- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - When the Texas Legislature last convened on June 1, 2015, Donald Trump was still two weeks from announcing his White House run. The former Bruce Jenner was gracing the latest cover of Vanity Fair to reintroduce herself to the world as Caitlyn. And it would be another season and a half before the Cubs would finally stop being loveable losers.

The world looks very different as lawmakers return to work Tuesday. A prolonged oil price slump has cooled Texas’ economy considerably, the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage has seen conservatives shift their attention to transgender bathroom issues and President-elect Trump’s vows to wall off the U.S.-Mexico may redefine law enforcement in South Texas.

All that means a host of new issues - and some rekindled ones - should dominate debate inside the Texas Capitol. Here are some key ones to watch:



Top Republicans have vowed to extend budget-busting tax cuts approved in 2015, but state revenue lost from the foundering energy sector means the Legislature may be $5 billion short of the funds needed just to preserve current services. That may trigger spending cuts since the state is already facing steep unreimbursed Medicaid costs and has committed nearly $150 million to fixing its troubled foster care system.

Classroom advocates fear that education funding could be squeezed first, but promised tax cuts ultimately could evaporate, too.



Republican lawmakers have proposed bills to outlaw “partial-birth” abortions, ban terminating pregnancies after detecting fetal abnormalities and requiring that fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages be cremated or buried. But traditionally white-hot policy clashes over abortion may be overshadowed this year by “bathroom bill” floor flights.

Championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the measure would force transgender Texans to use the public bathroom corresponding to their “biological sex” while prohibiting local ordinances that might have allowed them to choose which bathroom they use.

Patrick proclaimed that he and some of the state’s most-powerful conservative leaders were “on the right side of history.” However, business groups warn that passing such a bill and others like it could cost the state billions in lost revenue and thousands of jobs - pointing to the national uproar and widespread boycotts that rocked North Carolina after it approved a similar measure last year.

Democrats see the bill as an attempt to deny the civil rights of transgender Texans and have vowed to thwart it at all cost.



Some top Republicans have suggested that Trump’s promise to build a wall the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, and crack down on anyone who still makes it into the country illegally, could help Texas reduce its border security spending. That’d be welcome since the Department of Public Safety wants more than $1 billion in the next state budget for border security - a massive request even if the state weren’t facing such a tight budget.

Many conservatives also hope Trump’s election will revitalize “sanctuary cities” bills giving local police more power to enforce federal immigration laws. Proposals doing that passed the Texas House and Senate at separate times in the past - but never became law.

There also will be a renewed push to overturn what was once a popular and bipartisan 2001 law offering in-state college tuition at Texas public universities to some high school graduates who came to the United States illegally.



Last session was very firearms friendly, with lawmakers approving license holders to openly carry handguns and to bring concealed guns onto college campuses. Though proposals doing so have been filed, there should be little appetite for taking the next step this session to “constitutional carry” which would allow virtually any Texan to openly carry guns without a permit.



Some bills have turned heads early, even if their impact - or chances of becoming law - aren’t great. There are proposals to exempt Texas from federal gun laws and to let firefighters and other first responders carry guns on duty. One bill would make the Bowie knife the official state knife and another seeks to fully decriminalizing marijuana - even though Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear when signing a 2015 law legalizing cannabis oil to treat epilepsy patients that the state would take no more even baby steps toward easing restrictions on pot.

Then there’s a refiled proposal dismissing Texas from daylight saving time. A bill doing the same thing nearly passed the House last session until it was pointed out that approving such a law might mean that kickoffs for out-of-state Dallas Cowboys games could clash with church back in Texas - prompting support to vanish faster than Dez Bryant can finish the 40-yard-dash.

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