The Texas constitution requires lawmakers to pass one bill each session: the state budget, which was under (rather lengthy) discussion last week in the House and in the Senate this week. But governors can push their own to-do list at the start of each session in the form of emergency items.
In February, newly minted Gov. Greg Abbott named five of those priorities during his February State of the State speech, and today we're going to see how those bills are doing, by ranking their legislative progress so far this session.
In his call for emergency items, Abbott stressed border security most prominently. It was a platform both he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick championed throughout last year’s campaign, calling for an increase in state troopers and supplemental cash for local police departments.
“Five hundred new state troopers, more Texas Rangers who can focus on corruption, more funding for local law enforcement, more for technology to stop the trans-national criminal activity that threatens every community in Texas,” Abbott said in his speech.
So, more troopers, more money, more technology; bills that would add it all are doing well so far this session. The House has already passed its version of the bill. The Senate companion is sitting on that chamber's intent calendar, waiting for a floor vote.
Despite a banner session in 2013, transportation funding has taken a bit of a back seat this year. Still, it’s in second place this session, as far as legislative progress goes.
In February, Abbott touted his budget, saying it would allocate more than $4 billion for road-building projects “without raising a single penny in taxes, fees, tolls or debt.”
It should be noted that the governor's budget is usually an exhaustively detailed document on how to spend state revenue, and it’s frequently ignored by both the House and Senate. This session, however, the Senate jumped all over Abbott's plan. It's already passed out a constitutional proposition and a bill that would use half of the money collected from the motor vehicle sales tax for roads. The bill had a hearing in the House Transportation committee Thursday.
Abbott’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten in Texas schools is another item that’s been met with bipartisan support from lawmakers. And like transportation, it’s a beneficiary of the governor’s budget and it’s an item he stressed in the State of the State.
The House just passed its pre-kindergarten bill, which now goes to the Senate.
Now we get to the items on the list that aren’t doing so hot. Gov. Abbott's emergency call also asked for changes on how political contributions are reported and pushed for more transparency about connections lawmakers have with private companies with business before the legislature. Abbott said the reforms were all about the bond between voter and politician.
“Transparency and rising above the appearance of impropriety will strengthen that bond,” he said.
But those ethics priorities have seen little movement in either the House or Senate. Only one ethics-related bill has passed out of committee. It would strengthen disclosure rules for lawmakers who are lawyers, helping determine possible conflicts of interest by identifying who their clients are and if they have business before the legislature. Another has had a hearing, but it hasn't been voted on. The rest are just sitting in committee waiting for a hearing.
Higher Education Research
Perhaps the loftiest of all items on the governor’s legislative agenda sunk to the bottom of the list this session. Abbott proposed committing half a billion dollars to lure nationally recognized researchers and Nobel laureates to Texas, as well as enhancing research programs overall.
Some of that money would come from dismantling the Emerging Technology Fund, which was created by Gov. Rick Perry to hand out grants to research projects. Last week, the House voted to kill off the fund in the budget. Bills to kill off the tech fund and start funding this new initiative, however, are still waiting for their first committee hearings with 52 days left in the session.