Legislative Issues Could Last Longer Than Regular Session

Texas lawmakers get ready to meet in Austin tomorrow for the start of the 83rd legislative session. They'll be tackling some highly contested issues. Lawmakers anticipate they'll be at the state capitol longer than they'd like.

Fiscal responsibility, education reform and health care are the leading issues that lawmakers will tackle, with more than 250 bills were filed just last week. But first thing’s first: A supplemental budget must be approved to address issues put on the back burner last session, like money owed to the school districts and Medicaid.

This is Democratic state Senator John Whitmire, he was speaking on the phone on his way to Austin.

“Because we didn’t have enough to serve the people two years ago, we cut the budget $15 billion dollars. Our class sizes are going up; our enrollments are being capped. We don’t have a mental health system. Our parks system is shutting down parks. That’s just not the school that I came from. I think you look and see what you need to provide, then you find the resources.”

He says the only thing lawmakers are required to do is approve a budget.

“People say, ‘How much money do we have?’ I like to start with what are our basic needs we need to provide, and then I would go find the money. Obviously, I’m in the minority, because my Republican colleagues run the place, and they start out saying, ‘Okay, we have this amount of money. We’re just gonna have to make it stretch.'”

Democratic Representative Sylvester Turner is vice chair of appropriations. The budget is priority one, because everything flows from the budget, whether its health care or education.

“And then, we’re in a court battle over public education. We’re waiting for the court to decide whether or not what we appropriated to education last time was constitutional or not. If the court should say what we did was unconstitutional, then that’s gonna create a challenge and we will probably be in a special session dealing with school finance.”

While an initial ruling on that legal challenge may come quickly, it will stay in the court system as an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. A ruling won’t come until the Legislature has adjourned.

Turner says there will be issues that get bi-partisan support, but:

“In this legislative session, there will be more new legislators coming in than in a long, long, long time. Fifty percent of our members will be either second term or starting their first term. And so that’s going to offer pluses and some challenges.”

He says he’s hopeful that people will come to the table with a willingness to look at the issues and work in a bi-partisan fashion.

Efforts to reach several Republican lawmakers from the Houston area were not successful.