AUSTIN, Texas – Work is beginning for Texas lawmakers as the 86th legislative session got underway Tuesday.
- 86th legislative session
- 400 bills filed by lawmakers
- Big issues include school safety, funding
Texas legislators have filed more than 400 bills leading up to their first day back to work after the holidays. Among the bills getting a lot of attention are those focused on school funding, school safety, and Hurricane Harvey disaster relief.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking to the Senate Tuesday, said his list of priorities includes school safety, Hurricane Harvery recovery and mental health. In addition, Abbott said: "We are going to solve school finance reform and property tax reform in Texas this session."
House Joint Resolution 24 proposes to add a constitutional amendment requiring the state to pay for at least half the cost of funding for public schools.
Several bills have also been filed addressing school safety. The bills would require schools to have at least one counselor, kits to help control bleeding, and more funding for the School Marshal Program.
Hurricane Harvey recovery is also back in the forefront for this session. So far, relief efforts have cost the state $2 billion, but a big part involves subsidizing school districts where enrollment significantly dropped. Lawmakers will have to decide how to pay for that along with there the state will get the money.
Before lawmakers could move forward, they first chose Texas' next House Speaker. Since Texas' former House Speaker, Joe Straus decided not to run for re-election, seven people have tossed their hats into the ring.
However, shortly after the November elections speaker candidates started dropping out of the race and Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, announced he had the votes to become the next leader of the lower chamber.
Bonnent was elected as Speaker of the House with a 147-0 vote. Three seats remain vacant. Bonnen even went as far as to replace cups in the members’ lounge with ones that read 'School Finance Reform. The Time is Now.'
"We have the opportunity to improve the lives of Texas children," said Bonnen at the podium.
Both Republicans and Democrats say they're committed to fixing a broken school finance system.
"When the Speaker announced that he had the votes back in November, the first thing he said was school finance reform, and that's the mantra. That's what he's lived up to and the great news is the Governor believes that. We believe the Senate believes that," said Republican Rep. Dan Huberty.
"I think that's all of our priorities. So, we're ready to work on that issue and not be distracted by wedge issues," said Democratic Rep. Donna Howard.
Now lawmakers wait for Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Bonnen to give committee assignments. Lawmakers are required to get all of their work done for the legislative session in 140 days.
In the Senate, Kirk Watson was elected president pro tem.
Stay with Spectrum News as we break down the biggest issues facing the 86th legislative session.