There was plenty of action over the weekend for state lawmakers in Austin, as Senators debated and ultimately advanced several controversial bills toward a final vote.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wants to see Senators pass all 20 items on the Governor Greg Abbott’s special session agenda by the week's end. Here are the top three KHOU is watching:
- One of the controversial bills approved out of committee would outlaw cities' restrictions on using a cell phone while driving. Even though Gov. Abbott recently signed a statewide ban on texting while driving, more than 40 Texas cities, like Sugar Land, will only let drivers talk on a cell phone if it's hands-free. The governor says getting rid of those bans would keep drivers traveling between different cities from getting confused by the laws.
- Another hot-button issue is voter fraud. On Sunday a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would set up several measures to prevent voter fraud using mail-in ballots. It also toughens penalties for certain offenses related to that. Most people who spoke at the capitol were for it, though some critics thought the penalties too harsh.
- At number one: teacher pay. A bill approved by committee today would give nearly $200 million for teacher bonuses and pump more than 200 million into state-run health insurance for retired teachers starting in September 2018. It would also require school districts to bump up teacher pay by $1,000 starting in September 2019. That’s a big raise, and some teachers worry other services may get cut to pay for those raises.
Senate committees also advanced bills on property tax reform, overriding local tree ordinances, and banning public employee payroll deductions of union dues, just to name a few.
The full Senate could vote on some of these items, and others, like the “bathroom bill, as soon as Monday.