PATRICK LAYS OUT TOP PRIORITIES FOR 88TH SESSION
(AUSTIN) — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a list of 30 bills that will answer his most important priorities for the current session on Monday. These measures range from fiscal issues like property tax relief, to education issues like school choice as well as several measures dealing with gender politics, public safety, and rural aid. While bills are typically numbered in the order in which they are filed with the Secretary of the Senate, Patrick has made a tradition of reserving low bill numbers for what he views as the biggest issues facing the state in a given session. "Senators like to get a low bill number because it shows their bill is also a priority of the Lt. Governor and has a great chance of passing," he wrote in a statement accompanying the legislation. "I believe Texans support our priorities because they largely reflect the policies supported by the conservative majority of Texans."
With the exception of SB 1, the state budget, none of these bills have authors or text attached to them yet. Some priority bills aimed at fiscal issues include SB 3, which would increase the homestead exemption to $70,000 and SB 4, which will act as the vehicle to spend the rest of the $15 billion set aside in the Senate draft budget for further property tax relief. SB 5 would increase the personal property exemption for small business, a levy that Patrick has called "a nuisance tax".
The electric grid will also be a focus for the body this session, with bills aimed at adding more natural gas plants and a broadly captioned bill that will contain other grid-strengthening efforts. Other bills dealing with state infrastructure include one aimed at improving state water supply and another expanding mental health care capacity, especially in rural Texas.
Lawmakers will consider issues relating to gender expression, joining other states in moving legislation that would ban transgender women from competing in women's college sports, ban gender healthcare for minors and ban drag shows that admit children. Following last session's ban on critical race theory in public schools, Patrick wants the theory banned at the college level as well. Other educational priorities include "protecting children from obscene books in the library" and another would end tenure at public institutions.
Patrick is also prioritizing pay for active and retired teachers with bills that would increase teacher salaries and give retired teachers a 13th annuity check this year. School choice will get its own bill, SB 8, and the Senate will look to improve school safety with SB 11. The Senate will also consider the creation of a second higher education fund intended to help schools outside the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems, as well as a bill to add more scholarships for nursing students to address the state healthcare shortage.
A number of measures are aimed at criminal justice reform. Two would create a mechanism whereby local judges and district attorneys who refuse to follow state law could face removal, and SB 2 would elevate some election crimes to felony offenses. Another would create a fund to help rural law enforcement agencies.
While making the list of the Lt. Governor's priorities is a huge boost to a bill's chances, it's not guaranteed to make it to the Governor's desk. Many will change significantly from the filed version after going through the committee and amendment process, and a handful might not even get a committee hearing. Even if they pass the Senate, they must still pass the House in order to go before Governor Greg Abbott for final approval. Regardless of their final disposition, these bills will lead the debate and discourse under the Pink Dome during the 88th session.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 14, at 11 a.m.