The 86th session of the Texas Legislature was kicked off at noon on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. As prescribed by the Constitution, the regular session of the legislature will last for 140 days. The last day of the session will be May 27, 2019.
Both the Senate and House were in session on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week. On Thursday, they held a joint session to officially canvas the votes for Governor and Lt. Governor, a formality that paved the way for next week’s inauguration. The Senate and House gave each other the required permission to adjourn for more than three days. They will take off Monday and will be back in session on Tuesday of next week.
Welcoming Senate and House Members – Governor Greg Abbott made welcoming speeches in both the Senate and House chambers on Tuesday. He thanked the members for being willing to serve in the legislature, and he recognized the sacrifice family members make in order for the legislators to serve. He said, “This is a monumental moment for you and the people of Texas. Today is the auspicious beginning of the history we will make. Your constituents put you here for a reason. They want you to come here and make a difference. There are so many things we will do over the next 140 days that will make a difference in people’s lives. . . May God be with you and guide you over the next 140 days as we chart an even better course for the State of Texas.” He discussed his priorities including:
- School Safety,
- Hurricane Harvey Recovery
- Mental Health
- School Finance Reform
- Property Tax Reform
New Senate Members – The Texas Senate has six new members:
- Senate District 6 – Carol Alvarado (D-Houston)
- Senate District 8 – Angela Paxton (R-McKinney)
- Senate District 10 – Beverly Powell (D-Burleson)
- Senate District 16 – Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas)
- Senate District 19 – Peter P. Flores (R-Pleasanton)
- Senate District 30 – Pat Fallon (R-Prosper)
Partisan Numbers – In 2017, the Senate had 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Republican Pete Flores won a September 18, 2018 Special Election Run-off to replace Democratic State Senator Carlos Uresti, swinging Senate District 19 from Democrat to Republican. That brought the count to 21 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The Democrats picked up two seats (Senate Districts 10 and 16) in the November, 2018 General Election. The partisan makeup of the Texas Senate is now 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
The House was convened by Secretary of State David Whitley. He presided over the House until the Speaker was elected. Robert Haney, Chief Clerk of the House, administered the oath of office to all 147 House members. (The House has three vacancies due to the resignations of Carol Alvarado, Joe Pickett, and Justin Rodriguez. Special election information is below.)
Election of Speaker – The first order of business after the swearing in was election of the Speaker of the House. Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was unanimously elected by a record vote of 147-0 (because of the three vacant seats). Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) gave the nominating speech. Seconding speeches were made by Representatives Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), and Eddie Lucio, III (D-Brownsville). Speaker Bonnen was sworn in by U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey of the Southern District of Texas.
In accepting the gavel, Speaker Bonnen said, “I am humbled by the confidence placed in me by my fellow members of this House. I approach my role as Speaker with a great amount of respect for this tremendous institution and for every member who has been sent here to be the voice for their constituents. . . My dad always told us, ‘say what you mean and do what you say.’ So, I’ve never seen the point in sugar-coating things, especially when that might confuse the issue or slow down progress toward a meaningful result.
Those of you who know me well know that I operate with an efficiency and honesty that can leave a mark. I am direct and I am a problem solver. Right now, Texas has a number of problems to resolve and it’s our duty to produce meaningful solutions for all Texans. A Texas Legislative session is way too short to get caught up in things that don’t lead to real results. In a state as big and diverse as Texas, there are plenty of ideas about what we should do on any one issue and these ideas often point in different directions. It is our job to reconcile the differences. This chamber is the perfect place for those ideas to be heard and we must do that with mutual respect and understanding for one another. In doing so, we will justify the trust that our constituents have placed in us to represent them in this great chamber.
The work in this chamber cannot be a zero-sum game. Instead, it is a proven system for finding solutions to the challenges that face our state and our constituents daily but only when we work together. When it became clear that I would have the privilege of standing here today, I made fostering the spirit of collaboration my number one job. My job is simple. I’ll bring passionate people to the table then keep you in the room until we find a solution. That process is going to require a lot of tough conversations, with a little give and take. I can tell you from experience that tough conversations are even tougher when they’re between strangers. Or even worse – adversaries. That’s why I encourage each of us to be intentional about getting to know one another better – to bridge partisan, geographical and social divides in order to learn about the passions that inspired each of us to pursue public service in the first place.” In his speech, Speaker Bonnen outlined his priorities:
- Public School Finance Reform – “We have an opportunity to tackle our #1 priority to fix our state’s broken school finance system and strive to make Texas schools the best in the country. That also gives us the opportunity to show teachers and retired teachers from Amarillo to Anahuac that we appreciate their years of service and investment in the lives of our children.”
- Texas Children – “We have the opportunity to improve the lives of Texas children, from prioritizing early education and improving the CPS system to addressing school safety and the mental health issues that underlie the tragic episodes that have shattered Texas communities and families.”
- Human Trafficking – “We have an opportunity to intensify our fight against the despicable crime of human trafficking.”
- Property Tax Reform – “When it comes to property taxes, we have an opportunity to reform a broken system that is taxing Texans out of their homes.”
- Health Care – “Opportunities abound in health care, whether we’re finding a better way to support trauma care in rapid growth areas like the Rio Grande Valley or educating future medical professionals to fill shortages in our rural communities.”
The Speaker concluded by saying, “Growing up, whenever Greg, Mark, Eleni or I set out on a new endeavor, my father always told us, ‘leave it better than you found it.’ That was my dad’s advice to me on the day I was first sworn in to the Texas House and it would be his advice to me today. Let’s be sure that when we adjourn Sine Die, we leave this House and our state better than we found them.”
Biennial Revenue Estimate – On Monday, Comptroller Glenn Hegar released his revenue estimate for the remainder of fiscal 2019 and the upcoming 2020-21 biennium. Highlights of his estimates include:
- Available Revenue – For 2020-21, the state can expect to have $119.1 billion in funds available for general-purpose spending, an 8.1 percent increase from the corresponding amount of funds available for the 2018-19 biennium.
- Total Revenue – The $119.1 billion available for general-purpose spending represents 2020-21 total revenue collections of $121.5 billion in General Revenue-related (GR-R) funds, plus $4.2 billion in balances from 2018-19, less $6.3 billion reserved from oil and natural gas taxes for 2020-21 transfers to the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) and the State Highway Fund (SHF) and $211 million set aside to cover a shortfall in the state’s original prepaid tuition plan, the Texas Tomorrow Fund.
- Tax Revenue – Tax revenues account for approximately 88 percent of the estimated $121.5 billion in total GR-R revenue in 2020-21. Sixty-two percent of GR-R tax revenue will come from net collections of sales taxes, after $5.0 billion is allocated to the SHF.
- Other Revenue Sources – Other significant sources of General Revenue include motor vehicle sales and rental taxes; oil and natural gas production taxes; franchise taxes; insurance taxes; collections from licenses, fees, fines and penalties; interest and investment income; and lottery proceeds.
- Federal Income – In addition to the GR-R funds, the state is expected to collect $88.7 billion in federal income as well as other revenues dedicated for specific purposes and therefore unavailable for general-purpose spending.
- Other Revenue Sources – Revenue collections from all sources and for all purposes should total $265.6 billion.
- Economic Stabilization Fund – Absent any appropriations by the Legislature, the ESF balance is expected to be $15.4 billion at the end of the 2020-21 biennium, below the ESF constitutional limit of an estimated $18.6 billion.