The 86th Texas Legislature began Jan. 8 and continues through May 27. These updates are what has happened since the session began as well as the latest bill filings from lawmakers representing the Northwest Austin area.
A school finance reform bill—House Bill 3—aims to restructure the school finance system by directing $9 billion toward Texas school funding and lowering school district property taxes by 4 cents. It was filed by Public Education Chairman state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston.
The Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill that would provide annual $5,000 pay raises for all full-time classroom teachers and school librarians in the state. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives.
The Texas House Democratic Caucus is calling for a $14.5 billion school finance package that includes all-day pre-K, teacher raises and property tax relief.
New legislation would require sellers of residential properties to notify buyers if a property is located in a flood-prone area—and whether it has previously flooded.
State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, has a package of bills that could create Texas’ first statewide flood plan. The statewide plan would incorporate regional plans to better coordinate flood-control projects and strategies.
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, filed a pair of bills Jan. 7 aimed at legalizing the sale of beer to-go from manufacturing breweries.
In his State of the Judiciary address, Nathan Hecht, Texas Supreme Court chief justice, called on legislators to consider backing nonpartisan judicial elections as well as bail reform.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott said he is willing to work to revive The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University football game.
Three stories to follow throughout the session:
1. Lawmakers are pushing a bevy of bills that range from reducing criminal penalties for those found with small amounts of marijuana to eliminating those criminal penalties altogether. Those charges are for being caught with a drug that an estimated 128 million U.S. adults have tried—and 55 million regularly use, per a 2017 poll. There remains pushback from conservatives and law-enforcement groups who fear decriminalizing marijuana will increase crime and lead to legalization of other drugs.
2. This session, lawmakers are considering providing money to districts that want to replicate Dallas ISD’s program or find their own way to financially reward effective teachers and get them in front of students who need the help most. Some advocates and superintendents are resisting a program that could use test scores to determine which teachers get more money and opportunity. Three other North Texas school districts have adopted similar programs without using test scores.
3. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Feb. 27 ruled that a slice of the Texas Open Meetings Act that makes it a crime for public officials to deliberate privately in small groups was “unconstitutionally vague.” The provision, which carried a potential fine and monthslong stint in jail, had been in place for over two decades. Amid concern from open-government advocates and talk of a possible legislative fix to the ruling, Gov.Greg Abbott said he expects all agencies to continue acting transparently.
Updates from Northwest Austin area lawmakers
State Sen. Kirk Watson
D-Austin • Elected 2006
On Feb. 25, Watson filed seven senate bills aimed at reducing traffic on I-35. The bills include doubling the state motor fuels tax and increasing some vehicle registration fees.
State Rep. Vikki Goodwin
D-Austin • Elected 2018
On Feb. 27, Goodwin filed House Bill 2139 aimed at requiring annual adjustments to the basic allotment, which is the guaranteed amount that every school district gets per student.
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa
D-Austin • Elected 2016
On March 4, Hinojosa filed a bill that would require developers to provide affordable housing in new developments in Austin and more Texas cities.
State Rep. Donna Howard
D-Austin • Elected 2006
On Feb. 19, Howard filed a bill that she co-authored with two other representatives that would exempt certain feminine hygiene products from sales taxes.