School Vouchers, Voter ID & Bathroom Use on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Agenda This Session
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently released his top 10 priorities for the 2017 legislative session. And now with several hundred bills filed, we have some glimpses of how he plans to meet his goals.
Let's Get Fiscal
Patrick wants a balanced budget, which is mandated by the state's constitution. So, while low oil prices could lead to difficult choices, the budget must balance.
He'd also like to see lower property taxes for homeowners and businesses. That could be tougher since the state relies on those taxes to pay the bulk of its education budget. And, speaking of education, he'd like to see a voucher program passed. The program would allow parents to use tax dollars to move their kids to a different public school, or pay for private schools.
Patrick wants to eliminate so-called sanctuary cities. President-elect Trump has issued a similar call. The problem there, how do you legally define sanctuary cities.
“There isn’t really a specific definition," UT Law School Immigration Clinic's Elissa Steglich said. "It’s certainly not codified anywhere, or appearing in law."
Which means passing that definition could be first up for Patrick. A bill that defines what law officers must do when they encounter someone who’s in the country illegally has already been filed.
Voter ID, again
Patrick also wants to redo the state's current voter photo ID law. That law has been temporarily rewritten after federal courts found it was discriminatory. Even though that court case hasn't ended, Patrick has made photo ID a priority. The Brennan Center's Jen Clark is part of that ongoing court case.
"I hope that the legislature pays attention to all of the complaints, including a subsidiary lawsuit that came from voters throughout the course of early voting and Election Day about just kind of mess and confusion of this law on the ground," Clark said.
Another priority that already has a bill filed, would ban the sale of fetal tissue and outlaw late term abortions. And finally there's the issue that has pushed Patrick into the national spotlight: bathroom use.
Patrick has spoken often and loudly about his fear that allowing transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity will make women and children unsafe. He wants a new law to mandate that people use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.
Chuck Smith is with Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group. He says the effort can only be used to discriminate, since people are already protected.
"It is factually true that there are laws on the books that already make it illegal for anyone to enter any public facility with the intent of doing any harm or any illegal act," Smith said. "And, if and when those occur, those people should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
The chance of Patrick passing his priorities in the Senate are pretty high, but then it's on to the House, which may or may not agree. After that, he'll need a signature from the governor.