The legislative session has completed its 12th week.  9 weeks to go.  Here’s what’s happening:

Proposal to Ban Drag Shows

The legislature this session has focused on issues related to transgender individuals and drag show performers.  Two bills were heard this week in the Senate State Affairs Committee that would restrict certain sexually oriented performances on public property in the presence of a child.  While the wording of the legislation is vague, the bill authors declared they are referring to drag shows. Proponents of the bill argue that drag shows are inherently sexual in nature and promote threats of “grooming,” while opponents believe drag shows are educational and allow children to understand broader perspectives.

The first bill heard restricts drag performances on public property and in commercial establishments, and the other would withhold state funds from municipal libraries that host events in which performers read books to children. The libraries do not receive operational funding from the state, instead they receive money through competitive grant programs run by the Texas state Library and Archives Commission.  Performers and organizers of drag events testified on both bills, saying  the protesters are the ones harming and terrorizing children. Both bills were reported favorably from the committee and are eligible for consideration by the full Senate next week.

Restrictions on Transgender Issues in Senate

The Texas Senate gave approval to legislation this week that extends current state law that prohibits high school students from playing on sports teams that align with their identity to college level athletes in the state.  SB 15 requires athletes to join college teams that align with their assigned sex at birth, regardless of their gender identity.  The bill does allow female athletes to participate on a men’s team if a school does not have a corresponding team for the women.  This current prohibition was passed into law to apply to all public high school students in 2021.

The Senate this week also gave preliminary approval to SB 14, that bans puberty blockers and  hormone therapy for any minor child, provided they are not already receiving such care.  The bill also bans transition related surgeries for minor children. The bill was given initial approval along party lines, but still faces a final vote before heading to the House.

Border/Immigration Issues

The continuing debate over securing our southern border made news again this week, in a very tragic way.  Last Friday afternoon, two undocumented immigrants were found dead in a train car near Knippa, a small town on Highway 90 west of San Antonio.  The two were among 15 people trapped in the train car that was abandoned on railroad tracks.  The two deceased apparently died of heat stroke and suffocation.  On Monday night, a fire at a migrant center in Juarez — the Mexican town across the border from El Paso – killed 39 people and injured another 29.  The fire was started by migrants that had learned they were being deported from Mexico and set fire to mattresses in protest.

The border crisis continues.  In fiscal 2022, the Customs and Border Patrol reported arresting 2.4 million migrants, a record number.  Lawmakers this year are considering several proposals including the creation of a new state border patrol unit that would have the power to arrest and expel anyone caught attempting to cross the border illegally.  The legislature has appropriated over $4 billion to Operation Lone Star, which has increased the number of DPS and National Guard troops at the southern border for enhanced enforcement.

Chambers Differ on Property Tax Solutions

The Senate and the House have different ideas when it comes to property tax reductions.  The Senate proposal increases the homestead exemption while the House proposal caps the amount that the appraisals can increase from year to year and reduces the tax rate for homeowners by 28%.  Both proposals budget an additional $5 billion for public school funding, since property taxes fund nearly 60% of the budgets for all public schools.  Lt. Governor Dan Patrick this week said he would not compromise on or change the Senate’ approach to property tax reductions, believing that a reduction in the appraisal cap would do nothing more than give incentive to local taxing authorities to raise their rates to make up for the reduction in appraised values.

House Speaker Dade Phelan snapped back later in the week by defending his plan to cap appraisals and reduce the property tax rate saying the House plan will give homeowners and business owners real tax relief since the House proposal cuts tax rates and caps the annual appraisals.  Both sides seem dug in, and not willing to consider the other chamber’s proposal.   With the huge budget surplus and soaring property tax bills, the Republican controlled legislature has made it a priority to reduce the property tax burden.  The Senate has passed their version of the property tax proposals, while the House Ways and Means committee has given approval to the House versions.  But the full House has not considered their proposals.  With less than 60 days left in the session, time is running short to reach an agreement that both Houses can consider for final passage.

Political Notes

Former President Trump held his first 2024 campaign rally in Waco Saturday.  The majority of his remarks focused on his then rumored indictment, which was handed down by the New York District Attorney yesterday.  Trump called himself a victim of politically based legal investigations and told the crowd of followers that they too are victims of Trump’s political enemies.  Several elected officials have weighed in on the Trump indictment including Senator Ted Cruz who said the “political persecution is utter garbage.”  Gov. Abbott called it an abuse of power by the New York DA and Attorney General Ken Paxton – himself under federal indictment for securities fraud – also said this was evidence of abuse of power.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a veteran Democrat from Houston, has formally joined the race to be the next mayor of Houston.  The Congresswoman joins an already crowded field that includes state Senator John Whitmire, former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, former Metro chair Gilbert Garcia, former city councilwoman Amanda Edwards, and attorney Lee Kaplan.  Lee was first elected to Congress in 1994, making her one of the most senior members of the Texas delegation.  Since the election is in November of this year, she will not have to give up her seat to run for Mayor.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley – a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination – will visit the Texas/Mexico border this weekend.  She is the first declared candidate to visit the border during this campaign cycle, and will be hosted by Congressman Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, whose district runs from South Texas to El Paso along the border.

Activity this Week

Both chambers met Monday through Thursday of this week.  The House finally had its first calendar and passed several bills this week, including a bill to exempt feminine hygiene and baby products from the sales tax.

What’s Next??

The House and Senate have adjourned for the week.  The House and Senate will convene at 2PM Monday.

Next week, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee will continue to hear bills related to the electric grid and ERCOT regulations.  The full Senate could take up the controversial proposal to allow state dollars to be used for private school tuition.

The full House will take up HB 1, which is the state budget.  Historically, the budget debate in the House sees several hundred amendments proposed on the House floor, with debate expected to last well into the night.

Both chambers will adjourn Thursday for the Easter weekend, with the House returning on Monday, April 10th, while the Senate will take a longer break, not returning until Tuesday.

When lawmakers return Monday, there will be 56 days remaining in the session.