The 85th Legislature
Austin – Today is Sine Die, the last day of the 85th Texas Legislature’s Regular Session. State Sen. Jose Rodríguez passed 50 bills addressing education, health care, courts, criminal justice, local governance, and more. This week, Sen. Rodríguez will provide news bulletins on specific issues and bills that passed. Today, Sen. Rodríguez releases the following statement regarding the session:
Today is the last day of the 85th Texas Legislature, which ended without passing a required bill to keep some state agencies in operation. Therefore, we will require a Special Session. There will be time to talk about that in the days ahead. Today, we take a look at the Regular Session.
As the primary author or sponsor, I passed 50 bills and concurrent resolutions this session, as well as amended several additional measures onto other members’ bills. The legislation:
- puts a stop to the TEA “target,” which effectively acted as a cap on the number of students accessing special education programs;
- promotes parental and public participation in the federally mandated body that provides guidance on special education services and rules;
- ensures that military members who are deployed or relocated have more time they need to advocate for their children’s special ed services;
- provides a pathway to a high school diploma for students who did not pass the TAKS test but otherwise meet standards set by curriculum;
- creates a statewide program to help deal with the problem of illegally dumped tires, which are a health hazard and eyesore for communities everywhere;
- maintains El Paso County’s ability to collect hotel-motel taxes, which are used for economic and community development purposes;
- establishes the Tom Lea Trail across the state of Texas;
- makes Mental Health First Aid Training available for university employees;
- allows juveniles in TJJD to stay closer to home for behavioral health services;
- and updates public housing law.
I also helped secure funding for Senate District 29 priority items, including:
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center-El Paso received $142 million for the biennium, including a rider to establish the dental school;
- UTEP received $229.2 million for the biennium, including continued support for the pharmacy school;
- EPCC received $63.6 million for the biennium;
- Intelligent Transportation System: Authorization for $32 million for a system to streamline commercial traffic at the Zaragoza Bridge and Bridge of the Americas;
- McDonald Observatory: $5.2 million for the biennium;
- Rio Grande Compact / Texas-New Mexico Water Lawsuit: $500,000, and allowance for increments of $1 million;
- 8th Court of Appeals District, El Paso: $3.374 million for the biennium; and
- adds resources to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for inspection of farmworker housing.
However, this legislative session began with a focus on the wrong priorities¾ anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-abortion legislation ¾ and ended with the failure to address school finance. While we did not stop S.B. 4, which will have severe ramifications for the state, we did stop some of the other anti-immigrant proposals, such as the “baby jail” bill that would have put the state stamp of approval on substandard private, for-profit immigration prisons that hold women and children.
We also worked to stop proposals that would have:
- diverted public school funds to private schools via vouchers; and
- targeted teacher unions and other state employee unions by forbidding automatic payroll deduction for dues, making it more difficult for members to support the organizations that advocate for them.
While some “school reform” proposals passed, we were able to work with the majority to make the bills better.
We also stopped a bill that would limit local government’s ability to fund their needs by establishing low thresholds for tax rollback elections. This is a double whammy on local communities, whose property taxes are driven largely by schools. Yet the state favors tax cuts over school investment. Property taxes are high because of the state’s failure on school finance, and the so-called “property tax reform” on the table does nothing to address that.
Once again, we committed nearly $1 billion in General Revenue funds to the Department of Public Safety in the name of “border security,” a nebulous concept that successfully has driven political campaigns but has little hard data behind it to justify the enormous amounts of funding and paramilitary buildup in border communities.
Along the way, we were able to help CPS with needed reforms, as well as add $500 million for nearly 600 new caseworkers. We applied $990 million from the ESF for local grants, state hospitals, capital needs and other onetime expenditures. And we put an additional $350 million for the Teacher Retirement System
In the end, this Legislature will be defined more by the divisiveness on social issues and anti-immigrant fervor than by the good work we accomplished. As long as I am here, I will continue to fight for opportunity and equality under the law, and against discrimination.