Texas Tribune: As first bills are filed, battle lines for 2017 session begin to emerge

On the first day lawmakers could file bills for consideration during the 2017 session, leaders from both parties began drawing battle lines for fights over taxation, immigration and social issues that will likely dominate the upcoming meeting of the Texas Legislature.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, announced priorities that he said reflected a commitment to the “conservative values” that helped propel Donald Trump’s election as president.

“Starting in 2017, we will have a friend in the White House who was clearly elected because the people of this country believe in the conservative principles that have guided the way govern in Texas — life, liberty and lean government that promotes prosperity,” Patrick said. “I remain committed to those principles.”

Minutes later, a group of Democrats from the Texas House criticized what they characterized as an embrace of divisiveness in the Senate and promised to focus on what they characterized as “kitchen table” matters.

“We have been the grownups” in the Legislature, said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. “We are going to continue to be the grownups.”

Patrick’s top two priorities are passing a balanced budget — which is required by state law — and reforming the state’s property tax system. The rest of the list is filled with ideas that will be stringently opposed by Democrats and, in some cases, moderate Republicans, including limiting which bathrooms transgender people could use; imposing more restrictions on abortion; strengthening the state’s voter ID law, and allowing parents more choice in the schools that their children attend.

Lubbock lawmakers

Several lawmakers from the Lubbock-area were filing bills they hope will make it out of committee and on to the floors for consideration.

Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, filed two bills having to do with school funding and health care — two topics he has said will be focal points in this upcoming session. HB 307 has to do with making health care costs more transparent, and the bill seeks to have health facilities or practitioners disclose the exact or estimated price amount before any non-emergency service. The information, according to the text, shall include the amount as well as how much the patient’s health benefit plan will reimburse the facility or practitioner for service, or how much they will charge if it’s not under the patient’s health benefit plan.

And HB 308, which Burrows also filed Monday, seeks to extend certain school district’s additional revenue provided from the state for tax reduction.

Drew Springer, who’s the representative in the Texas House for counties to the east of Lubbock — such as Floyd, Crosby and Garza — filed nine bills Monday.

He filed HB 207 to give municipalities the ability to restrict a registered sex offender from going in or within a specified distance of any child safety zone. He filed HB 212 that says an election for the issuance of bonds by a political subdivision other than a municipal utility district shall be held on the November uniform election date.

Other bills filed by Springer had to do with day designations, like designating Oct. 19 as Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, and March 21 as BRAVE Day. A few others are directed at Congress, like urging legislators to acknowledge that the vegetation line on the south bank of the Red River forms the boundary between Oklahoma and Texas, and encouraging them to revise policies that promote the waste of water after an irrigated crop has been declared a failure.


The Democrats, meanwhile said they’d focus on reforming the state’s school finance system, improving access to health care and making it easier for residents to register to vote and cast a ballot on election day.

Many Democrats and school officials had been hoping that the Supreme Court of Texas would rule that the state’s method of funding schools is unconstitutional, forcing the state to take on the political perilous task of rebuilding it. That didn’t happen, though the court did say the system was problematic and should be fixed.

Democrats listed it near the top.

“We know that the school finance system is broken,” said Rep. Mary González, D-Clint. “We know that, as the Supreme Court said, we need transformational change.”

One key way to do that is for the state to send more money to the school districts, which would ease the property tax burden that homeowners pay to fund K-12 education, Democrats said. Howard, for instance, said she filed a bill on Monday that would force the state to pay at least half of the cost of education each year.

“That could go a long way toward reducing the burden of local taxpayers,” she said.

Democrats said they will also focus on improving the state’s troubled foster care and Child Protective Services systems. And they said they will attempt to work with Republicans on criminal justice reform,.

They expressed confidence that they will be able to work with Republican House Speaker Joe Straus on many issues.

Straus has also listed overhauling school finance and fixing foster care and CPS as top goals. But he has urged caution over the state’s fiscal situation, noting that the shaky oil and gas industry could limit the money that lawmakers have to spend.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/14/dan-patrick-texas-democrats-priorities-2017/.

Matt Dotray, A-J Media, contributed to this story.

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