AUSTIN (Nexstar) — One day down, 139 to go. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the start of the 140-day legislative session aiming to focus on the meat and potatoes issues. Legislative leaders have promised to tackle public school funding and property tax reform at the top of the list.
“We’re coming into a legislative session that is very important, one where we seem to be focused on the issues we need to be focused on,” Austin Democrat Kirk Watson, who was elected President Pro-Tempore of the state senate on Tuesday by his peers.
Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said she sees unity as the legislature convenes.
“I think we’re going to see the House working well with the Senate and vice versa and I’m excited to see the priorities of school finance and property tax reform, which of course go hand in hand.”
Across the rotunda, the Texas House buzzed with the election of a new Speaker in Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen.
“School finance property taxes, these are complicated issues that can not wait; pressing issues that deserve a meaningful result,” he said.
In a speech on Tuesday, Bonnen said he bought new cups for the members lounge bearing the message, “School finance reform: The time is now.”
“You will be reminded every day,” he told lawmakers.
Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, said he was encouraged by the desire by House members to get “back to the basics.”
“We’ve got a full agenda and I’m looking forward to getting to work on it,” he said, explaining that he is working on legislation that would improve highways in his Permian Basin district and protect victims of domestic violence.
Bonnen, for the first time publicly, outlined a list of issues he hoped lawmakers would address this year.
“Other things he said that we hadn’t heard before, human trafficking, CPS reform, early childhood education,” Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, said. “I’m really excited that this speaker started today talking about real issues that Texans are facing.”
Also on the agenda in Austin, a focus on healthcare.
“I’m going to be filing a package of bills looking at increasing transparency in our healthcare arena, putting power back in the hands of healthcare consumers and getting a better handle on where the costs for our pharmaceutical drugs are coming from so that we can actually take steps to address and hopefully slow down the escalator ride that keeps going up and up and up,” Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, an anesthesiologist, said.
“As a physician, I’m always looking to improve patient-centered healthcare,” Sen. Buckingham said.
“The opioid crisis is terrible, we are looking at ways to improve that, to identify the people who are abusing those drugs, and who are selling those drugs and get them off the streets so that will continue to be an area of focus,” Buckingham added.
This session is the first in Texas since the deadly shootings at a Sutherland Springs church and Santa Fe High School. Several lawmakers are already working on legislation to improve public safety in the state. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she is pushing a bill that focuses on mental health for students, “adolescents and younger.”
“I feel so strongly we need to pass (the bill) to make sure we’re providing for the needs of young people with mental health problems,” she said Tuesday.
State leaders advertise the “booming economy” as a reason for business owners and prospective residents to move to the Lone Star State. Lawmakers aim to keep Texas job growth on an upward path.
“We attract new business, we’re keeping low taxes, low regulations, having a good education system, making sure people want to move here,” Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, said. “A lot of the states they’re fleeing, it’s because they’ve over-regulated and overtaxed them.”
Speaking to lawmakers Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott laid out other priorities for the next five months of work in the Capitol.
“We must address the challenges of shootings that take place in our schools to make sure that schools are a safer place for our kids,” Abbott said. “We must respond to the damages and challenges posed by Hurricane Harvey, as well as other storms, and we must address and face up to the challenge of mental health in our time.”
One day down, 139 to go.