SENATE CLOSES OUT 84TH SESSION
(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate ended the 84th Legislative session Monday, its first in 12 years under new leadership and a term that saw nine new members take office. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, newly elected last year, told members from the dais that this may have been the Senate's finest hour. "I think we had one of the most successful, if not the most successful, Senate sessions in modern history," he said. The Senate passed a budget, legislation doubling funding to border security, early education, and tax cuts over the past 140 days. Here's a look at some of the key bills that will become law if signed by Governor Greg Abbott.
- A $209 billion budget for 2016 and 2017 – It includes more money for public education, women's and mental health, and border security funding. It also ended diversions from the state highway fund, increasing funding to road and bridge construction and maintenance.
- Tax Cuts – One bill would raise the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000. Another cuts the state franchise tax by a quarter. Added up, the measures will bring nearly $5 billion in tax relief over the next two years.
- Border Security – The omnibus border security bill spends $800 million for new DPS troopers, new technology and new facilities to help guard the border with Mexico. It also includes enough money to keep Texas National Guard forces on the border until DPS can take over for them.
- Early education – One of Abbott's top priorities for the session, the Governor has already signed into law a bill that will offer incentives to pre-kindergarten programs that implement accountability measures to ensure high quality.
- Gun Rights – Licensed gun owners will be allowed to carry openly on their belts or in a shoulder holster. They will also be able to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses. That measure was changed to allow college presidents to designate certain areas on campus as gun free, but colleges cannot make blanket bans.
- Right to Try – This bill will give people with terminal diagnoses access to experimental treatments under certain circumstances.
- Fracking ordinances – Another bill already signed into law by Abbott, this bill makes the state the ultimate authority on setting oil and gas policies in Texas. Municipalities will still exercise limited control on above ground activities with respect to noise and other nuisance abatement.
- Transportation funding – Passed in the form of a resolution, this proposed law will bypass the Governor and go to voters in November. Texans will decide whether to earmark a portion of sales tax revenue to highway funding every biennium.
Governor Abbott has ten days to sign or veto the laws.
One question is bandied around the Capitol at the end of every session, and this year was no different: will the governor call a special session? Governor Rick Perry called 12 extra sessions in his decade as governor, but this time around lawmakers could be out of Austin all interim for the first time since 2007. One issue that could bring them back is a lawsuit on school finance currently before the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments are expected to begin this fall, and the timing and nature of the ruling will determine whether the Legislature will be back in session to deal with the issue next year or if it will wait until they meet in regular session again in January 2017.
The Senate stands adjourned sine die.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.