Taxpayers' tab at least $34,580 a day when Texas lawmakers meet in special session

2017-07-16 | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

July 16--When the special legislative session starts Tuesday, taxpayers will pay at least $34,580 for every day lawmakers work.

And that's just to cover the per diem that each legislator will receive, said RJ DeSilva, a spokesman for the Legislative Budget Board.

Other costs -- from utilities to printing -- will drive the final bill higher for the 30-day session.

Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen 20 bills for lawmakers to consider, ranging from tree ordinances to determining where transgender Texans may use the restroom.

"The governor has given an agenda," said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant. "It's up to the lieutenant governor and the House speaker to decide what they want to do.

"I think the Senate will pass all the items on the agenda. I think the House will pass a portion," he said. "They'll take care of business in their own fashion. Then it's up to the governor to decide whether to call them back to work on whatever they didn't do."

Everyone knows there's one must-pass item.

State lawmakers must do what they didn't in the regular session and approve a "sunset" bill to ensure that several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, will continue.

"A special session was entirely avoidable, and there was plenty of time for the Legislature to forge compromises to avoid the time and taxpayer expense of a special session," Abbott has said. "As governor, if I am going to call a special session, I intend to make it count."

'Bathroom bill'

Many wonder if a controversial plan to regulate bathroom use by transgender Texans will make it to the governor's desk this time.

An effort do that died during the regular session when the House and Senate couldn't agree on how far to go.

bathroom

Many wonder if a controversial plan to regulate bathroom use by transgender Texans will make it to the governor's desk during this special session.

Anna M. Tinsley atinsley@star-telegram.com

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The House passed a measure requiring public schools to provide alternate restrooms for transgender youths who prefer to use facilities that match their gender identity.

The Senate version essentially required people using restrooms in publicly owned buildings -- not just schools -- to use the restroom that matches their "biological sex."

House Speaker Joe Straus doesn't seem likely to change his position.

" 'Tell the lieutenant governor I don't want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands,' " he recalled saying during the regular session, according to an article in The New Yorker.

Meanwhile, an anti-Texas "bathroom bill" campaign is being launched, as it has in the past, as Texans on both sides gear up to weigh in on the issue.

"Feelings are pretty raw and emotions are running strong on this," Miller said. "I believe they'll do something similar to what they did in the regular session.

"They'll pass a bathroom bill, but ... we will be right where we were in the regular session," he said. "They probably won't agree on a final form."

'Critical issues'

Many Tarrant County lawmakers say they are ready to get back to work.

"There are critical issues facing Texans, like skyrocketing property taxes, that demand action," said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville. "I am also extremely interested in the proposal to increase teacher pay within existing appropriations. I have long supported putting money in the classroom first -- which means prioritizing teacher pay."

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said lawmakers need to focus on the work at hand.

"We will have had six weeks to get prepared for the session. And then we have time to hear, debate and pass these items within a month's time," he said. "Depending on which items do not get accomplished during the 30 days, I would hope Gov. Abbott would call us back to finish them."

State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, said continuing the medical board and a task force to study a rising number of deaths among women who have recently given birth are needed moves.

At the same time, Abbott "has listed legislation that will limit minority and elderly voting rights, further attacks on women's health, limit the control of local government and continue to dismantle our public school system," she said.

"It is my hope that we will address all of the governor's list and that common sense and decency will carry the day," Collier said. "If all ... members of the Legislature can come together for the genuine good of everyday Texans instead of political posturing, we can get through the agenda in short order."

'Seize the opportunity'

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said the special session is simply unneeded.

But because of political games and a lack of leadership, he said, "now we will have a costly special session loaded with political, divisive issues, which don't address the real issues impacting Texans."

abbott

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Ron T. Ennis atinsley@star-telegram.com

Those issues, he said, "aren't priorities for Texas families, which is why they failed to pass in the regular session."

Turner suggests one item Abbott could add to the call: "reforming -- not studying -- our school finance system."

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she's ready to do what needs to be done.

"We should seize this opportunity to address some of the items left unfinished," said Nelson, dean of the Tarrant County delegation and head of the influential Senate Finance Committee.

"There is more to do," agreed state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who will help carry a bill geared to hold growth in state spending to no more than the growth of population and inflation.

But the only guarantee is that there's no guarantee.

"No one can predict the outcome of the special session," said state Rep. Brian Birdwell, R-Grandbury. "But I hope this narrowed field of topics will enable the Legislature to laser-focus on the issues at hand and that it will ultimately help us produce good outcomes for the citizens we serve."

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Special session agenda

Here's a look at the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott put on the special session agenda:

"Sunset" legislation; teacher pay increase of $1,000; administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices; school finance reform commission; school choice for special needs students; property tax reform; caps on state and local spending; preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land; preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects; speeding up local government permitting process; municipal annexation reform; texting while driving preemption; privacy; prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues; prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers; pro-life insurance reform; strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise; strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders; cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud; extending maternal mortality task force.

Source: Gov. Greg Abbott's office