By Richard Lee
For the Fort Bend Star
Gov. Greg Abbott delivered his biennial State of the State address Tuesday and designated four issues as emergency items, clearing the way for fast tracked legislation.
The state constitution precludes the passage of any legislation in the first 60 days of session, except for those issues designated as “emergencies” by the governor. Abbott wants immediate action on bills to ban sanctuary cities, reform Child Protective Services, strengthen state ethics laws for elected officials, and to call a convention of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution.
CPS reform was the first emergency issue highlighted in the Governor’s speech. Abbott referred to the more than 100 children who died last year while in the CPS system, which led to additional funding for the agency at the end of last year. Abbott says that was a necessary action, but wasn’t a lasting solution.
“We need more workers, better training, smarter strategies, and real accountability in order to safeguard our children,” he said.
The Senate budget as filed includes $332 million more for CPS in the next two years, and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will take up a CPS reform bill, SB 11 by committee Chair Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, at a hearing on Thursday.
The second emergency item named by Abbott is a ban on sanctuary cities. This is a term commonly used for cities that have a policy of not enforcing federal immigration laws by inquiring about the immigration status of detained persons or reporting to federal immigration officials. Abbott says that police and elected officials can’t pick and choose which laws they enforce. He said that criminals illegally present in Texas pose a serious risk to public safety, and called for a bill to outlaw sanctuary cities in the state.
“To protect Texans from deadly danger, we must insist our laws be followed,” said Abbott. “This is the session when we will ban sanctuary cities from Texas.”
Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock is carrying this bill, SB 4, in the Senate and will present his legislation before the Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday.
The next item named an emergency is ethics reform for public officials. Specifically, he wants legislation that forces elected officials to disclose whether they have private business interests in state contracts.
“Voters deserve to know if lawmakers are working for themselves or the people who elected them,” he said.
Abbott lamented the death of a comprehensive ethics reform bill in Texas last session, but said the bill has much better chances this session, thanks to the approach of the authors in each chamber, Rep. Charlie Geren in the House, and Sen. Van Taylor of Plano in the Senate. Taylor’s ethics reform bill, SB14, which includes the financial disclosure language requested by Abbott, goes before the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday for a hearing.
A convention of the states to amend the constitution rounds out the list of emergency items named Tuesday. Dismayed over what he feels is overreach by the federal government, he wants to change the Constitution to give more power to the states.
“This isn’t a problem caused by just one president, and it’s not a problem that can be solved by one president,” he said. “It must be fixed by the people themselves.”
Abbott wants new amendments strengthening states’ autonomy, requiring a balanced federal budget and imposing term limits on elected officials. In order to call a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, two-thirds of states must formally petition the federal government. A resolution submitting this formal petition on behalf of Texas has been filed in the Senate but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.