Each chamber has the top set of bill numbers reserved for priority legislation; the Senate set aside the first 30 and the House the first 20.
Of those, House priority items will be the 2024-2025 biennium budget, which alternates between the chambers every other regular session. As is tradition, it will be House Bill (HB) 1. While the House takes the lead on the budget next year, the Senate will take the lead on the appropriations bill.
The very first bill filed was state Rep. James Talarico’s (D-Austin) HB 21 to establish an independent redistricting commission made up of citizens drawn out of a pool of applicants.
This is an especially sticky issue for Talarico, who jumped county lines this year to run in a different, safer seat after Republicans made his Williamson County seat GOP-favorable during redistricting. He will be succeeded by Republican Caroline Harris, who won the crowded primary contest and easily defeated her Democratic challenger last week.
He made this fact plain as day in a statement about the bill: “Last week, I survived partisan gerrymandering to win a third term. Today, I’m filing my first bill of the new session: a ban on partisan gerrymandering.”
“Now we need to ensure this never happens again to another community in our state. An independent citizen-led commission — not politicians — would draw our maps.”
The first Senate bill filed came from state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) — who filed the first 40 bills in the upper chamber. Senate Bill (SB) 31 would allow interconnection of the ERCOT power grid to surrounding regional grids, something Democrats have called for in the wake of February 2021’s grid collapse. The move would open the door for federal regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has dissuaded the Texas Legislature from taking that route already.
Shortly after, state Rep. Valoree Swanson’s (R-Spring) “Save Women’s Sports Act” was filed as HB 23, which prohibits biological males from competing in women’s sports at the college level. The Legislature passed a similar law last year for kindergarten through 12th-grade sports, and Swanson announced last month she would file the college extension ahead of the 2023 session.
“Passing HB 23 will be my top priority for the 88th Session,” Swanson said in a statement. “Our female college athletes deserve to have their safety and opportunities protected by the State of Texas.”
In a related topic, two bills filed aim to prohibit gender modification surgeries and procedures on minors — an issue that died in the Texas House last session, and which Gov. Greg Abbott has since tried to address bureaucratically.
HB 42 by state Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) and HB 436 by state Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would both change the definition of “child abuse” in state code to encompass putting a child through gender modification surgeries or giving them puberty-blocking drugs. Slaton’s bill also places gender affirmation counseling under that definition.
State Rep. Steve Toth’s (R-The Woodlands) HB 41 goes about the issue from a different angle — explicitly outlawing gender modification surgeries for the purpose of “gender reassignment.” It would also nix medical liability insurance coverage for doctors that conduct such operations.
Among the crop of contentious items this session will be possible “school choice” legislation. Abbott has doubled down on his support for some form of school choice reform, but few details have been discussed. On Monday, state Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) filed HB 176, which lays out a plan for school choice: creating the Texas Parental Empowerment Program and establishing a tax credit for parents to pay for tuition at accredited schools under the program.
State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) filed a few education-related bills, including SB 164 that would require public schools to teach a course “focus on the principles underlying the United States form of government, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the writings of the founding fathers of the United States.”
After swinging for the fences last session and passing both the Texas Heartbeat Act and the abortion trigger ban — the latter of which became even more substantial when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June — legislators have other ideas on the abortion issue.
State Rep. Cody Vasut’s (R-Angleton) HB 60 would add a section in the state’s enrichment curriculum that requires “instruction that human life begins at conception and has inherent dignity and immeasurable worth from the moment of conception.”
Gov. Greg Abbott has called for using “at least half” of the state’s projected $27 billion budget surplus to reduce property taxes. Legislation toward that end will likely be among either chamber’s priority slates. However, a related issue did receive notice on pre-filing day.
State Rep. Tom Oliverson’s (R-Cypress) HB 174 would eliminate the school district Maintenance & Operations (M&O) tax rate — which Abbott has backed in some fashion — by using $0.90 of every surplus dollar to buy down those rates. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has pushed this plan for a while; in its estimation, Texas could eliminate entirely that component, which is the largest portion of tax bills, in 10 years. State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) filed a similar bill as HB 612.
State Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction), whose bill to eliminate the ISD M&O rate didn’t advance last year, re-filed the same legislation this year as HB 29. But it does not prescribe a replacement for the funding the rate brings in, only tasking a committee to decide on something by the beginning of 2026, the date at which that rate component would be prohibited.
Much of House leadership’s priority criminal justice reform package did not pass last year, and a return next session of those that failed is likely. Among them is state Rep. Matt Schaefer’s (R-Tyler) HB 69 which reforms the practice of civil asset forfeiture by raising the standard from the lesser “preponderance of evidence” to the stricter “clear and convincing evidence.”
Schaefer also filed two disaster powers-related bills: HB 119 which would establish judicial review for local disaster orders, and HB 154 which would ban state and local mask mandates. State Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) and Middleton filed companion bills banning vaccine mandates in Texas.
Elections will again be a topic next session — if not the all-consuming one it was last year — and a number of related bills were filed on Monday.
The most significant is Murr’s HB 39 which would restore the penalty for illegal voting to a state jail felony. During last year’s second special session, Murr was carrying SB 1 — the large election reform bill — through the House when it was amended by state Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) to make illegal voting a Class A Misdemeanor.
Toth’s HB 221 would make school board elections partisan affairs, requiring candidates on the ballot to have an “R” or “D” next to their name. And Swanson’s HB 190 would require local ballot propositions to mirror exactly the language on its corresponding circulated petition — a point of contention in certain localities, including Austin, as local officials try to influence the outcome of referendums by tweaking the language on the ballot.
State Rep. Brooks Landgraf’s (R-Odessa) HB 187 would require all local bond elections to occur on the November uniform date, which tends to have higher voter turnout than the May local elections — an effort to grow the number of taxpayers providing say on the issuance of debt. And state Rep. Mike Schofield’s (R-Katy) HB 445 would allow citizens to sue localities that spend more on a project than a bond proposition approved.
Schofield also filed a bill to adopt Daylight Saving Time full-time.
And in one of her first pieces of legislation, state representative-elect Ellen Troxclair filed HB 553 that would ban localities from establishing Universal Basic Income programs — which her old stomping ground of Austin, for which she previously served as a city councilwoman, approved earlier this year.
With 56 days until the 88th Texas Legislature gavels in, there is a lot of time for members to pre-file legislation. But the big-ticket items — the ones with the blessing of House and Senate leadership — are likely to be held close to the vest until after the session gets underway.
From there, it’s a five-month sprint to pass — and kill — as many bills as individual members can.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.