We hope you had a great holiday season with your family and friends. You’ll need your energy: the Legislative Session will begin on Tuesday, January 8th. Lawmakers have a lot to tackle, including the states’ growing water needs, budget surpluses after historic spending cuts two years ago, immigration issues, and reforming state education.
Two years ago, lawmakers gathered at the Capitol facing a $27 billion shortfall and unemployment at a decade-high peak of 8.2 percent. They left after passing a budget that was $15 billion lighter than the previous one in a state that has thousands of new residents to serve by the day and is among the nation’s fastest-growing. This year, lawmakers won’t be facing such tough decisions but the budget battles will be just as tough. The Rainy Day Fund has a balance of $8.1 billion and unemployment is at a low of 6.2 percent. While the state has enough money to pay its bills- including a steep Medicaid debt- the Texas GOP has vowed to adopt strict spending limits. Comptroller Combs will be releasing the final numbers for how much the state can spend on Monday morning.
The school finance trial will have a huge impact on Texas education policy but the saga will take a few years to play out. In the meantime, we can expect Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick to lead the charge for school choice legislation. We can also expect more protests against the STAAR testing system, which will likely be reformed during this session.
Lawmakers have only pre-filed about two-thirds of the legislation they did at this point before the last session. With a huge freshmen class of representatives, the filing will pick up after the session begins. Education and healthcare are popular subjects for legislation introduced so far. Some representatives, like Donna Howard, are worried that the Texas Women’s Health Program won’t connect low-income patients with doctors who can provide them with adequate care. And many conservative legislators are filing bills to allow concealed weapons in the classroom after the tragedy in Connecticut.