On Tuesday, the Texas Legislature will convene again.
While we adjourned “sine die” on May 31st, the Senate refused to pass a bill that reauthorizes certain essential state agencies, including one that licenses doctors.
This “sunset” bill was held back in hopes of getting the House to agree to a version of the anti-LGBTQ “bathroom” bill. The House, rightly, refused to pass the bill, which targets transgender people, particularly children, making everyone less safe.
Because of the Senate’s refusal to do its job, we have been called back for a Special Session, which may cost taxpayers about a million dollars, depending on how long we stay.
For responsible governance, both in terms of policy and expense, our only job is to pass the sunset bill.
However, if we stay for the full 30 days of this session, or even have more sessions, then we must address the key issues of education and health care.
We have material to work with. The House was close to making headway on school finance with H.B. 21, which added $1.5 billion and adjusted some formulas; it had support from a broad spectrum of stakeholders before the Senate added vouchers. Making school finance the first priority is good policy, and isn’t a partisan issue. Members of both parties overwhelmingly support finding a way to fairly and equitably fund our urban and rural schools.
The State is increasingly funding schools on the backs of local property taxpayers, while at the same time, complaining about high local taxes. True tax reform must take into account the main driver of property taxes – schools, which are the State’s constitutional obligation. In fact, the State’s share of the base funding for schools has decreased from 43.5 percent in 2015 to 37.7 percent in 2019. To address this, I have filed legislation, which the majority of Senate Democrats have signed onto, that would require the State to fund at least half of our schools’ operating costs. This would dramatically reduce local property taxes and help ensure quality education for all Texas students.
But while there is great support for school finance reform, we lack full, unwavering support from state leadership. Instead, the Special Session proposals most vocally championed erode public schools through vouchers, curtail the ability of local government to fund local needs and maintain local ordinances, limit access to reproductive health, and once again, target transgender children through some version of a “bathroom” bill.
I entered public service to advocate for equal opportunity for all Texans whether that’s every child’s right to quality public education; access to affordable, quality health care; or for economic opportunity.
We should all reject policies that target the vulnerable. This Special Session shows little promise to do anything but that.
Although I suspect we will be in Special Session for the full 30 days, I believe the best thing we can do for Texas is to pass the sunset bill and return to our districts to attend to the real needs of our constituents, not waste precious taxpayer dollars passing legislation that’s intended to bolster some leaders’ positions in the next primary and does little to help Texas families.
Or, put simply, we should “Sunset and Sine Die.”