Texas Senate addresses major special session items in marathon session

By Richard Lee
For the Fort Bend Star

The state Senate worked late into the night and into the early hours of morning on Wednesday in order to address a number of measures on the special session agenda.

First, the Senate took up what is known in media reports as the bathroom bill, a measure to require people to use the public restroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate. The bill, SB 3 by Brenham Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, would apply to any multi-stall restroom, changing room, locker room or other private facilities in public buildings, including schools.

The bill was amended to move it closer to the version of the bill passed during the regular session in the form of SB 6. Amendments added provisions to allow private businesses and organizations to set their own bathroom policies in their own buildings or in leased public spaces. Cities would be prohibited from considering a private entity’s bathroom policy when leasing out space. Cities, counties and other jurisdictions would be also prohibited from adopting ordinances that violate the bill.

Another amendment added to the measure would allow individuals to use the restroom that corresponds with the sex listed on a state issued driver’s license, ID card or handgun license, rather than just on a birth certificate. Sex listed on state ID cards can be changed either with an officially modified birth certificate or court order. The Senate passed the bill on the third reading 21-10, sending it to the House.

Next the Senate voted in favor of a bill that would give salary bonuses to teachers next year and would dedicate funds to help control out of pocket health care costs for retired teachers. SB 19, by Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, would pay out bonuses to teachers in September 2018 based on years of service. Teachers with between six and 10 years of service would get $600, and teachers with more experience would get $1,000. Budget rules prevent legislatures from dedicating funds for future biennium, but Nelson said she hopes the bonuses can be paid out every year.

Those same rules also made necessary an amendment striking language that would’ve guaranteed teacher salary increases for the 2019-2020 biennium. Both Nelson and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during debate that ensuring teachers see better pay will be a top priority for the Senate Finance Committee in the next regular session.

The bill would also dedicate $212 million to TRS-Care, the healthcare provider for the state’s retired public school teachers. It would cut in half deductibles for retired teachers who don’t qualify for Medicare, lower out of pocket costs for retirees caring for adult disabled children, and would reduce monthly premiums for dual TRS/Medicare enrollees by $25 a month

Other measures receiving approval on Tuesday include:

SB 9, by North Richland Hills Sen. Kelly Hancock, would set the biennial spending cap on state spending based on a calculation of population growth plus the rate of inflation;

SB 11, by Lubbock Sen. Charles Perry, would require patient input when setting do-not-resuscitate orders;

SB 7, by Mineola Sen. Bryan Hughes, would end automatic deductions of government employee union dues from paychecks;

SB 4, by Georgetown Sen. Charles Schwertner, would prohibit local governments from entering into contracts or otherwise sending public money to abortion providers. This bill must still face a final vote later in the week.

After Tuesday, the Senate has passed 12 bills relating to 10 of the 19 items on the expanded special session agenda.

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