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Analysis: Finding out exactly what the election winners have in mind

It won't change the color of the leaves on the trees, but the civics seasons in Texas have changed. Say goodbye to the elections and hello to the legislative session.

Monday was the first day lawmakers could pre-file legislation for the upcoming 83rd Texas Legislative Session.

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Change gears. The elections, which were almost a week ago, are old news.

It’s time to move on and to move the pending Texas legislative session to the top of the list of “Things that are looming.” To wit: Today is the first day lawmakers can start filing legislation for the session that begins in January. It’s time to see what the winners are going to try to accomplish.

Most of what they file won’t pass, but the Texas Legislature has had better luck in recent years at getting things done than Congress.

In 2015, according to the Texas Legislative Service, Texas lawmakers filed 6,276 bills and 200 joint resolutions — which, if passed, usually become proposed amendments to the state Constitution. They passed 1,322 bills into law — that’s about one in five — and also approved seven joint resolutions.

Members of the 150-member House filed about two-thirds of the legislation, and the 31 members of the Senate filed the rest.

Change gears. The elections, which were almost a week ago, are old news.

So much for stats. Most bills are local — either important only to one area of the state or so prosaic that they don’t grab much attention. That’s where your town’s bid for a low-water crossing on a state road goes, and other items like that.

You’ve probably heard or read about some of the big stuff that’s coming, whether it’s going to move during the legislative session or not.

The budget will be the hardest and most important legislation to pass. State revenue is expected to be tight. Lawmakers are coming to Austin with less money in the state’s pockets than two years ago, when the budget was relatively easy to put together. And they’ve got expensive things to consider, including crises facing abused and foster children the state has promised to protect, rapid growth in the number of kids in Texas schools, growing disparities in funding from one school district to the next, rising pension liabilities and whatever comes out of federal efforts to rewrite the Affordable Care Act and increase the amount Washington spends on border security and immigration.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants lawmakers to put a leash on local governments and school districts — forcing them to ask voters when they want to raise property taxes and lowering the size of increases that would be allowed without voter approval.

He’s pushing for a new version of vouchers for kids who want to go from public schools to private schools but who cannot afford to pay the tuition. Straight-up vouchers have failed numerous times in the Legislature. In 2015, an attempt to allow businesses to pay some of their school taxes into scholarship funds for private schools fell short. This time, Patrick is touting “education savings accounts” that would accomplish the same purposes; he says they would give students from poorer families the same choices students from richer families have.

He also wants to require transgender people to use the public restrooms and locker rooms that match their birth gender instead of allowing them to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. That issue could catch conservative lawmakers and some Democrats between the wishes of their voters and the preferences of businesses in Texas.

House Speaker Joe Straus, the less demonstrative of the state’s two legislative leaders, has stressed infrastructure needs, public and higher education, the state’s mental health system and cyber security.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not on the same page, but it’s safe to say the leaders of the House and the Senate are emphasizing different priorities.

Gov. Greg Abbott will likely push for the reforms of political ethics laws for the second session in a row and to renew his promotion of getting the states together to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution in ways that would trim the federal government’s powers. His steadfast resistance to federal regulations and laws might go on ice for a while, what with a new Republican administration taking over in Washington. But Abbott could easily come back to the business of hollering at the federal government if the new guy doesn’t come through.

Most of that is known territory. Lawmakers always have other ideas, often working around or ignoring their leaders — especially in the early days of filing bills.

We’ll get a taste of what they have in mind before sundown today.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • Texas remained true to the GOP in this week's general election, but the blue spots on the map that represent Democratic votes and mark many of the state's biggest cities are getting bluer. 
  • They might not have predicted this, but Republicans won full control of the federal government in Tuesday's elections. For Texas Republicans, that removes a major political foil.
  • Some elections are referendums on issues, public votes that give lawmakers a good idea of what voters want. This election isn't one of those.

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Politics State government Dan Patrick Greg Abbott Joe Straus Texas Legislature