issue.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

15. Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers

What happened in the regular session: A bill to ban state and local governments from contracting with abortion providers got House committee approval, but time ran out before it could get a floor vote. An identical bill never got out of a Senate committee.

What to expect: A bill that didn’t make it to a floor vote in either chamber — and had 44 co-authors in the House but only one Senate author — could be a wild card in a busy special session.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

16. Ban on insurance coverage for abortions

What happened in the regular session: Prohibiting private and government insurance plans from offering abortion coverage was a Patrick priority that received rapid Senate approval, but slow action by the House doomed the proposal.

What to expect: This will sail through the Senate, where 18 of its 20 Republicans signed on as co-authors, while an identical bill had 47 House Republicans as regular session co-authors.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

17. Stricter reporting of abortion complications

What happened in the regular session: Legislation on the issue passed both chambers, but the bill died in the closing days of the session when the House determined that two amendments added by the Senate weren’t germane.

What to expect: A bill approved by both chambers during the regular session should face little trouble in extra innings.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

18. Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders

What happened in the regular session: A House bill to require specific patient approval before a hospital or care center can place a do-not-resuscitate order in a patient’s file moved slowly through committee, leaving little time for House action before the session ended. There was no Senate version.

What to expect: The issue is a priority for Texas Right to Life, which has influence with many Republican lawmakers, and the bill’s author — Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood — is a physician who is respected by many in the Legislature.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

19. Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud

What happened in the regular session: Abbott signed into law a bill that would give voting priority to people with mobility issues and make it easier for people in residential care facilities to vote by bringing ballots and an election official to their location — if at least five voters living there request a ballot.

What to expect: Lawmakers have proposed implementing a signature verification process for when a voter requests a mail-in ballot, increasing penalties for fraud and addressing technology issues.

— Johnathan Silver, American-Statesman

20. Extending maternal mortality task force

What happened in the regular session: A bill would have kept the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force in operation past 2019 and added studying and reviewing “rates, or disparities in pregnancy-related deaths” to its list of duties. It passed both chambers, but the Senate didn’t concur with changes the House made to it. However, Abbott did sign into law a bill that would make it easier for low-income mothers to be screened and treated for postpartum depression.

What to expect: Lawmakers are expected to keep the task force in operation.

— Johnathan Silver, American-Statesman



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