As the clock ticked toward the 6 p.m. deadline for Texas lawmakers to freely file bills for the legislative session, more than 900 proposals were added to the agenda Friday, including multiple measures on hot-button issues including immigration, abortion, medical marijuana and political corruption.
The first 60 days of the session is open season, meaning anyone can file a bill without objection. After Friday, lawmakers have to get approval from their chambers to file a bill.
"Traditionally in the Senate and the House, they have allowed people to file later," said Patsy Spaw, the longtime secretary of the Senate. "But that first 60 days — anyone can file a bill about anything without an objection.”
The last-minute rush to get proposals filed brought a frenzied atmosphere to some corners of the Capitol building Friday, with lawmakers posting signs on their doors cautioning off lobbyists with bills still in need of a sponsor.
State Rep. James White's door warned visitors that official approval from Pancake Abbott, Gov. Greg Abbott’s golden retriever puppy, was required for all bills. A visit from Pancake, who made his debut on Twitter earlier in the session with much fanfare, was mandatory as well.
Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, had several internet memes posted on his door — including one featuring a Futurama character that read “If your bill is the best bill on the planet … why has no one filed it yet?”
More than 6,000 bills have been filed this session, the most since at least the 81st legislative session in 2009.
Among the ethics reform bills filed was Sen. Van Taylor’s Senate Bill 19, which aims to enhance personal financial disclosures for legislators, take pensions away from law-breaking politicians and slow down the revolving door between the Legislature and the special-interests lobby.
“Whatever I end up with, I’m going to wish I did more, but there’s no question that it will be the most comprehensive ethics reform package in a generation,” Taylor said.
Taylor had initially pushed for a provision that would require legislators to wait five years before becoming lobbyists. The version that was filed Friday is more generous to lawmakers. It would allow them to become lobbyists after sitting out one regular legislative session.
Taylor said he made the change after discussing the provision with fellow senators.
He added that he expected his ethics package, which includes several stand-alone bills, would undergo plenty of “tweaks and changes” before the session ends.
In the House, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, filed a proposal to tighten up the law on conflicts of interest among legislators. The measure would make it a crime for state lawmakers to vote on certain bills when a “reasonable person” would conclude, based on definitions provided in the bill, that the lawmaker or his or her spouse would benefit financially. The bill also adds disclosure requirements for lawmakers who have conflicts of interest on certain bills.
Among the bills filed Friday:
— House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, filed his long-awaited proposals to cut the rates for both the margins tax paid by businesses and the broader state sales tax. The margins tax bill, House Bill 32, is identical to one filed by Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The measures should draw the House more into the tax cut debate this session, which until now has been focused more on the Senate, where Nelson has already held hearings on some high-profile measures.
— Several measures filed Friday aimed at allowing Texas to change its approach to immigration, even as broader proposals stall in Washington.
House Bill 3735 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, seeks to establish a partnership with the federal government to establish a guest-worker program to bring skilled and unskilled labor to Texas.
House Bill 3301 by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would recognize undocumented Texans as "citizens" of the state. It would allow them to apply for driver's licenses, occupational licenses and state IDs if they meet certain residency criteria and are can verify their identity.
"It also opens the door for future conversations about the very real fact that these Texans without status are here, they are not leaving, and we should be doing everything we can to help them find employment, housing and opportunity," said Laura Stromberg Hoke, Rodriguez's chief of staff.
— House Bill 3401 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, seeks to establish an interstate compact between interested states for the detection, apprehension and prosecution of undocumented immigrants.
— Looking to add restrictions on abortion, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, filed House Bill 3765 to beef up the state's informed consent laws when it comes to minors. Texas law already requires patients seeking an abortion to go through the informed consent process, but Laubenberg's bill would require notarized consent from a minor and a minor's parent before an abortion is performed.
— House Bill 3785 from Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, would permit patients with cancer, seizure disorders, PTSD and other conditions to medical marijuana. The measure is broader than other bills filed this session that would only allow low-level THC oils to be used on intractable seizure patients.
— The National Security Agency might have some trouble in Texas if Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, gets his way. House Bill 3916 would make it illegal for any public entities to provide water or electric utility services to NSA data collection centers in the state.
— State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, filed a pair of measures, House Bill 3839 and House Joint Resolution 142, which would ask voters to approve the creation of as many as nine casinos. Under Deshotel’s plan, most of the casinos would be built near the Texas coast, and a large portion of the tax revenue would go toward shoring up the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last resort for coastal Texans.
— In an effort to pave the way for a Medicaid expansion solution that would get the support of conservatives, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 3845 to request a block grant from the federal government to reform the program and expand health care coverage for low-income Texans. Though GOP leaders have said they won't expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, they've asked the feds for more flexibility to administer the program. Coleman's proposal, titled the "The Texas Way," intends to give the state more wiggle room while still drawing some Republican support.
--State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, filed two bills that appeared aimed at killing the controversial Trinity Toll Road, which local leaders and residents have been discussing and debating for decades. HB 3674 would put new restrictions on what toll projects the Texas Department of Transportation could fund. HB 3673 would require the Texas Department of Transportation submit an environmental analysis for the project before it can move forward. The project is currently exempt from such a federal review, according to the Dallas Morning News.
— Republican State Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas filed a bill that would repeal two key air quality initiatives in Texas — the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) and the Low-Income Vehicle Repair program — both of which use money collected from motorists' fees to reduce air emissions from vehicles. In recent years, the Legislature has stockpiled hundreds of millions of dollars collected for both programs to artificially balance the state's budget.
Huffines' proposal is in sharp contrast with legislation filed last month by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who wants to extend TERP so that the money left on the table can eventually be used for its intended purpose.
— Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, filed House Bill 3721 to require the state demographer to conduct an annual study of each legislative district. The House and Senate provide annual district profiles detailing some population characteristics, but the reports do not track race and ethnicity.
Julian Aguilar, Eva Hershaw, Jay Root, Neena Satija and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.