Keeping up with the Texas Legislative Session bills

Christian Vasquez , Copy Editor

It’s just about a month before the 85th Texas Legislative session comes to an end. During the last session, 6,276 bills were introduced and only 1,322 passed. This year, around 8,000 bills were introduced to both the House and Senate, so the odds are that most won’t get another chance until the next session. During the home stretch, bills that seem a sure win could get stuck in committee, and controversial bills might find their way to Governor Abbott’s desk and become Texas law. Here’s a look at some of those bills.

HB 21

The House passed HB 21, a public school finance reform bill, which provides $1.6 billion for public education. The bill increased the basic allotment in the budget from $5,140 to $5,350 per year, provides more assistance to school districts with students who have dyslexia and related learning disabilities, as well as bilingual students. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who authored the bill, said. “This is the first time in over 30 years that we have the opportunity to vote for school finance, to make a holistic change.” Provisions were added by rural legislators that would help districts with fewer than 1,600 students by removing an existing penalty for school districts smaller than 300 miles, according to the Texas Tribune. If passed, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2017. The Legislative Budget Board reports that revenue will be gained for 96 percent of school districts and charter schools, and 98.8 percent of students who attend school daily for 2018 and 2019. The report also estimated that the Foundation School program will save $35.9 million in 2018 to 2019, and would cost the state around $900 million each year. The bill is moving to the Senate committee next.

HB 122

House Bill 122 would no longer hold 17-year-olds as adults in criminal prosecutions, and instead raise the age to 18 years old. Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who filed the bill, said that while we don’t allow 17-year-olds to buy cigarettes, get married without parent permission, we do try them as adults. Critics of the bill say that it will cost counties millions of dollars to put the bill into effect, which if passed would be Sept. 1, 2019. In the Legislative Budget Board, El Paso County estimated that in 2020 to 2021, the bill would cost $15 million, which includes the construction of a 40-bed detention/challenge facility. Advocates say that young people have better outcomes in life when put in juvenile justice systems as opposed to the adult criminal system. They also say that it cost the counties more to keep those younger than 18 separated in adult criminal systems because of the federal prison rape elimination act. The bill has passed through the house and is now waiting to be heard by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

HB 1911

Rep. James White, R-Hillister, introduced House Bill 1911, which would allow those aged 21 and over to carry a firearm without a permit. The bill only allows “authorized persons” to carry without a license. In order to be considered authorized, an individual must be a legal resident for at least six months and not be a convicted felon or be charged with a class A or B misdemeanor. The bill does not null the right of municipalities to ban unlicensed carry if it does get passed. The Legislative Budget Board estimates that because the applications for a license and a renewal to carry would decline by around 90 percent, the state would lose $37 million. Critics have said that the bill makes it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs, while gun rights activists say that the bill does not go far enough and advocates for Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s, R-Plano, House Bill 375. The bill passed through the House Committee of Homeland Security and Public Safety and is awaiting a vote by the House.

HB 2899

The house bill would null any policy that has nondiscrimination ordinances that do not meet those of the state and would, in turn, ban local ordinances that protect transgender people. Currently, there are no laws in Texas that protect sexual orientation or gender identity from discrimination in housing, services or employment. The law is seen by many critics as an addition to the controversial Senate Bill 6, that would prohibit transgender individuals from using bathrooms that corresponds to their gender identity in public buildings such as public schools and buildings. HB 2899 would forbid any schools from creating or continuing nondiscrimination policies. Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who introduced the bill, said during the House State Affairs Committee hearing that nondiscrimination policies should be decided on the state level, not the local. The bill is currently pending in the House Committee of State Affairs.