Just after midnight, the Texas Senate approved its version of a sunset bill to keep the Texas Medical Board that licenses doctors from being shut down this year. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins yesterday, the must-pass sunset legislation is what necessitated the current special session, during which Gov. Greg Abbott is asking lawmakers to pass a number of controversial measures that did not survive the regular session earlier this year. With his initial announcement of the special session starting July 18, the governor said he would not expand the special session call to include other topics until after the Senate had approved the medical board’s sunset legislation.
This morning, Gov. Abbott officially expanded the agenda for the special session immediately after the Senate’s overnight vote, adding his call for bills to increase teacher pay, fund private school vouchers, ban teachers from using payroll deduction for their association dues, and more. View the newly amended special session call in its entirety here.
One new addition to the governor’s agenda is a plea for additional funding for TRS-Care, which is integrated into the item relating to teacher pay and benefits. ATPE and other education advocates appreciated the addition, reflecting that legislators are hearing the complaints of retired educators about their healthcare plans becoming less and less affordable. We also appreciate the lawmakers who have filed bills this special session to address educators’ rising healthcare costs. Click here to read ATPE’s press statement about today’s development to expand the special session scope.
With an expanded call, the Senate is wasting no time in trying to pass several of the governor’s favored bills, including several that are unfavorable for public education. Senators will work throughout the weekend with the following public hearings now scheduled, among others:
Friday, July 21: Bathrooms, Vouchers, and School Finance
Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3 and SB 91, both by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst targeting bathroom usage policies by school districts.
At 10 a.m., the Senate Education Committee will consider Senate Bill (SB) 2 by Sen. Larry Taylor to fund private school vouchers for students with special needs. SB 2 also provides grants for public school districts losing money under the state’s school finance system, but only if legislators agree to allow harmful vouchers. ATPE is urging our members to contact members of the committee and express opposition to the vouchers proposed in this bill. Visit Advocacy Central to learn more and find contact information for the committee.
The Senate Education Committee will also hear SB 16 by Sen. Larry Taylor calling for the creation of a commission to study school finance over the next two years.
Saturday, July 22: Property Taxes, Teacher Pay, and TRS-Care
The Senate Finance Committee will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. to hear SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock to limit state spending, along with SB 19 by Sen. Jane Nelson pertaining to teacher salaries and retired educators’ healthcare costs. Nelson’s bill contains part of the lieutenant governor’s proposal to provide bonuses to experienced classroom teachers. SB 19 calls for deferring state payments to health care entities in 2018 in order to fund a one-time bonus for teachers who have at least six years of experience. The bill would also send an additional one-time payment of $212 million to TRS-Care, but there is no provision in the bill for long-term funding after this biennium. SB 19 also calls for school districts to increase their overall budgets for teacher pay by $1,000 per teacher, but the bill does not provide a funding source and does not ensure that all teachers will receive a pay raise as a result.
ATPE believes that educators deserve increased compensation and benefits, but we oppose unfunded mandates that will place additional burdens on school districts and force many of them to cut other areas of their budgets or lay off staff. We believe the legislature should spend more time developing plans for long-term investments to raise teacher pay beyond a one-time bonus, ways to shore up the TRS healthcare programs, and adequate state funding that will alleviate the pressure on school districts and local taxpayers.
Sunday, July 23: Payroll Deduction and Reallocating Lottery Money for Education
In a rare Sunday committee hearing set for 2 p.m., the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce will hear two bills by Sen. Bryan Hughes to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues payments. Characterized misleadingly by the governor and others as “anti-union” legislation, SB 7 and SB 94 are actually anti-educator bills that would punish school employees while carving out an exemption for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers to continue having their paychecks deducted for labor union dues. The bills are nearly identical to Sen. Joan Huffman’s SB 13 that was considered during the regular legislative session.
ATPE is urging its members to contact the Senate Business and Commerce committee and express opposition to these two discriminatory, politically motivated, and completely unnecessary bills aimed at restricting how educators spend their own money. Visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central for additional information and quick contact tools.
The Senate Education Committee will also meet again Sunday at 4 p.m. to hear two bills relating to use of the state lottery proceeds. SB 97 by Sen. Charles Perry and SJR 1 by Sen. Konni Burton call for a constitutional amendment to force a portion of the lottery money that already goes to public education to be dedicated for teacher salary increases and bonuses.
The above hearings on education-related bills are only a fraction of the committee meetings taking place this weekend. Senators are also expediting hearings this weekend on bills pertaining to abortion, voter fraud, local regulations, and other items on the governor’s wish list for the special session. It will be a busy weekend with Senate floor action anticipated early next week. Democrats in the Senate who oppose many of the controversial issues on the governor’s call have tried in vain to prevent the Republican majority from speeding these bills through the process by the suspension of rules. Senators such as Sen. Jose Rodriguez have argued that they and members of the public are not being given sufficient notice of hearings and time to review the proposed legislation, but their arguments have been ignored.
Meanwhile, the House has also been working its medical board sunset bills through the legislative process and referring other bills to committees. The House Public Education Committee is expected to meet next week to discuss school finance legislation. The governor’s current call for the special session only prescribes legislation to study school finance before the next legislative session, but allows for other bills related to school finance, including those dealing with Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR). House leaders remain hopeful that some meaningful school finance reform and assistance for struggling school districts will come out of this special session.
Please be sure to visit Advocacy Central to stay in touch with your legislators during these critical hearings, and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments from the ATPE lobby team.