The session is officially over, and with it comes a time for reflection on five frantic months of frustrations, achievements, missed opportunities, and unresolved issues. Now that the 86th Texas Legislature has officially adjourned, The Texan spoke with multiple organizations to gather their thoughts on what went down.
Despite a very shaky performance in the 2018 elections, the dominant political party in Texas remains the Republican Party of Texas (RPT). Chairman James Dickey told The Texan, “Our legislature put great emphasis on property tax reform and school finances — both areas in which Texans have demanded change.”
Some additional priorities in the RPT platform include heartbeat legislation, which died in committee after Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) introduced it in the House; a property tax rollback election trigger of 2.5 percent, which was pushed through as part of SB 2; and doing away with the “Robin Hood” system of school funding redistribution, which was reduced by 47 percent in the school finance legislation.
Dickey continued by saying, “While of course, the steps the legislature took aren’t the end of the conversation, they are major progress. We are thankful that our elected officials were able to accomplish historic property tax relief for all Texans as well as many other grassroots goals from our platform.”
Polling from 2017 showed that reducing property taxes was the top legislative priority of one-fifth of Texans polled — more than any other category.
Texas Democrats, meanwhile, are celebrating the defeat of the proposed sales tax increase swap on property tax reform. Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, told The Texan, “Democratic legislators came together to stop a dangerous sales tax increase — a bill that would have been a hit to the wallet for every Texan.”
Rahman also touched on other hot-button issues from the session.
Texas Democrats worked to stop “Senate Bill 9, a voter suppression bill that would have made simple errors on voter registration cards a felony,” Rahman continued. He also criticized Republicans for “jamm[ing] through Bathroom Bill 2.0 and assault[ing] Planned Parenthood and other health care clinics that provide necessary health care measures.”
The Texas Democrats have their own priority list of issues.
High among them is opposing what they deem TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws, such as SB 22 which prohibits contracts between government entities and abortion providers or their affiliates.
One priority they’ve succeeded on is a pay raise for teachers and other staff, which was secured in the plan unveiled last week amounting to a roughly $4,000 pay raise on average. But the jury is still out on whether it meets the “100 percent equitable” system that Democrats advocate for.
Rahman finished by saying, “Texas Democrats will always fight for Texas families. We couldn’t be more thrilled with how this legislative session has gone and will build on our victories when we take our case to the voters and take back the state house in November 2020.”
Some conservatives are not happy with Republican leadership during this session. Ross Kecseg, President of Empower Texans, told The Texan, “After promises of ‘A New Day in the Texas House,’ taxpayers watched Republicans continue to join Democrats in putting grow-government lobby interests over that of citizens.”
After years of struggling to make headway in the legislature under the control of former Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), conservatives thought the 86th Legislative session would usher in a new era in which they could deliver on their campaign promises of lowering spending and curtailing governmental growth.
Kecseg continued, “Both the House and Senate grew spending beyond the Conservative Texas Budget, initially planning to spend most of the historic $10 billion state surplus on growing government rather than on reducing property taxes.”
Due to “vocal opposition from taxpayers, lawmakers were forced to revisit their spending spree, and have now pledged roughly half of the surplus to property tax relief and half to new spending,” Kecseg articulated.
About the session overall, Kecseg concluded by saying, “Sadly, House Republicans still killed or flat-out ignored GOP priorities like election reform, a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, and a cap on state spending that would allow for future property tax cuts that Texans want and deserve.”
Meanwhile, other advocacy groups like Progress Texas hope property taxes and school finance remain the highest priority issues.
Ed Espinoza, executive director for Progress Texas, told The Texan, “It has been a productive session in that the legislature has addressed property taxes and public education, but the job is not done.”
Espinoza then stated, “I was encouraged at the beginning of the session because of the commitment to stick to ‘bread & butter’ issues, but the legislature has since taken aim at other issues like abortion and LGBT rights.”
About the school finance aspect of the session, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) told The Texan, “We appreciate the focus this session on public education issues and the support legislators have demonstrated by adding billions of dollars in new money for public schools to the state budget.”
TCTA continued, “While there are many positive aspects of HB 3, it is disappointing that leadership did not listen to teachers on the need for a significant pay raise for all teachers and other educators.”
The TCTA concluded by saying, “Monitoring the implementation of a pay raise at the local school district level will be a priority moving forward this interim.”
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), an organization that works toward “secur[ing] a pro-freedom, pro-taxpayer, fiscally solvent, freely-accessible public road policy for all Texans,” highlighted some other concerns.
Terri Hall, founder and director of TURF, said in an emailed statement, “We’re disappointed, to say the least.” Hall said. “Many toll billing problems are unintentional on the part of the driver with malfunctioning toll tags, expired payment cards, and changes in address being a massive problem. Yet, neither the House nor Senate toll collection reform bills even got a hearing.”
Expressing frustration with legislative priorities being placed elsewhere, Hall said, “But what did the leadership choose to advance instead? A massive bill to re-authorize foreign-owned toll roads forever with no expiration, along with several other versions. Thankfully, the grassroots opposition killed all five bills.”
With a large amount of the focus this session on property taxes and school finance, some Texans, like Terri, are frustrated that other issues fell by the wayside. Hall stressed, “Drivers need tax relief, too!”
Texas businesses, meanwhile, are rather happy with what’s come out of the session. Jeff Moseley — CEO for the Texas Association of Business (TAB) — said, “We were pleased to see the preservation of several economic development tools move forward.”
Pointing to specifics, Moseley emphasized, “We’re also pleased about the passage of bills that (1) reduce taxes for telecommunications providers and (2) improve regulations and lower costs for the construction industry.”
In reflection on his organization’s efforts, Moseley stated, “We were successful in defeating a large number of bills that would have increased regulatory and litigation costs to many industries.” The TAB represents thousands of businesses and aims to “protect and enhance the business climate,” in Texas.
Moseley concluded by saying, “Overall, there is still work to be done with respect to city overreach of employment regulations. TAB strongly believes that private employer policies, like paid sick leave, are best left to negotiations of private employers and their employees.”
Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, has focused more on social issues affecting Texas this session. He told The Texan, “Passage of bills like the Save Chick-fil-A religious freedom bill (SB 1978), the Born Alive Infant Protection Act (HB 16), and preventing local governments from giving sweetheart rent deals to abortion providers (SB 22) are victories that should be celebrated.”
Saenz and Texas Values have been longtime supporters of the religious freedom bill — a bill introduced by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) in prior sessions and which passed both chambers this session.
It currently awaits a signature from Governor Greg Abbott.
“After a record number of over 150,000 messages were sent from Texans to House and Senate members,” Saenz continued, “we are optimistic about the results of the 86th Legislative Session. Saenz finished by saying, “Additionally, over a dozen ‘ban the Bible’ bills were killed in committee. There is still more to do, however, we remain optimistic about the future.”
The session ended on Monday, May 27, 2019.
Governor Abbott has until June 16 to veto or sign bills passed by the Legislature.
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Brad Johnson is 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 watching and quoting Monty Python productions.