AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The closing days of Texas’ legislative session usually mean political chaos, with some lawmakers scrambling to finalize pet proposed legislation and others working just as hard to block bills they despise.
But this year’s final week looks to be a relative cakewalk.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus announced a budget deal that includes $3.8 billion in tax cuts, ending weeks of impasse featuring dueling Senate and House spending plans.
The governor’s other top priorities, billions of extra dollars for pre-kindergarten programs, border security and improving the state’s traffic-clogged roads and highways, have all won bipartisan support. After a Senate fight that stretched late into Friday night, open carry of handguns is just a few steps away from legalization.
Meanwhile, potentially contentious calls for stricter immigration laws have fizzled. And ideological battles on gay marriage and abortion appear to have been settled, with majority Republicans claiming small victories but not really clamoring for more.
Even the tea party, famous for shaking up the status quo, appears marginalized. A coalition of leading grassroots groups put out a scathing statement declaring that Abbott, Patrick and Straus failed to deliver on top conservative promises, including securing the Texas-Mexico border, stronger prohibitions on abortion and gay marriage and school choice via vouchers.
Potentially damaging for Patrick, who founded the Legislature’s tea party caucus, and Abbott, who is ever mindful of his right flank, the statement garnered little initial attention - then was further overshadowed by late-night word of a budget deal.
The end of the session is still eight days away, and it’s dangerous to make predictions until the final gavel falls. But 2015 looks more likely to end with a yawn than a bang at the state Capitol.
Here are some last-minute issues to watch:
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING: A statewide ban on using hand-held devices behind the wheel cleared the House weeks ago but is one vote short of having enough support to reach the Senate floor, amid skepticism from Libertarian Republicans. The proposal may not pass, and even if it does, the impact won’t be earthshattering. Almost every other state in America has beaten Texas to approving texting-while-driving bans, and local ordinances mean that most state residents already live in areas where it’s forbidden. Also, clearing the Senate doesn’t guarantee that Abbott will sign a statewide ban into law. His predecessor, Rick Perry, vetoed a similar measure in 2011, saying government shouldn’t regulate the behavior of adults.
“PARENT TRIGGER:” A push to make it easier for parents to shutter struggling public schools has cleared the Senate but not yet made it to the House floor. Texas law already allows so-called parent trigger, where a majority of parents in a school district can petition to make administrative changes or even close schools in five years. But this pending proposal would shorten that timeframe to two years.
UNION PAYCHECK DEDUCTIONS: A proposal barring many public employees from deducting union dues from their paychecks won Senate approval, but stalled in House committee amid Democratic stall tactics and criticism from top Republicans that the bill is poorly drafted. The plan could live on as an amendment and is therefore isn’t totally dead, but doesn’t have enough time to survive as a stand-alone bill.
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