What just happened? Looking back at the 83rd Legislative Session

Monday, June 3, 2013
posted by elizabeth @ 2:26 PM

The Texas Legislature adjourned the 83rd legislative session on Monday afternoon, moments before Governor Perry announced a special session to begin that evening with only one topic on the agenda so far – redistricting. So before that heats up, let’s take a look at some of the important items that were and were not addressed by lawmakers.

 One of the primary differences between last session in 2011 and 2013’s was that the state’s economic situation and the fact that revenues looked much better this time around. As compared to 2011’s $27 billion shortfall, this legislature had the good fortune of operating with a budget surplus. This meant less focus on budget cuts and more emphasis on how to allocate the money.

Budget. SB 1, the vehicle used for the states’ budget, passed at the very end of the session, which is later than usual. That can be chalked up to fights over budget allotments for some of the state’s largest needs: education, transportation, water and others. The budget for the next two years totals $94 billion in general revenue, and comes out to $197 billion if you include federal dollars that will be spent. One of the major budget battles centered on education, where $5.4 billion was cut during the 2011 session due to the need to cut across the board. This year’s budget restores $3.9 billion of those cuts, but there were some who fought to get even more restored.

 Rainy Day Fund. As in 2011, the Rainy Day Fund was a major talking point as well as a point of contention. Many conservative House members pushed back against tapping into the over $8 billion fund, while others felt that now is the time to spend some of that money on water infrastructure, roads, and possibly health care or education. The Rainy Day Fund has been built up by oil and gas tax revenue, and continues to grow due to our state’s coming energy industry.

 Water. Our state’s water infrastructure and supply was one of the hottest topics leading into 2011. Pretty much every legislator acknowledged back in January that we needed to do something about our state’s water situation, but the question was how to do it and where the money would come from.

 After some moments when the path forward was very fuzzy, lawmakers eventually agreed to pull $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and make those funds available as loans to fund water infrastructure projects around the state, including reservoirs, wells and conservation projects. This plan must first be approved by voters on the November ballot.

 Education. School choice and vouchers seemed to be at the top of the list of education priorities back in January, but the issue did not gain much traction as time went on. Instead, the primary education bills passed were HB 5, which reduces the number of standardized tests from 15 to 5, and a bill that increases the cap for charter schools in Texas. Currently, there are 209 charter schools in Texas, but the bill now allows for up to 305 by 2019.

 Health Care. Whether or not Texas should participate in Medicaid expansion under Obamacare immediately became a hot issue back in January and February and dominated much of the health care talk for the next couple of months. Governor Perry came out strongly against expanding the program, and he was backed by House Republicans, who added an amendment late in the session that would prohibit the state from expanding its Medicaid program. Several bills regarding abortion and end of life issues came up, but did not pass this session.c

 Back again. Two issues that seem to keep coming up session after session are gambling and concealed carry on college campuses, but neither issue really went anywhere…again. Lawmakers did agree to allow guns to be stored in cars on college campuses, though.

 Transparency. This was a common theme throughout the 83rd Legislature. Bills were passed that (somewhat) reformed the Texas Ethics Commission, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute, and set new limits on the powers of state university regents. Also, there were a number of bills filed pertaining to lawmakers’ possible conflicts of interest and campaign donations. Some of these did not pass before the deadline, and one campaign finance bill has already been vetoed by Governor Perry.

 Drug Testing. This was an issue that did not seem to garner much attention leading up to the 2013 legislative session, but all of a sudden sparked a couple of big battles. The legislature did pass a bill that will allow for drug testing recipients of unemployment insurance. However, democrats in the House were able to kill a bill requiring the same for welfare recipients.

 Still not over. While Governor Perry has already signed many bills, there are still dozens that are at his mercy. The veto period runs through June 16, which means he can still veto bills that were passed to keep them from becoming law. All laws passed this session will go into effect on August 26th, unless a different date was indicated in the legislation.

The legislature is already at work in the special session, with the sole task of finding a solution to the redistricting maps…for now. Many are expecting additional charges to be added by the end of week, which could include additional tax relief, right to life issues and concealed carry provisions.

– Matt Barr

Comments are closed.