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Bill Filings Begin: Four Things to Look for in the 2015 Texas Legislature

Liang Shi for KUT
The Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 13, but what will lawmakers be considering?

It's that time of the biennium.

The 84th Texas Legislature is just a few short months away, and state lawmakers are already filing their bills for the first Rick Perry-less session this side of the millennium. So far, the bills include legislative pet projects like texting and driving bans, open carry initiatives and tax cuts. Other proposals target tougher statewide issues like transportation funding and state budgeting.

You can find a roundup of issues that state lawmakers are considering below.

Where We’re Going We Need Roads

Transportation funding continues to be a concern for lawmakers, and the first day of filing brought a few bills aimed at directing as much money as possible into the transportation budget. None of the initial methods focus on increasing taxes or revenues, a key selling point in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

One constitutional amendment proposition would make sure every single dime from registering your vehicle actually goes to roads and transportation issues in the state, instead of some of the diversions that we have in the budget that take that money elsewhere.

Transportation was a key interim charge in both the House and the Senate and these initial bills give us a peek at how the issue’s going to be tackled this session.

Immigration (In)Action

Texas once again became a focal point on immigration policy earlier this year after an influx of unaccompanied migrant children across the U.S.-Mexico border, so much so that Gov. Perry even sent Texas National Guard troops to the border. But this year’s filings don’t quite reflect the typically strong stance from state lawmakers on immigration in Texas.

Usually, bills range from barring undocumented immigrants from state services to expanding who can check a person's immigration status are filed early. This year, the bills so far aren't aimed directly immigrants, instead – there are a few bills to require state contractors to use the E-verify system to check a worker's legal status were turned in. And another bill that would require the Texas Comptroller and Attorney General to send a bill to the Federal government for reimbursement of border security costs.

The early bills don’t match the typical bluster of sessions past, but these are early filings – lawmakers could still have a bill or two in their back pockets.

A Franchise Tax Phase Out and a Budget Cap

Republican lawmakers aren’t exactly set in stone on the fate of the franchise tax – some are calling for repeal, some are calling for a gradual phase out and others are calling for both. However, the early filings indicate a push to pullback on the tax come January, and lawmakers are likely to reach consensus before the lege wraps up in May, barring a special session.

Additionally, McAllen Democratic State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and his Republican counterpart Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler filed a bipartisan bill to place a cap on the state’s budget appropriations that would be proportional to the state’s growth in tax revenue, unless the legislature votes to raise that cap.

Campaign Promises

Naturally, these types of bills are to be expected in any legislature of any stripe, and this year is no different. Many of the bills follow national ideological trends that Democrats and Republicans used on the stump.

State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, filed both a minimum wage bill and a constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage statewide. Texting and driving is another perennial favorite. The bill passed in 2011, but Governor Rick Perry vetoed it. Now, we have a new governor this time, so maybe there’ll be a different outcome if that bill’s able to get to the governor’s desk again.  Additionally, there are bills repealing the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. 

The legislature first passed a bill allowing Texans the right to carry concealed handguns in 1995 during Gov. George W. Bush’s first term. Lawmakers lowered renewal regulations last session, but, over the last two sessions, failed to pass laws allowing concealed carry on college campuses. This year a bill from Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would give Texans the right to carry handguns in full display if they’ve been cleared for a concealed handgun license by the Department of Public Safety.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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