Texas-sized rivalry spills over into special session

Texas-sized rivalry spills over into special session

(Texas) Division between hard-right conservatives in the state Senate and more moderate Republicans in the House continues to characterize deliberations of a special session called by the governor because so little got done during the Legislature’s regular term.

The two houses appear badly split on the long list of education bills Gov. Greg Abbot put before lawmakers two weeks ago even though the governor, along with the House Speaker and Senate leader, are all Republicans.

“If they’d just listen to us and work with us and had the political courage to do it rather just put out a mandate,” said an exasperated Rep. Dan Huberty during a lengthy hearing Tuesday over a teacher salary bill. “I’ve been dealing with this crap for 15 years and I’m tired of it. We’re either going to fix it or not.”

While Democrats have been relegated to the sidelines for almost two decades, politics in Texas—like many other places—can be complex and party unity is sometimes elusive.

The gridlock in Austin, for instance, pits House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio against both Abbot and leader of the state Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The highest profile bill pending before lawmakers this summer mirrors controversial efforts in other parts of the country to restrict the use of bathrooms at schools and government buildings based on gender. The bill, which requires users of public restrooms and changing areas to match the sex on their birth certificate, passed out of the Senate last week without dissent—but now appears stalled in the House thanks to Straus, who opposes it.

Legislation that would create a new school voucher for students with disabilities could face a similar fate. A strong majority in the Senate approved the bill but the same proposal was defeated during the regular session in the House by a wide margin.

The bill would provide a maximum $10,000 scholarship per year or the full tuition amount for a nonpublic school, depending on which is less. The scholarships would be paid for by a tax credit that insurance companies could take advantage of.

A third major bill, which would authorize teacher merit pay, also appears to be in trouble in the House after easy passage out of the Senate.

As proposed, the measure would require school districts to provide an average annual pay increase for teachers of at least $1,000 beginning in 2021-22.

To pay for the wage hikes, leadership in the Senate have suggested that districts absorb the costs without any additional help from the state. That provision was removed after Speaker Straus has called the proposal a ‘Ponzi scheme,” although it is still unclear how the salary increases would be paid for.