AUSTIN — The Friday deadline has passed.
In most cases, no more bills can be filed now, and Texas lawmakers have until June 1 to make their bills become law. The Legislature has what it has, and with thousands of bills, it has a lot.
Some topics of legislation have tremendous momentum behind them: transportation, certain prekindergarten education improvements and tax cuts.
Other topics may be a high priority for leadership, but they also may see a fight — such as open carry of handguns and bills that would impact undocumented immigrants.
In a Capitol better suited for killing legislation than passing it, such bills may have a tough road, observers said.
Cal Jillson, a political science professor with Southern Methodist University, noted that in a relative time of plenty, there is a hunger for tax relief.
“The thing that people always say is that the only bill that has to pass is the budget,” Jillson said. “There is always a lot of interest around that, but this year I think it’ll be pretty intense discussion because the desire to cut taxes of Republican leaders seems to get out in front of how many resources it would take for education funding, roads and water.”
For instance, Senate Bill 1 and SB 7 of state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would collectively offer $4 billion in tax relief by raising the homestead exemption and reducing the state business tax. SB 1 and SB 7 both have more than 21 primary authors out of 31 senators.
On the transportation front, with Texas needing about $4 billion more per year in road funding, lawmakers want to take funds from the motor vehicle sales tax and stop certain agencies from taking money that would otherwise go to state highway funding.
The big bill to do that, which already has gotten the Senate’s blessing, is SB 5 from Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.
“I think it will have a good chance of passing,” Jillson said.
He noted that the House might be more cautious because such bills can appear to take money from one pocket and shift it to another.
“While it looks like you’ve got a fairly flush budget cycle, the general fund begins to look quite lean very quickly,” Jillson said.
Lawmakers such as state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who has put forward House Bill 4, also may work out a program to improve pre-K, an issue that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott campaigned on.
It’s a modest proposal, Jillson said.
“No one is talking about fully funding pre-K for Texas 4-year-olds or even Texas 5-year-olds,” he said.
Something will happen on pre-K, although whatever spending is approved may not be enough to please Democrats, said Mark Jones, a political science professor with Rice University.
“If the question is, will there be some type of increase in spending on pre-K, the answer is almost certainly yes,” Jones said.
A massive amount of momentum also is behind border security, Jones noted.
After last summer, when thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America flooded the southern border, Gov. Rick Perry called in the Texas National Guard to help the Texas Department of Public Safety handle law enforcement tasks.
Since then, Texas has wondered how to keep a long-term presence on the border.
House Bill 11, from state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would hire more officers and allow for 10-hour work days; create a special reserve of retired officers to help; enact more serious penalties for smugglers; create new checkpoints for vehicles going south; and set up a multiagency border crime information center run with the help of local law enforcement.
“Border security and property tax relief seem to be getting a lot of steam behind them,” Jones said.
Epicenters of conflict
Overall, the session has been cordial, said Bill Miller, a government lobbyist in Austin.
He said there may be more acrimony later, as there is every session, when the workloads are bigger and when the House and Senate start hearing each other’s bills. The Senate has been considered the more conservative body compared with a more moderate House.
However, for now “it feels cordial with an undercurrent of stress,” Miller said. “Every session has a personality. This one hasn’t been fully developed yet.”
Even so, “I think everyone is committed to a good outcome,” he said.
While most every bill may have room for argument, “on the more dicey front we’re likely to see some greater conflict and fireworks in the areas of open carry and campus carry once it reaches the House,” Jones said.
He predicted open carry, being allowed to carry a gun visibly, will pass while campus carry might not if it doesn’t include a provision for campuses to opt out.
The question will be: “Is this one of the battles that Speaker (Joe) Straus (R-San Antonio) wants to fight?” Jones said.
In the Senate, Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has a major open carry handgun bill, SB 17, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, has SB 11, a major campus carry bill.
Another complicated issue may be proposals to end so-called “sanctuary cities.” A sanctuary city is one that adopts policies that allow the municipality to become a safe harbor for immigrants in Texas illegally.
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, has a major sanctuary cities bill, SB 185, that would stop local governments from adopting policies that would keep law enforcement from enforcing immigration laws.
“This will be an issue that is easily portrayed, and not without some good reason, as anti-immigrant legislation, which is interpreted as anti-Hispanic legislation,” Jones said.
Even then, it might be preferable to have such legislation going than a bill that would remove in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, Jones said.
In other words, the state may pick a less bitter poison.
Matthew Waller covers state news as the Scripps Austin Bureau chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @waller_matthew.