Priority Issues Before the Texas Legislature’s 83rd Session

photo of Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin

The December 1, 2012 Coffee Party Austin meeting consisted of a conversation with Texas Representative Donna Howard about the likely priority issues before the 83rd legislative session.

These notes have not been vetted by Rep. Howard, who is therefore not responsible for any errors.

Important dates (all in 2013):

  • January 8, at noon: 83rd legislative Session begins
  • March 8: deadline for filing bills and joint resolutions, emergency appropriations, and emergency bills.
  • May 27: last day of the 83rd legislative session
  • June 16: last day governor can sign or veto bills passed during the regulation session
  • August 26: bills without specific effective dates become law

Speaker Straus’s priorities:

  • education
  • infrastructure

Possible emergency legislation:

  • Sanctuary cities legislation: the term sanctuary cities, which has no legal meaning, generally applies to cities that prohibit the use of municipal funds or resources to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.
  • TSA pat-down regulation
  • School vouchers

Makeup of the legislature:

House of Representatives (150 Representatives)

There were 101 Rs and 49 Ds in the 82nd legislative session.
There are 95 Rs and 55 Ds in the 83rd legislative session.
Of the 43 new members, many are more conservative than those they replaced.
Some moderate Rs are feeling bolder about speaking out; others lost their primaries.

Senate (31 Senators)

There were 19 Rs and 12 Ds in the 82nd legislative session.
There are 19 Rs and 12 Ds in the 83rd legislative session, but the new R’s are more conservative.

In this session the House will be more moderate than the Senate!

Budget:

  • It has many moving parts.
  • Most representatives don’t understand it; a few of those who do lost their elections.
  • Final decisions on the budget are made behind closed doors by conference committee.
  • The final budget from the conference committee is presented for an up-or-down vote.

Education

  • New terminology: vouchers is replaced by school choice.
  • Virtual schools vs brick and mortar schools.
  • Rural communities are not in favor of school choice because with only one high school they have no choice.
  • Many private schools will not accept vouchers because they would be subject to the high stakes testing accountability system.
  • The base budget talked about in the 83rd session accounts for enrollment growth for the next biennium but not the last biennium.  The base education budget will always lag growth.

Good sources of information on education:

Women’s Health Program

  • As a result of budget cuts, 100,000 women lost access to clinics.
  • There will be some effort to restore some of that funding.
  • May be more successful with a public health policy approach.

Clarification of groups

  • House Democratic Caucus comprises all Democratic representatives: focus is public policy.
  • House Democratic Campaign Committee: purpose is to get Democratic candidates elected to the House.
  • Legislative Study Group: all members are Democrats; purpose is to conduct research on issues and legislation, inform its members about upcoming legislation, and write bills for filing.
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