85th Legislature ends but may reconvene

By Richard Lee
For the Fort Bend Star

Memorial Day marks the end of the 85th Regular Session, but lawmakers could find themselves in Austin during the summer to deal with some unfinished business.

After a bill to extend the Texas Medical Board died due to conflicts between the House and Senate in the waning days, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to deal with two of his top priorities that didn’t make it to the governor’s desk: property tax reform and the so-called “bathroom bill.” Only the governor can call an extra session and only he can set the topics eligible for legislation in it. Abbott said at a bill signing on Monday that he will announce a decision about a special session later in the week.

Over the weekend, the House and Senate passed a final version of the state budget, authorizing $107.7 billion to pay for state services for the next two years. Despite the tight revenue forecast, its author says the budget will fund the state’s critical priorities and put more money into education, mental health care and Child Protective Services.

“This budget is fiscally responsible,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair and Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson. “It essentially is flat compared with the current one, but it makes progress in several key areas.”

Also over the weekend, the Legislature gave final approval to sweeping reforms to the agency that oversees child welfare in Texas. SB 11, by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, would continue the process of privatizing parts of foster care, moving to a community based model that seeks to keep children in their communities and expedite their medical care. There’s also $500 million set aside in the budget to hire more caseworkers, in addition to the $160 million spent over the interim to hire more employees and give raises to existing workers.

Here’s a look at some of the other key pieces of legislation that passed this session:

SB 4, by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would outlaw so-called “sanctuary city” policies in Texas. These are formal or informal polices set by city officials that preclude cooperation with federal immigration officials. Police departments would also have to comply with federal immigration requests to extend detention for suspected criminal immigrants. This bill has already been signed by the Governor and is set to become law on Sept. 1.

HB 62, sponsored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would ban texting while driving in Texas. This bill still awaits action by the Governor.

SB 5, by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, would make changes to the state’s Voter ID law after a court struck down parts of it. It would allow a person to sign an affidavit stating they have a reasonable impediment to obtaining a photo ID and cast a regular ballot. It still needs to be signed by the Governor.

SB 8, by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, was amended in the House to become an omnibus abortion regulation bill. It would require that fetal tissue be given a proper burial or cremation after an abortion, would ban a certain type of second-trimester abortion and would reaffirm the ban on partial birth abortions in Texas and give state officials the power to prosecute violators. SB 8 is awaiting action by the Governor

SB 12, by Dallas Senator Royce West, would create a $25 million grant program to help local law enforcement entities pay for high-caliber resistant body armor. This was signed by the Governor.

Before gaveling out for the final time, Patrick praised the Senate for its hard work over the last 140 days.

“It’s an honor to serve with all 31 of you,” he said. “You did great work for the people of Texas, particularly in the area of child protective services and child-care.”

Absent a special session, the Legislature will meet next in January 2019.

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