Lubbock Avalanche – Journal
With dozens of pieces of legislation already filed, South Plains and Panhandle lawmakers arrived at the Capitol in Austin on Tuesday to convene the 85th Texas Legislature, where a West Texas senator was named president pro tempore of the Senate.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, was elected by his peers to the largely honorary post. It places him second in line to the governorship and makes him acting governor when Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are out of the state.
“I would like to think it means I have their trust, that the work they have to do will get done even in the absence of the presiding officer,” Seliger said of his fellow legislators Tuesday in a phone interview.
The session enters just its second day Wednesday, but during a prefiling period Seliger and other area lawmakers submitted bills they hope to pass into law.
In perhaps some of the most noteworthy early work by an area legislator, Seliger co-authored a joint resolution in December calling for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to limit the power of the federal government.
The resolution has been a goal for Abbott, even with the GOP set to assume complete control of the federal government this year. In January, the governor laid out nine constitutional amendments he would like to see.
They included allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a federal law or regulation or a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
One proposed amendment, which Seliger said he saw as most important, required the federal government to pass a balanced budget, something the Texas government has to do under the state Constitution.
“$19 trillion dollars of debt is simply untenable,” he said, referring to the national debt.
“Its a shame that future generations cannot come back some day and sue us for financial mismanagement when we saddled them with debt or don’t try to make the situation better,” Seliger said.
Patrick, the powerful leader of the Texas Senate, included a convention of states in his list of Senate priorities in November.
But for it to happen, 34 state legislatures must pass applications. So far, only eight states have done so.
Other area lawmakers, including Reps. Dustin Burrows, John Frullo, Ken King and Drew Springer, as well as Sen. Charles Perry, have already prefiled an assortment of bills.
Burrows, the Lubbock Republican whose House District 83 covers much of the southern South Plains, had filed eight bills as of Tuesday on topics ranging from education to agriculture and food assistance. He filed a bill Monday that would direct the Texas Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study on extending Interstate 27 from Lubbock to Laredo along the Ports- to-Plains map.
The bill calls for a study analyzing the cost and the impact to be complete by 2019.
Frullo, a Republican whose House District 84 is contained within Lubbock County, had filed one bill by Tuesday — HB 491 “relating to requiring registration as a sex offender of certain defendants convicted of the offense of continuous trafficking of persons.”
King , a Republican from Canadian whose district covers a rural swath of the Texas Panhandle that runs diagonally from the northeast corner southwest into the South Plains, filed eight bills Monday to bring his total to 12.
Most of them are education related.
House Bill 880 allows school districts to assign certified English as a Second Language teachers to bilingual education programs if there is a shortage of teachers certified for bilingual education and none are available.
Rural districts where English is not the primary language for students sometimes struggle to hire and retain enough bilingual instructors.
King, a member of the House Public Education Committee since he joined the Legislature in 2012, also introduced a handful of bills related to school finance.
How the state pays for public schools looks to be a hot topic again this year after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the method used was constitutional but “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.”
House Bill 883 calls for boosting state funding for career and technical education programs. House Bill 881 would provide additional funds to help small- and midsized school districts under an existing aid program.
House Bill 881 extends a school funding provision that was created in 2006 and set to expire this year. Under the bill, it won’t expire until the 2020-21 school year.
Called Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, it was designed to plug funding gaps after state lawmakers reduced allowable property tax rates for school districts.
Locally, funds from the provision last year made up about 7 percent of Bushland school district’s $14.2 million operating budget. The looming end of the funding has worried administrators there.
Perry, R-Lubbock, had authored 19 bills by Tuesday, including one filed in November that would require local governments and law enforcement to “uphold the rule of law and enforce the immigration laws currently on the book.”
The aim is to eliminate sanctuary cities in the state.
“By electing a Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress, the American people made it clear that solving our illegal immigration crisis must be a priority,” Perry said at the time. “That starts by eliminating sanctuary cities, securing our border and enforcing the immigration laws we currently have on the books.
Springer, R-Muenster, has filed 19 bills and resolutions.
He represents Wheeler, Collingsworth, Hall and Childress counties in the southwest part of the Panhandle.
Joining a movement that has been making headlines around the state, Springer filed House Bill 410, which would allow for tax-free feminine hygiene products.
“It was driven by constituents that contacted me because they’d heard it passed in other states recently,” he said. “Some even said, ‘I didn’t realize I was paying tax on it. I thought it was treated like medicine and a medical necessity and not a luxury item.’ ”
Springer’s House Bill 365 calls for the secretary of state to conduct a study about implementing a single election date in November.
Currently, municipal elections in Texas are generally held in May.
Supporters say holding those elections in November, alongside state and national contests, could improve voter turnout.
Also filed by Springer, House Bill 207 would allow general-law municipalities, which typically have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, to increase the distance sex offenders can be made to stay away from places like schools and playgrounds.
The current limit for these small towns is 500 feet, Springer said.