Fiscal responsibility, education reform and health care are the leading issues that lawmakers aim to tackle during the 83rd legislative session, judging by the majority of the more than 250 bills legislators filed Monday, the first day of pre-filing.
The session won’t begin until January, but many legislators took the first opportunity to get their bills filed early. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed 30 bills, numbered 26 to 55, and said she hopes the small numbers on her bills will help them on their way to passage.
“An advantage is that when people look at a bill number they know this is something that was worked on for a long time,” Zaffirini said.
A small number doesn’t necessarily increase a bill’s chance of passage, though, said Senate Calendar Clerk Linda Tubbs. The pace of bill filings in her office on Tuesday was fairly slow, she said.
“It was like I gave a party and nobody came,” she said.
At least seven legislators filed bills related to banning texting while driving. Both chambers passed a bill to institute a statewide ban on the practice in 2011, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it.
Many of the bills filed Monday were proposals that failed during the last session. State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, filed the “Texas Travel Freedom Act,” known as the TSA anti-groping bill, which passed in the House but died in the Senate.
“It had strong bipartisan in both chambers,” Simpson said. “I am very hopeful that it will be successful this time.”
Legislators, reporters and policy wonks sounded off on Twitter. Check out a Storify of the action.
Here’s a look at some of the key bills filed so far.
Environment and energy:
Many leaders suggested this might be the “water session,” but few water-related bills were filed Monday. Other environmental topics are on legislators’ minds, though.
SB 78, by Ellis, would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Agriculture Department, the General Land Office and many other entities to draft a climate-change adaption plan every four years.
Higher education and K-12 funding cuts were on everyone’s minds in 2011, and since then universities and public school districts have had to slash teachers and streamline programs to account for lost funding. But money isn't the only aspect of education that legislators care about.
HB 85, by Rep. Bill Callegari, proposes a significant revamping of the current accountability system: It would let districts decide how or if to include state standardized tests in final grades, removes graduation requirements tied to students’ test performance and eliminates the number of subjects tested at many grade levels, including high school. It also prohibits the use of state assessments for teacher incentives or appraisals.
HB 25, by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would tie 25 percent of the state funding for colleges and universities to outcomes such as graduations. Previous efforts to tweak the state's enrollment-based funding formulas have aimed to make 10 percent based on performance, but Branch has said that it is time to be more ambitious with the plan.
HB 29, by Branch, was filed in response to Perry's call for universities to lock in students' tuition at a set rate for four years. It would require that schools offer a fixed-rate plan as an option for students, but it stops short of mandating it as a universal approach.
HB 31, by Branch, would make boards of regents meetings more transparent.
SB 26, by Zaffirini, would authorize tuition revenue bonds for campus construction projects.
SB 27, by Zaffirini, would tweak eligibility requirements for the struggling B-On-Time Loan program.
A slew of health care bills poured in Monday related to everything from abortion to milk sales.
SB 84, by Ellis, is one of two measures the senator filed to make Texas compliant with provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It sets up the Texas Health Insurance Exchange, an Orbitz-style online marketplace for private health insurance. Under federal health care reforms, Texas must set up a health insurance exchange by 2014 or the federal government will intervene and set up an exchange for the state.
SJR 8, by Ellis, would amend the Texas Constitution to expand the Texas Medicaid program to include everyone who applies for benefits and would be eligible to receive federal matching funds under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
SB 57, by Nelson, would improve the delivery of acute and long-term care — the most expensive Medicaid services.
SB 58, also by Nelson, would include behavioral and mental health services in the state’s Medicaid managed care program.
SB 86, by Ellis, would establish a statewide smoking ban in enclosed public places, such as bars, businesses, sports arenas and health care facilities.
HB 58, by Burnam, would repeal a ban on funding to clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the federally funded or state-funded Women’s Health Program.
HB 46, by Flynn, would allow farmers to receive a permit to sell raw or unpasteurized milk at an approved location. Currently, farmers can only sell raw milk from the location where it is produced.
Civil and criminal law:
HB 23, by Martinez Fischer, would require sex offenders to list their offenses on social media sites.
HB 104, by Rep. Larry Gonzales, would repeal the Driver Responsibility Act, which requires drivers to pay expensive annual surcharges for certain traffic violations. Failing to pay results in suspension of a driver's license.
SB 88, by Ellis, would allow the governor to grant more than one 30-day reprieve for a death row inmate.
SB 89, by Ellis, would create a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions
SB 91, also by Ellis, would require prosecutors and defense lawyers to share evidence in criminal cases
Just one immigration-related bill was filed Monday, a surprise given the large number of immigration proposals filed early in recent legislative sessions. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 session, some lawmakers literally camped out to file immigration legislation.
Luis Figueroa, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said he hoped the filing volume would set the tone for the coming legislative session.
"We’re hoping it’s a good sign of things to come," he said.