DALLAS — Five months after it began, the Texas legislative session is a week from ending. Still, several major bills are in limbo and others are likely to lead to a special session.
A key focus this week will be on property tax relief. Last week, the Texas House passed a bill 147-0 that would lower the cap on appraisal increases from 10% to 5% and a $100,000 homestead exemption while providing $12 billion for school districts to help lower tax rates.
“I would like to make sure that we do as much as we can to give as much of our surplus back to the voters,” state Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Waxahachie) told Inside Texas Politics. “That’s of utmost importance to me.”
State Rep. Victoria Neave Criado (D–Mesquite) chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC). She said she’s been frustrated by the focus on what she calls culture war bills during the legislative session.
“This last week we want to put our focus on real solutions that impact our community,” she said. “There has been so much focus on red meat social issues that seek to divide us.”
Her emphasis will be on retaining teachers through higher overall pay. The house will be looking at Senate Bill 9, which already passed the Senate, and would give teachers a one-time $2,000 bonus or $6,000 for teachers in districts with less than 20,000 students. Another bill the House passed and is now in the Senate would slightly increase the funding school districts receive per student.
Texas has seen an exodus of teachers in the last two years, leading to shortages across the state but especially in rural areas.
Lawmakers are also still working towards final passage on banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities, securing the energy grid, and a bill that would require armed security officers at every campus and encourage teachers to carry weapons.
Both sides are already disappointed at what didn’t pass. For Republicans, the key issue is school vouchers, a program that would redirect money from public schools and instead subsidize private school or homeschool education.
“It might be dead for the regular session but that doesn’t mean that it’s dead for the state of Texas this year,” Harrison said.
Harrison supports Gov. Greg Abbott’s suggestion of a special session to address school vouchers. Democrats and public school advocates have fought against the issue for years, getting support from rural and suburban Republicans to help continually block the idea.
“We need to get this right,” Harrison said. “I don’t care how long it takes or how many special sessions it takes.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats haven’t given up on gun reform after a series of defeats. A bill to raise the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 failed to move forward despite weeks of emotional lobbying from Uvalde parents and the mass shooting in Allen two weeks ago that killed eight people and injured seven others.
“There are real common sense solutions to gun violence, not just raising the age but closing certain background check loopholes,” Neave Criado said. “Looking at any potential avenue to address gun safety for children is also something that’s of critical importance for us.”
Lawmakers also still must finalize a budget, which is the only piece of legislation they’re required to pass.
While there is still plenty to work out, nearly 3,000 bills have already passed the House and Senate and are waiting for the governor’s signature or veto. Key ones include a ban on transition-related care for transgender children and banning cities from passing regulations that go beyond state law, including protections for workers or noise ordinances.
The fates of more than a dozen key bills are in the air, and it’s increasingly likely this final week will be far from final.