Texas 85th Legislature underway with debate over key bills

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

After the pomp and circumstance and calls for unity of the first day died down, legislators resumed debate over key bills and set goals for the 85th session of the Texas Legislature. 

The first week of the session was characterized by talks of major legislation, including the “bathroom bill” and bills supporting school choice and police safety. 

On Wednesday, House members got a preview of future debate on the “bathroom bill,” or Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their “biological sex,” rather than the gender they identify with. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defended the bill, titled the Texas Privacy Act, Wednesday in an interview with Evan Smith, the CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune. Patrick also said the bill is one of his priorities for the session because it will ensure the safety and privacy of women and girls.  

“This legislation codifies what has been common practice in Texas and everywhere else forever — that men and women should use separate, designated bathrooms,” Patrick said in a Jan. 5 statement. “SB 6 also ensures that businesses have the freedom to determine their own bathroom policies and that no public school can institute a bathroom policy that allows boys to go in girls restrooms….” 

According to The Texas Tribune, talk of the so-called “bathroom bill” even made it onto the House floor during debate over House Resolution 3, which sets the standard rules for people with House access and the salaries of some Capitol employees. Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, suggested an amendment to HR 3 that would require people in the Capitol to use the restroom according to their biological sex. This amendment was not adopted into the resolution.

In a press conference Thursday, Patrick asked Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, to sponsor Senate Bill 12, which would allocate $25 million to local, county and state law enforcement units to buy bulletproof vests. Patrick identified SB 12 as one of his top priorities for the session. This bill comes after the July 7 shooting when five police officers were killed and nine others were injured in Dallas.

“Let it be real clear, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, we support law enforcement,” West said Thursday. “We don’t want to have spouses worry about whether or not their loved ones are going to come home.”

House members also elected Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to his fifth term as speaker Tuesday. 

In an address to the House, Straus laid out his legislative priorities, which include investing in mental health reform, the school finance system and child welfare programs. Straus said the Legislature should consider policies that invite economic activity.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, announced a plan to make permanent a pilot program which helps students who failed standardized tests in high school still graduate. Students are eligible for the program if they have passed all of their coursework and failed no more than two STAAR tests.

Seliger said his program has helped thousands of students graduate, and the current policy isn’t fair to students who might have testing anxiety, learning disorders or language issues.  

“Even though assessment systems are important, there is nothing magical about the STAAR exam,” Seliger said. 

The program, which is set to expire in September, would be expanded through the implementation of SB 463. 

Although the Legislature will be working with $3 billion less this session than last, according to Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Gov. Greg Abbott said he was looking forward to a historic session in comments with each chamber.

After observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Monday, the House reconvenes at 2 p.m. Tuesday and the Senate at 11 a.m. Tuesday.