There is not much of a summer break for state lawmakers. They are heading back to Austin for a 30-day special session, which begins a week from today at the state Capitol. Governor Greg Abbott made the proclamation Monday, and he has put 20 bills on the special session call for lawmakers will look into.
State legislators will go over a wide range of issues, but a big priority for the local legislative delegation is education.
"The funding for our public school systems. Our neighborhood schools obviously rely on the funding from the state," said Rep. Abel Herrero, District 34, D. "We as a state legislative body need to accept the responsibility that is ours through the Constitution to provide funding for our public schools."
Four education items are on the special session call, including school finance reform. Today both Representative Herrero and Senator Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa told the Corpus Christi Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers they support that item.
"There is an annual growth of 80,000 new students every year [statewide]. We need to do more in terms of providing a quality education for our kids, and also providing a good work environment for our teachers," said Sen. Hinojosa, District 20, D.
"One of the biggest challenges is the property taxes and the way we distribute money for our schools throughout the state," he continued. "The way it should work, it should be wherever a student attends school, whether it's in Dallas, Corpus Christi, that student ought to receive and equal amount of funding for that child's education. And right now the way the system is set up is very unfair, because there's not equal funding for our students depending on where they live."
Although Sen. Hinojosa and Rep. Herrero support school finance reform, they have concerns about some of the other education items on the session call. For example, they do not want teacher raises to become mandatory if the state will not fund that.
"I certainly do not want to provide and pass legislation and create an unfunded mandate to local communities, which means the local property tax payers would have to pay for it," Sen. Hinojosa said.
Representative J.M. Lozano also wants to more public school funding to help get more Texans college educated. As the Chair of Higher Education, he explains the state has a goal that by the year 2030, 60 percent of 24 to 25 year-old adults must have a degree beyond high school. Right now only 36 percent of that group has a higher education degree.
"We are really on the verge of moving towards an unattainable goal if we don't increase funding," said Rep. Lozano, District 43, R. "When a high school student goes to college the first year is critical. In order for them to be prepared for college level math and biology and chemistry, they have to have in their schools the adequate funding levels."
Other topics on the session agenda include the so-called 'Bathroom Bill,' which would restrict restroom access for transgender people, and a ban on taxpayer dollars funding abortions. Lawmakers will also look into voter fraud, limits on local government, and statewide property tax cuts.
Calendars Chair Representative Todd Hunter determines which items go to vote, so he cannot speak about his priorities yet, but he says statewide issues will impact the Coastal Bend.
"A lot of the local control issues, you have an annexation bill that is going to be looked at, you're going to have property taxes that are going to be looked at. There's even one that basically has focused on the city of Austin, but could affect many cities, which deals with tree cutting," Rep. Hunter, District 32, R, said. "Some of them are directed to local governmental entities, and that would impact the City of Corpus Christi and the City of Port Aransas."
Lawmakers can file more bills during this special session in addition to the Governor's agenda, and many are already doing that. Legislators expect it to be a busy month at the state Capitol.
Here are 20 items on the special session call:
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