By Ed Sterling
Director of member services for the Texas Press Association
AUSTIN — A special session of the Texas Legislature, called by Gov. Greg Abbott, is set to begin on July 18. The agenda is big.
Before adjourning in late May, our 150 state representatives and 31 state senators did the only thing the Texas constitution requires them to do each time they meet for 140 days every two years: they passed a state budget to cover the next two years.
But Abbott decided he wanted them back in Austin to extend the functions of the Texas Medical Board, and to do it with all possible speed. Abbott added a while-you’re-at-it list of 19 other topics for lawmakers to resolve to his satisfaction after they breathe new life into the Texas Medical Board.
Since then, several lawmakers have stepped forward, announcing their intentions to file bills to take care of Abbott’s other topics. For example, Rep. Travis Clardy plans to file legislation to address teacher pay, recruitment and retention. Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, will be joined in the effort by Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, and Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo. “Every Texas student deserves the opportunity for a quality education,” said Clardy. “That means we must have motivated teachers joining the ranks of the many outstanding professionals we have in Texas classrooms today. The first step to accomplishing that goal is providing competitive pay for our teachers while encouraging some of our best and brightest to work where our education needs are greatest. We must also give our school districts the tools they need to retain and reward our best teachers.”
Last week, Abbott applauded Reps. Clardy, Deshotel and Raymond for tackling that topic. Other items Abbott wants addressed in the special session include:
Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices; establishing a school finance reform commission; school choice for special needs students; property tax reform; caps on state and local spending; preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land; preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects; speeding up local government permitting processes; and municipal annexation reform.
Also, a ban on texting while driving; bathroom and locker room rules for transgender students; prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues; prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers; pro-life insurance reform; strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise; strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders; cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud; and extending the maternal mortality task force.
Abbott issues statewide call
Gov. Abbott on July 6 issued a statewide call for Texans to stand with law enforcement, to mark July 7 as the anniversary of an attack on Dallas law enforcement, and in honor of all peace officers across the Lone Star State.
During a civil rights march in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016, Michael Xavier Johnson shot and killed five on-duty Dallas police officers and wounded nine others. Johnson was tracked down and killed by an explosive device deployed from a police-controlled robotic unit.
In other news, on July 7, Abbott attended and spoke at the funeral of San Antonio Police Officer Miguel Moreno, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in late June.
Toyota opens headquarters
Toyota Motor North America Inc. on July 6 held a grand opening at its new, $350 million, 2 million-square-foot headquarters in Plano. The headquarters was relocated from Torrance, California.
Gov. Abbott, who attended the opening ceremonies, said Toyota’s move to Plano is “one of the largest economic development deals completed in the state.”
Revenue report comes in
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on July 5 reported that state sales tax revenue totaled $2.4 billion in June, an amount 10.3 percent more than in June 2016.
Increased collections from most sectors of the economy resulted in growth in sales tax revenue, although the gains did not offset weaker-than-expected franchise tax collections in the month of May, Hegar said.
Receipts from the wholesale trade, information and oil-and-gas-related sectors saw significant gains, and total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in June 2017 is up 5.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago, Hegar added.
Wardens busy over holiday
Texas game wardens logged nearly 13,000 patrol hours on state bodies of water over the extended Fourth of July holiday weekend, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department reported July 6.
While on the job over the period, wardens:
– Served as first responders in incidents that included 10 fatalities;
– Conducted boating safety and compliance checks on 17,845 vessels carrying 60,673 boaters;
– Made 55 BWI (boating while intoxicated) arrests and nine DWI (driving while intoxicated) arrests; and
– Made 42 additional arrests on other charges.
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