85th Texas Legislature convenes, faces tight budget

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

After a year and a half hiatus, the Texas Legislature convened Tuesday at noon to officially begin its 85th session.

The 140-day session will consist of the Texas House and Senate deliberating the enactment of various bills. According to LegiScan, 1,379 bills have been filed since Nov. 14.

A struggling energy sector, among other factors, has contributed to a 2.7 percent decrease in state funds since last session, according to State Comptroller Glenn Hegar. According to The Texas Tribune, these state funds make up a part of the total $224.8 billion the lawmakers will have to write and approve a two-year budget to fund state institutions and new initiatives.

One of the first orders of business Tuesday for the 150-member House was to elect a speaker. Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was unanimously elected for his fifth term as speaker. Straus now is in a three-way tie for the longest tenure of a House speaker.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, also welcomed a group of 31 elected senators, comprised of veterans and new members. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht swore in the senators at the start of the meeting.

Among the bills filed, Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their “biological sex,” rather than the gender they identify with, in public schools, universities and government buildings. The bill, also known as the Texas Privacy Act, was filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, on Jan. 5.

“This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense,” Patrick said in a statement. “I congratulate Sen. Kolkhorst for filing SB 6 and for her commitment to protecting the privacy of Texans and keeping them safe.”

Other bills introduced include House Bill 201, filed by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, which would require a health care facility to dispose of aborted fetal remains through burial or cremation.

Two bills, House Bill 112 and Senate Bill 48, would affect how much students pay for their college education. Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, authored HB 112, which would reduce college tuition for the academic year beginning in the fall of 2017 to 85 percent of what it was for the 2016 school year. SB 48, introduced by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would eliminate sales tax on textbooks for full-time students during particular time periods in August and January.

Gov. Greg Abbott also spoke and reminded senators that families across Texas will depend on their judgment in the months to come.

“We are called upon by the people of Texas to act with courage, with integrity, with resolve to forge an even broader path to prosperity for all Texans in this state,” Abbott said.

The House and Senate are adjourned for now, but both chambers are scheduled to reconvene Wednesday at 10 a.m. for the House and 11 a.m. for the Senate.