Senate, House begin budget reconciliation process
The Texas Senate unanimously approved a $308 billion two-year budget last week, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The next step is to reconcile that budget with one passed earlier by the Texas House.
The Senate’s budget funds $10 billion in electric grid reforms, provides pay raises to state employees, and devotes more than half of its budget to funding education.
“Over the next few weeks, I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate and the House to reach a consensus on the differences between the two chambers, and I look forward to sending the final appropriations bill to Gov. (Greg) Abbott before the legislative session ends,” state Sen. Joan Huffman, R- Houston said in a statement. Huffman chairs the finance committee.
The main difference in the two budgets is in how to provide property tax relief. The House version dedicates $17.3 billion to cutting the annual amount a home’s appraisal can increase, from 10% to 5%. The Senate budget allocates $16.5 billion for property tax relief by increasing the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, with added breaks for homeowners 65 and older.
Medicaid expansion for new moms possible
The Texas House has passed a bill that allows low-income moms to stay on Medicaid for a full year after childbirth.
The Texas Tribune reported that is a marked increase from current practice, in which postpartum Medicaid expires two months after birth in Texas.
The bill has widespread support, including from Gov Greg Abbott and more than 170 groups in the state across the political spectrum. However, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has not publicly stated his position on the measure.
Texas has the largest uninsured population in the country, with nearly 1 in 5 Texans lacking health insurance, the Tribune reported.
“As I have said before, it is essential that the Texas House makes meaningful progress this year on better supporting mothers and children in the state — and that starts with extending health coverage for new moms to a full year,” House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said previously when outlining his priorities for the legislative session.
Bill bans ‘sexually explicit’ books in school libraries
The Texas House last week passed a preliminary measure that requires vendors to assign a rating to books with sexual content before selling them to school districts, The Dallas Morning News reported. The measure requires one more vote in the House before heading to the Senate, where it is likely to pass.
“This bill is about radically sexual content in the hands of unaccompanied children in public school libraries,” state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, the bill’s sponsor, said from the House floor Thursday.
Opponents to the measure are concerned it would lead to books about LGBTQ people being banned from libraries. About a dozen people with the Texas Freedom Network held a read-in on the Capitol rotunda’s floor as the bill was being debated.
State Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas, is one of eight openly LGBTQ legislators. He said the bill would hurt children who grow up feeling out of place because of their sexual orientation.
“I remember going to my school library looking for books when healthy conversations with my loved ones were not always available or always comfortable,” Jones said. “What I was looking for was materials that spoke to me and for stories of the people who came before me.”
Billions more for university research likely
Billions of dollars for higher education research appear likely as two bills have passed the House, the Statesman reported. One measure changes the name of the National Research University Fund to the Texas University Fund, while another proposes a constitutional amendment to enact the bill and allocate $3.5 billion to the fund.
Both bills were filed by state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood.
“This is a transformative piece of legislation that will allow Texas for generations to come to be the intellectual capital of the world,” Bonnen said last week. “It changes the eligibility requirements for access to this fund, and it does so in a merit-based approach and in an approach that, as other universities grow and enhance their research performance, they will be able to access this fund and not dilute the ones that are currently in the fund.”
Similar measures have already passed the Senate, though that body allocated $1 billion less than the House measure.
‘Lights out’ across Texas helps birds migrate
The annual migration of birds through Texas to northern breeding grounds has begun, and Texans are urged to help by turning off outdoor lights at night from now through May 12, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Bird mortalities are associated with light pollution, which disorients our winged friends. One of every three birds migrating through the United States comes through Texas in the spring and fall – nearly 2 billion in total, according to TPWD.
Texans can help by:
• Turning off all nonessential lights from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. during this migration period.
• Not using landscape lighting to illuminate trees or gardens where birds may be resting.
• Aim security and safety lighting downward.
• In commercial buildings, ensuring custodial work is done by 11 p.m., and lights are turned off.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senate, House begin budget reconciliation process