The Texas 85th Regular Session by the Numbers, by Trish Bode, Client Communications and Research Analysis, HillCo Partners
The 85th Session was comprised of:
- 140 days
- 150 House members, 31 Senate members, 1 Governor who had a total of 5 emergency items for must pass legislation, 1 Lt. Governor with 30 legislative priorities who later declared 2 as must pass legislation - SB 6 (Bathroom/Privacy) & SB 2 (Property Tax)
- 1 House Speaker who listed several priorities he had including addressing school finance
- 6631 House Bills and Senate Bills filed - a record number of bills filed
- 1211 House Bills and Senate Bills passed - the lowest amount passed the finish line since 1995
- Over 1000 education bills filed with about 100 bills reaching the governor's desk
The 85th Legislative Session has been described as one of the most contentious legislative sessions in Texas history. Heavily divisive topics such as sanctuary cities, abortion, voter ID, bathrooms and religious freedom caused emotions to boil over and for various groups to express their frustration through passionate protest, as well as a hijacking of the legislative process. At the same time, there were some high points and key initiatives that gained momentum.
School finance played a starring role during the 85th Legislative Session but ultimately did not make it to the finish line. This is the farthest a school finance bill has moved through the legislative process in several decades without a court order. House Bill 21 (Huberty) passed out of the House with significant bi-partisan support but was altered significantly in the Senate, so much so that the House could no longer support the bill. Ultimately, the bill died in conference committee because the two sides could not reach agreement on issues such as Education Savings Accounts and charter facilities funding.
Other finance-related topics of interest for TEGAC members included:
- High Quality Pre-K Funding: Unfortunately, Pre-K grant funding in the form of House Bill 4 from the 2015 session has been discontinued but the high quality language still exists in school districts' formula-funded Pre-K programs. Districts will now be required to demonstrate that 15% of their Pre-K formula funding is going towards high quality practices.
- School Finance Interim Commission - Senate Bill 2144 (L. Taylor) would have established a 15-member commission to study school finance during the interim. While the bill did not pass, the topic has been added to the governor's list of priorities for the July 2017 special session.
Teacher preparation and student pathways were also considered during the 85th Legislative Session. TEGAC's various advocates were highly visible and helped to set the tone for meaningful legislation, as well as future interim discussions. Additionally, TEGAC-funded research was disseminated throughout the Capitol and served as a useful tool during the session.
As we write this update, the Texas Legislature is preparing for a special session to begin on July 18, 2017. Twenty items have been listed as priorities for Governor Abbott, including topics such as school funding, property tax reform and local ordinances. Expect to receive updates from us throughout the process. And on that note, thanks very much for the opportunity to keep TEGAC members updated.