By Courntey Griffin

State legislators in Austin filed more than 900 bills Friday before the clock struck 6 p.m., prohibiting them from freely proposing new laws.

The first 60 days of the Texas legislative session is open season, meaning anyone can file a bill without objection. After Friday, lawmakers have to get approval from their chambers to file a bill.

The week may start with some tension when a Senate committee hearing is held on divisive proposals cracking down on local police departments for taking hands-off approaches to enforcing immigration laws during routine patrols.

The hearing set for this morning was postponed last week after Democrats complained the public wasn’t given enough notice about lawmakers taking up action on so-called “sanctuary cities” or locales more lenient to people in the country illegally.

Measures to legalize concealed firearms on college campuses and open carry everywhere else have been on upcoming Senate calendars for weeks. With the 60-day floor voting ban now history, the chamber’s Republican majority indicated one or both are likely to be debated this week on the floor.

Since that coincides with spring break at the University of Texas and other Austin-area colleges, that means supporters and opponents alike could crowd the visitors’ galleries. Just how many people turn up to cheer or jeer the proposals, though, shouldn’t change the fact they are both likely to pass.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers filed bills in both chambers that would make “revenge porn” — or posting sexual images of exes from past relationships — punishable by up to a year in jail. They also would let victims sue the provider of the images and the website posting them.
The House version was discussed and left pending last week in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The Senate version is still awaiting a committee hearing.

Central Texas legislators

The area’s Central Texas’ state legislators — Rep. Molly White, R-Belton; Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen; Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville; and Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay — are equally as busy next week.

White, who sits on the Homeland Security and Public Affairs Committee in the House, will hear debate at 8 a.m. Tuesday on proposals to legalize concealed firearms on college campuses and open carry everywhere else.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs, the counterpart to the House’s Public Affairs Committee, heard debate Feb. 12 on similar bills that began in the Senate.

Sheffield also will meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday as part of the House’s Public Health Committee. They will debate proposed legislation relating to the establishment of the Veterans Recovery Program to provide certain veterans with hyperbaric oxygen treatment, among others.

Aycock, who chairs the House’s Public Education committee, will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday with the committee to discuss grant funding for special education and potential “flexible school day programs” among others.

Fraser, who chairs the Senate’s Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, will be debating utility and electric issues at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Most of the hard work has been and will continue to be done in committees, where Senate and House members delay or outright discard proposals without enough support to survive while hashing out differences on bills likely headed for full floor votes in each chamber.

The 120-day process is designed to be slow and will remain so until the final day of the session June 1 gets much closer.

House vote today

Still, the House is poised to vote on its first bill this afternoon, a sweeping human trafficking plan that makes it easier to prosecute the crime of forcing minors into prostitution and establishes a special state anti-sex trafficking unit.

The measure is sponsored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Houston Democrat and 43-year House veteran who is among the chamber’s most-esteemed members. But it’s also considered part of a broader border security package — and measures on that topic were exempted from the first 60-day ban on passing bills because Gov. Greg Abbott made it an “emergency item.”

The Senate already passed its first measure — approving a bill and proposed constitutional amendment seeking to use a portion of the taxes collected on vehicle sales to fund road-building. But that too bypassed the 60-day prohibition because Abbott made transportation infrastructure another emergency item.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Courtney Griffin at cgriffin@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7559

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