The unofficial kickoff to the state’s 85th legislative session started with a bang. Monday marked the first day Texas lawmakers could file bills to be considered during the 2017 session.
Republicans and Democrats began drawing the battle lines as they prepare to take on some polarizing, hot-button topics that range from immigration to abortion.
On day one of pre-filing, Texas lawmakers filed hundreds of bills, some of which will spark heated debate, both in and out of the State Capitol.
Texas Republicans vow to uphold and expand “conservative values” in the state, while Democrats promise to focus on what they call “kitchen table” issues.
Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) said, “What we are outlining to you are mainstream issues and I think most Texans want us to focus on these issues, and not who gets to go into whose bathroom.”
Re-branded as the “Women’s Privacy Act,” the controversial bathroom bill that requires people to use the restroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificate, is on Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s to do list.
“It’s not about a transgender issue, it’s not about discrimination, it’s about protecting women,” Patrick said in Dallas last month.
Patrick said he’s concerned that if cities, counties, or school districts allow people who are transgender to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, sexual predators will abuse those laws or rules.
Patrick said, “Forget the privacy and the comfort, we will have women abused, attacked and assaulted, not by transgender people, by sexual predators.”
Patrick, the Republican who presides over the Texas Senate, unveiled an aggressive and conservative agenda Monday.
The Republican’s plans for the 2017 session include outlawing sanctuary cities and banning partial birth abortions in the state.
Several anti-abortions measures were quickly filed by Republicans on day-one of early bill filing.
Democrats put in bills to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, abolish the death penalty and expand LGBT rights in Texas.
As the Democrats continue to lick their wounds from the Presidential Election, Rep. Israel said, “We’re all finding our inner warrior and some of us our inner warrior princess to say that Texas needs us are we are ready to fight.”
Texas Democrats picked up a handful of seats in the House on Election Day but the GOP still has control there and in the state Senate.
Texas has had a Republican-controlled House and Senate for more than a decade.
Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said she’s not sure what will happen in the Senate chamber but she’s hopeful there will be opportunities to find common ground in the House of Representatives. Howard said, “We’ve been the grownups, we’re going to continue to be the grownups.”
Howard filed a bill that would allow the Children’s Health Insurance Plan to cover birth control to combat the teen pregnancy rate in Texas.
The Austin Democrat also filed a bill that would exempt feminine hygiene products from sales taxes.
“It should not be a controversial thing,” Howard said, “this is something that will help Texas families keep a few extra dollars in their pocket to be used on other things.”
The same goes to diapers, Howard said, “It is clearly a medical necessity, and it should be tax exempt.”
Howard said the end of the so-called “tampon tax” is a common sense move and should not be considered a “budget buster.”
At the top of Patrick’s to do list is to pass a balanced budget something that’s required by law, second on the list is property taxes.
“A lot of people can’t even afford it, especially in the inner cities where the dirt is now more valuable than their house,” Patrick said property taxes will “kill the economic engine in Texas.”
Patrick wants the state to reduce the roll back rate from 8 percent to 4 percent, “So that cities, counties, and school districts cannot grow their budget more than 4 percent without a vote of the people,” Patrick explained.
After committee hearings and votes on both the Texas House and Senate floors, only a handful of bills will make it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Official debates begin when lawmakers convene on January 10, 2017. Democrats and Republicans will meet on the battle lines to revisit and debate controversial topics that are sure to dominate the 85th legislative session.