Capital Highlights: Abbott gives lawmakers initial marching orders for special session

by | Jul 19, 2017 | Uncategorized

By Ed Sterling

Director of member services at the Texas Press Association

Gov. Greg Abbott on July 10 issued a formal proclamation for the special session that begins July 18, directing the Texas Legislature to extend expiration dates for the Texas Medical Board and other state boards that regulate psychologists, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors and social workers.

Abbott said he plans to issue a supplemental proclamation further directing lawmakers to pass another list of items he previously announced. The areas of legislation would:

— Reform laws governing ad valorem property taxes;

— Increase average salary and benefits of Texas teachers;

— Establish a statewide commission to study and recommend improvements to the current public school finance system;

— Preempt local regulation of the use of hand-held mobile communication devices while driving; and

— Deal with the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms and changing rooms (also known as the “bathroom” bill).

On July 13, Gov. Abbott applauded Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, for holding a press conference to express his support for the special session agenda. “My office,” Abbott said, “has been working with lawmakers in both the Senate and House these past six weeks, and if these items do not get passed, it will be for lack of will, not for lack of time.”

One of the ideas laid out by Patrick is a tiered salary increase schedule for active and retired teachers. Patrick suggested that pay increases would rely on the reallocation of funding by local school districts, because the state already spends 53 percent of its budget on public education.

The Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities reacted to Patrick’s suggestion, saying, “If state leaders are really concerned about property taxes, they should increase the state’s share of public school funding.”


Abbott to seek 2nd term

With sights trained on the 2018 general election, Gov. Abbott announced his candidacy for a second term as the state’s chief executive on July 14 in San Antonio.  His current term expires in January 2019.

In January, Lt. Gov. Patrick announced he would seek a second term at his current post. Mike Collier, a Houston businessman and a Democrat, announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor on March 2. In 2014, Collier challenged incumbent Glenn Hegar in the race for state comptroller, receiving 37 percent of the vote to Hegar’s 58 percent.


Revenue is distributed

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on July 12 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts almost $680 million in local sales tax allocations for the month of July, an amount 9 percent more than in July 2016.

The cities of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Midland and Odessa saw noticeable increases in sales tax allocations, Hegar said.


Paxton praises decision 

Attorney General Ken Paxton on July 7 lauded a federal court decision to dismiss a complaint lodged by three University of Texas at Austin faculty members regarding Senate Bill 11, the state’s 2015 law that allows firearms to be carried on campus.

In their lawsuit, Paxton said, plaintiffs claimed the law would stifle class discussion in their courses.

The U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas granted Paxton’s motion to dismiss the case. “The fact that a small group of professors dislike a law and speculate about a ‘chilling effect’ is hardly a valid basis to set the law aside,” Paxton said.


Agency names finalist

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on July 12 named Bryan attorney Adrian Bentley Nettles as the lone finalist to serve as the agency’s executive director.

Nettles, if confirmed by the state Senate, would succeed Sherry Cook, who retired in late May. In April, Cook and other agency officials underwent robust questioning by the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics, after news of their out-of-state travel and meetings expenses was made public.

“This selection is the first step in restoring the public’s trust and making TABC a model of public service, transparency, and accountability,” said TABC Chair Kevin J. Lilly.


Trump names Combs

President Donald Trump on July 10 announced his intent to nominate Susan Combs as assistant secretary of the Office of Policy, Management and Budget in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Combs, who owns and operates a ranch in Brewster County, served as Texas comptroller from 2007 to 2015, commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture from 1999 to 2007, and as a state representative, 1993 to 1996.

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