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Texas House Gives Preliminary Approval to Budget Bill After Hours of Debate

KUT News
Lawmakers debated the House budget bill, HB1, all day and night of March 31, 2015.

At 5:39 a.m. Wednesday, the Texas House gave preliminary approval of its state budget bill for 2016-2017.

House lawmakers spent nearly 18 hours going through amendments that would add or take away spending, hot button issues included, and passed the budget on a vote of 141-5.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. John Otto, explained at the beginning of the debate that the roughly $210 billion budget is $2 billion dollars under the state’s constitutional spending limit, which allows for tax cuts that will get approved this session, he said.

"We know that’s going to happen," Rep. Otto said. "So this budget is prudent to allow that."

That breathing room also helps the House negotiate differences with the Senate budget writers later on.

Just one of the hot topics Tuesday was border security. Republican State Rep. Matt Schaefer wanted to make sure state troopers will get paid for overtime, working 10-hour days at the border as part of a law enforcement surge there.

"Essentially their plan falls apart if we don’t put this in the budget," Schaefer said. "So my concern is why would such a vital piece of our border security plan not be represented as a priority in HB1?"

But Otto said it is a priority in HB1, the budget bill, and said the House budget put roughly $565 million toward border security funding. He also said the overtime dollars would be addressed with Senate lawmakers, too. 

Lawmakers filed more than 350 amendments, many on controversial issues like abortion, gay marriage and the gender pay gap. Funding for full-day pre-kindergarten – one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative priorities – got added to a wish list, which means it will also be brought up with Senate writers.

One Republican lawmaker tried, unsuccessfully, to cut money to fund film industry projects in Texas. Democratic State Rep. Sylvester Turner said that money not only creates jobs, it creates faith-based jobs.

"'Angels Scenes at Christmas movie,' 'Beyond the Father's Star,' 'Faith Under Fire'...There have been many, many faith-based films that have been funded through this program. I would ask after we settle down, emotions settle down, look at the fiscal returns to this program.

They also approved diverting $3 million from prevention of HIV and STDs to abstinence-only sex education. That proposal came from State Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a Republican from Kaufman, who shared on the House floor that abstinence worked for him until he was 29, when, as he told Houston Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton during questioning on the amendment, he lost his virginity to his wife. 

Later today, the House is expected to give final approval to the bill and approved amendments before sending it over to the Senate.

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