On August 15th, the Texas Legislature concluded the first Special Session of the 85th Legislature. Similar to the regular session, the special session was marked by contentious issues. In total, out of the Governor's twenty named items, the eight items below became law.
One notable item is Senate Bill 6, which requires cities to give residents a vote on annexation. During the regular session, I had concerns that this bill could have negative impacts on our military bases that help fuel the economies of San Antonio, Del Rio, and many other Texas cities. Fortunately, in the recent special session, the Texas House added a provision to allow land use regulation around a military base, prior to passage of the bill.
House Bill 7 addresses tree removal regulations in cities and requires cities to provide credits to individuals or developers who plant new trees. I voted no because I have concerns that the legislation does not take into account all of the factors that cities consider when creating their tree removal ordinances, and the bill did not satisfy the concerns of our military bases.
Senate Bill 5, which attempts to reduce mail-in voter fraud, goes into effect December 1, 2017. In doing so, it creates new penalties. While I agree with this intention, I opposed this bill since it could mean an individual who unintentionally marks a mail-in ballot is punished to the same degree as someone who commits a violent crime.
Another piece of legislation, Senate Bill 11, will be effective on April 1, 2018. Senate Bill 11 provides requirements for issuing do not resuscitate (DNR) orders in hospitals and for notification of relatives. While the bill has good intentions, I voted against it because of the limitations placed on a doctors' ability to follow a patient's end of life wishes by prescribing how oral instructions must be relayed to a physician and by allowing for relatives to revoke a DNR order if the patient is incompetent, even if that patient had previously conveyed their wishes.
Additionally, Governor Abbott signed three bills related to abortion. House Bill 13 and House Bill 215 add reporting requirements for abortion providers, while House Bill 214 requires women to purchase insurance coverage for abortion separately from their general health insurance policy. I voted against these bills given that they could restrict access to care, and there was no data available to support whether they would improve care or safety.
House Bill 21 and House Bill 30 address school finance and health insurance for retired teachers. These bills provide a stopgap until the Legislature returns by providing funding to schools affected by the loss of ASATR funds and by providing a one-time payment to the health insurance system for teachers (TRS Care). These were two priorities that my constituents asked for, and I fought hard to secure. However, I believe we must do more to fix our school finance system and to continue to ensure our retired teachers can afford the health insurance we’ve promised them.
There were some bipartisan bills passed during this special session. These include the continuation of the maternal mortality task force, Senate bill 17, and of essential state licensing boards, Senate bill 20 and Senate bill 60.
Given most of the Governor’s priorities did not pass, there is a chance the legislature will be called back for an additional special session. A special session costs taxpayers millions of dollars, and I would hope that if the legislature is called back, we are able to tackle real problems facing our state, not just those that look good on a campaign flyer.