Texas Legislature Faces More Issues, Tighter Budget


Todd Kleiboer, Web Editor

With less funds to work with and more controversial issues to confront, the 85th Texas Legislative Session shapes up to be a political and financial game of Twister as they debate bills dealing with transgender bathroom policies to the overworked Child Protective Services (CPS) to public education.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been the most out-spoken supporter of Senate Bill (SB) 6, the Texas Privacy Act, authored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, even though the bill has been heavily criticized by activist groups and other lawmakers.

“This legislation codifies what has been common practice in Texas and everywhere else forever — that men and women should use separate, designated bathrooms,” the lieutenant governor said in a statement. “This issue is not about discrimination — it’s about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense.”

Critics of the bill point toward similar legislation passed by North Carolina, which received immense backlash and business loss.

“Dan Patrick’s attack on transgender Texans is a dangerous, politically-motivated assault on the rights of his own constituents,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Patrick and his anti-LGBTQ friends in the legislature have clearly learned nothing from the self-inflicted damage caused by North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law and want to throw away $8.5 billion in revenue from lost visitors, businesses, sports leagues and major entertainment groups.”

However, Senate Bill 6 might be lost in the myriad of other proposed bills facing the legislature, and other lawmakers, especially those in the Texas House of Representatives, are not as keen as Patrick or Kolkhurst to take action on bathroom policies. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is among them.

“There’s been a lot of work put into our state’s economic success. We want to continue that success, and we want Texas to keep attracting the best and the brightest,” Straus said in a quote from the Texas Tribune in a speech to the Texas Association of Business. “[My constituents] are also watching what happened in North Carolina, and they are not enthusiastic about getting that type of attention.”

There will also be a financial undercurrent to all proposed bills as the legislature is constrained to a smaller budget than last session because of the weakening of the Texan oil industry. This may affect how much can be spared for incumbent programs such as public education and reduces the likelihood of the creation of new programs or increased funding for programs that are in need of it.

The beleaguered Texas CPS will be a priority in the legislature as reports come out about backlogged cases and overworked employees. Measures to support the agency have been taken such as the approved hiring of 829 workers and pay raises to lower the high turnover rate of CPS, but lawmakers will consider long-term solutions during this session.

Funding for mental health facilities and treatment will also on the agenda for many of the legislature, and Straus regards as one of his top priorities this session. A report released by a House committee warned of future consequences if Texas did not resolve issues with the mental health system currently in place.

“The opportunity to improve our mental health system this year is real and it’s important,” Straus said in a Texas Tribune quote from a news release. “A smarter approach to mental health will improve treatment and care while saving taxpayers money.”

In terms of public education, school vouchers will be debated between the two chambers of the state congress with the Senate endorsing them and the House balking at any attempt to pass such a bill. With a smaller budget, funding may be less for public schools, but no major cuts are expected to be passed.