Assessing the Damage the 88th Texas Legislature Has Done So Far ... and Bracing for What's Yet to Come
When the Lege hits home
The Texas GOP had a bone to pick with a whole lot of Texans this legislative session. For a party that prides itself on freedom and self-determination, they sure don't like how those values manifest in Austin. Amid a flurry of moribund bills, a few targets were apparent: queer Texans, new Texans (migrants), non-Christian Texans, and Texans who want an iota of local control.
The Lege went whole hog on attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, the most severe being Senate Bill 14, which will bar gender affirming care for trans minors and has already sent a wave of Texas families packing for other states where their kids can receive hormone prescriptions.
More broadly, the Lege took aim at progressive cities' self-governance. As we go to press, on the governor's desk sits what Democrats have called the ultimate "Death Star bill" – House Bill 2127 – which will dramatically limit municipalities' local codes. Because, as Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton said, "a patchwork of different ordinances across this state" are "anti-Texas." The legislation blocks any local ordinance "regulating conduct" in broad areas the state already regulates, including labor, the environment, agriculture, and finance. This will render many local ordinances unenforceable, including Austin's labor laws that require rest breaks and ban workplace discrimination of various kinds. We don't know what the full scope of this bill's reach will look like – though it's likely that the legality of local ordinances will be determined one by one in court, as business owners challenge them.
Meanwhile, the "Big Three" – Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate – are rarely meeting. Days before the session's end, they got together in person to find a path to get all of their priority bills en route to the governor's desk without needing to call a special session, The Texas Tribune reported. That didn't work out, and the session ended without several of Abbott's priorities passing both bodies: border security, vouchers, and property tax cuts. So Abbott called an immediate special session on Monday night, within hours of the regular session ending. He says it will be focused on border security and property tax relief.
Ironically, Texans could've seen some tax relief if the Legislature had succeeded in passing HB 100, which would have increased schools' state funding per student served. Because a lot of your property taxes, whether you pay them directly or indirectly through rent to your landlord, go toward school funding, Democrats including Austin's own Rep. Donna Howard have argued that increasing school funding will reduce the property tax burden. But Senate Republicans made a last-minute decision to pin vouchers (which divert public school money to private school tuition) onto the bill. The House – where Democrats and rural Republicans both oppose "school choice" – wasn't going to pass vouchers, killing the bill along with the Legislature's best chance to give teachers a pay bump while easing up property taxes in one fell swoop.
The Texas House passed a bill Tuesday that would lower school district property tax rates and then adjourned, meaning the Senate will have to accept the bill as is or Abbott will need to start a new special session. He'll call a few for his priorities, so some dead bills could be resurrected yet. But here's what we know so far.