Senator José Rodríguez files Special Session education bills; Also files equality and ballot access bills
Austin – Sen. José Rodríguez has filed a number of bills for the upcoming Special Session, which begins on Tuesday. The bills filed address the most important issue that should be central to the Special Session, school finance, as well as ensuring that the state does not sanction discrimination against LGBTQ Texans, and providing greater opportunity for mail-in ballot voting while ensuring ballot integrity.
Details and comments by the Senator are as follow:
- S.B. 40 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Menendez, Watson, West, Whitmire & Zaffirini (comprehensive school finance reform): This bill provides a long-term solution for school finance reform by removing inequitable provisions not based on actual costs, increasing funding for vulnerable student populations, and updating the system as a whole to ensure all our children will get a quality education.
“It is long past time for comprehensive school finance reform, something that not only is necessary but is supported by an overwhelming majority of the public and legislators,” Rodríguez said.
- S.J.R. 6 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Menendez, Watson, West, Whitmire & Zaffirini (requires state to provide 50 percent of school funding):This joint resolution provides for a constitutional amendment that will require the state to pay its equal share of the operating costs of public schools.
“The State is increasingly funding schools on the backs of local property taxpayers, while at the same time, complaining about high local taxes. True tax reform must take into account the main driver of property taxes – schools, which are the State’s constitutional obligation. In fact, the State’s share of the base funding for schools has decreased from 43.5 percent in 2015 to 37.7 percent in 2019. To address this, I have filed legislation that would require the State to fund at least half of our schools’ operating costs. This would dramatically reduce local property taxes and help ensure quality education for all Texas students.
- S.B. 41 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Menendez, Watson, West, Whitmire & Zaffirini (increases bilingual education weight): This bill increases the ELL education funding weight from the current weight of 0.1 to 0.25. This funding weight has not been updated since 1984. Updating it would alleviate achievement gaps, expand dual language programs, reduce recapture payments, and help the almost one million students that need additional services.
“The investment in our students is an investment in our future,” Rodríguez said, regarding funding weights. “This is long overdue.”
- S.B. 37 by Rodríguez (teacher stipends): This bill creates a $500 stipend for those with at least three years of experience, and $500 for those in TEA-determined shortage areas. These stipends would take effect in 2019, since this was not budgeted for in the current biennium. To attempt to implement the stipends now would constitute an unfunded mandate on schools, forcing either local tax increases or cuts elsewhere.
“Quality teachers are the backbone of our education system and we need to recruit and retain the best, especially in the areas of math, science, bilingual education, special education and career and tech that are currently in short supply,” Rodríguez said.
Equal rights for LGBTQ Texans
- S.B. 38 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Hinojosa & Whitmire (comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination): This bill prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of housing, public accommodation, employment, and state contracting.
- “Discrimination of any kind runs counter to the values of opportunity, personal faith, and freedom that all Texans hold dear. However, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community still have experiences of discrimination in Texas, without any recourse at law,” Rodríguez said. “There are examples across the state of LGBT people being denied housing for themselves and their family, losing a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identify, or being denied service at business held open to the public.
“Discrimination is also bad for business. An inclusive Texas is crucial to recruiting and retaining talent, attracting entrepreneurs and company relocations, and maintaining a strong travel and tourism industry.
“S.B. 38 will ensure that all Texans can live in our great state without fear that they will be denied the same protection afforded their friends and neighbors, simply because of who they are or whom they love.”
- S.B. 36 by Rodríguez (absentee voting by mail): Current law limits mail in ballots to voters who have a disability, are 65 years old or older, in jail but otherwise eligible, or will be out of town Election Day. Mail in ballots reduce long lines at the polls, ensure greater access to the ballot, and have been proven to be reliable. Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia offer “no excuse” absentee voting, which does not require an applicant to provide an excuse to request a mail in ballot. California, Oregon, and Washington were the first to pass this law in the 1980s, and studies from early 1990s showed an increase in voter turnout.
“I hope any discussion about reforming mail in ballot fraud will include proposals to expand access for the vast majority of eligible voters,” Rodríguez said. “Texas consistently ranks on the bottom in terms of voter turnout – eighth to last in 2016 – and that is the real problem when it comes to our election reform.”
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus. He is Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs, and a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development, Transportation, and Veteran Affairs & Border Security.