Special session moves fast

BROWNSVILLE — The Texas Legislature seems to be moving quickly on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session issues.

This is despite some controversial items, such as the bathroom bill and school finance reform.

“I think we all know we have a job to do, even though it ultimately may come to a sudden halt on several things. We want to show Texas moving and trying to resolve as many of these issues as possible,” said State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville.

“Frankly, I don’t think either side of the Capitol wants to get blamed for not working or not trying.”

Oliveira questioned how the bathroom bill would be enforced. Police chiefs from all over Texas spoke out against the bill, he said.

“They all noted that there has not been one recorded incident anywhere in the state of Texas, and if there was someone who was a voyeur, there’s multiple felony statutes to cover all of these things,” Oliveira said.

“It’s just a situation for disaster.”

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said it was a “made-up issue.”

“The purpose, the real purpose, is to discriminate against transgender people,” Hinojosa said.

“It not only discriminates but is damaging to our economy, in that many businesses will not relocate here to Texas because they practice equal treatment and equal rights.”

Hinojosa said the bill only appeals to a “very small group” of voters in the Republican base.

The list of businesses opposed to the legislation includes major companies like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. Locally, the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce also has come out against the bill.

The bathroom bill legislation has been passed by the Senate and has made its way to the House.

One bill would prohibit local governments and state agencies from contracting with abortion providers. Clinics may be affected by the legislation even if they do not perform abortions.

Another abortion-related measure would require women to pay a separate health insurance premium for non-emergency abortions.

“It is targeting, and it is going to hurt many women. In Austin, Planned Parenthood simply leases property from the City of Austin. …There has never been an abortion conducted there. It is truly a women’s health clinic,” Oliveira said.

Hinojosa is personally against abortion but says the Texas Legislature needs to comply by the law as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Every session, the right-to-life legislators pass legislation to find ways to restrict doctors and clinics who provide abortion services, and every time the courts strike it down,” Hinojosa said.

These two particular pieces of legislation were due for debate on the House floor, but died after they did not make a deadline, said J.J. Garza, Oliveira’s chief of staff.

“We expect the bill to be before the full House in the middle to latter part of next week. Whether that happens or not is a different story, but that’s what our experience tells us it will be,” Garza said.

The Senate already has taken action on these items.

Pay raises for teachers and teacher retirement benefits also are on the agenda. The House and the Senate disagree on funding, Oliveira said.

“There’s a lot of talk about doing something, but the Senate continues to refuse use of the rainy day fund. The methodology they’re talking about for retired teachers is that they want to delay a payment on Medicaid (to Sept. 1, 2019). We’re putting it on a credit card,” Oliveira said.

The Senate philosophy, Oliveira said, is to not use rainy day funds for ongoing expenditures, but the House disagrees.

“We think it is raining … The Teacher Retirement System care fund is in trouble. This is a one-time expenditure to shore it up. Clearly, we have to come up with a permanent solution,” Oliveira said.

As for the pay raises, the Senate wants to reallocate some of the lotto money already used for education to teachers. The House does not accept that, Oliveira said.

Ten percent of school funding comes from the federal government. Thirty-eight percent is from the state. The rest is paid for by local taxpayers, Hinojosa said.

To make up the difference, local entities are forced to raise property taxes, which may also become much more difficult now.

Yet another bill introduced in the special session would require larger cities, counties and taxing districts to have an election if the amount of property tax revenues they collect exceeds 4 percent of the amount taken the year before. For smaller entities, that number is 8 percent. This bill passed on to the House on Wednesday.

“You can’t have it both ways. You either step up to that and pay a higher share, or that cost will be done by local taxpayers,” Hinojosa said.

The teacher pay raise bill is scheduled for a House hearing Aug. 1. It is still pending in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Already, the retirement benefits bill has made its way to the House from the Senate.

The session ends Aug. 17.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa