Bills Pre-Filed for July 18 Special Session: Good, Bad, Ugly

State lawmakers have been quick to take Gov. Greg Abbott up on his invitation yesterday to start filing bills for the special session he has called for July 18. Only a couple of the pre-filed bills relate to the one must-pass item formally placed on the Legislature’s agenda by Abbott thus far:  extension of the “sunset” expiration date for the Texas Medical Board and a handful of other professional licensing boards. Many of the other bills pre-filed so far relate to the rest of Abbott’s wish list, which he only tentatively announced on Monday in what he called a “draft” of a “supplemental call.” Here are some of the good, bad, and ugly pre-filed bills we will be keeping an eye on:

Good bills on pay and benefits:  While the governor’s “supplemental call” speaks of increasing “average salary and benefits of Texas teachers” and a “more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers,” we have yet to see any pre-filed bill reflecting the governor’s approach. Abbott has announced that Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) will introduce the promised legislation. Meanwhile several legislators already have filed bills that would go further than the governor apparently wishes, actually providing across-the-board increases in teacher pay and health and pension benefits.

Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) filed HB 64 and HB 65 to increase every teacher’s pay $1,000 using either the Rainy Day Fund or state general revenue. Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) filed HB 79, another $1,000 pay-raise bill that would ensure the state-funded raise is in addition to, not instead of, what districts already have committed themselves to pay under their local salary schedules. Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) takes the same approach as Rep. Darby in his SB 30 and SB 32.

Darby also has filed two other worthwhile bills that respond to a groundswell of concern that recent legislative action to cut health benefits—and ongoing inaction on pension benefits—have hit retired school employees hard.   Darby’s HB 76 would put another $50 million a year in state funding into retiree health benefits under the TRS-Care program, reducing the increased costs facing many retirees next January. Darby’s HB 80 would provide further help by giving retirees a one-time, 3-percent cost-of-living increase in their pensions (capped at $100 a month).

Good bill on school finance:  HJR 18 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) would establish a requirement in the state constitution for the state to pay at least 50 percent of the cost of maintaining and operating the public schools. Putting that target in the constitution, with voter approval, would compel the state to reverse a shift in recent years toward ever-greater reliance on local property taxes to fund the schools. Current estimates are that the state’s share has fallen to 37 percent or thereabouts, putting intense pressure on property-tax payers at the local level to make up for the state’s dereliction.

Bad bills on vouchers:  Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) has filed two bills to carry out the governor’s desire for private-school vouchers that would send scarce taxpayer dollars to private schools for students with disabilities—with no public accountability. Simmons’ voucher bills are HB 52 and HB 58. Similar proposals were repeatedly voted down by supermajorities in the Texas House in the regular session that ended May 29.

Ugly bills to promote discrimination:  Rep. Simmons also is carrying Gov. Abbott’s proposal to override local anti-discrimination policies as they relate to the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals. Transgender schoolchildren would be affected especially by Simmons’ HB 50, overriding local school districts’ decision-making on this sensitive topic. Students also would be affected by a broader version of the proposal, affecting all political subdivisions, embodied in Simmons’ HB 46.