© 2024 Marfa Public Radio
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Lobby Hours: Monday - Friday 10 AM to Noon & 1 PM to 4 PM
For general inquiries: (432) 729-4578
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Texas Legislature adjourns its fourth special session, stalling on vouchers, teacher salaries

According to a new poll, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican running for a third term, is leading Democrat Beto O’Rourke by five percentage points.
Gabriel C. Pérez
According to a new poll, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican running for a third term, is leading Democrat Beto O’Rourke by five percentage points.

Texas lawmakers adjourned on Tuesday, ending the state’s fourth special session of the year without passing most of the items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s wish list despite spending a month debating the measures.

Among the dead proposals is one that would have created education savings accounts in the state. The school voucher-like program — one of Abbott’s top priorities this year — would have given taxpayer dollars to parents to pay for private and parochial school tuition for their children.

Despite Abbott’s pressure on lawmakers to pass such a measure, a coalition of Democratic and rural Republican members in the Texas House successfully removed the provision that would have created ESAs from an education omnibus bill.

Their actions ended up killing the entire proposal, which also included funds to increase salaries for teachers. The Texas Senate advanced a stand-alone voucher bill of its own last month, but the Texas House chose not to take it up.

What passed

While Abbott’s sought-after education proposal didn’t make it over the finish line, the Texas Legislature did pass a controversial anti-immigration bill that is almost guaranteed to be challenged in court.

Senate Bill 4 would make it a state crime to enter into Texas illegally from a foreign country. Under the legislation, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, crossing illegally would be considered a Class B misdemeanor.

The measure also empowers local and state law enforcement to arrest unauthorized migrants and take them before a judge or county magistrate. Law enforcement would also be allowed to order migrants to return to a port of entry into Mexico, regardless of their country of origin.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called SB 4 “the strongest border security bill Texas has ever passed” earlier this month.

The passage of SB 4 is a win for Republicans in the Legislature after they failed to pass similar legislation in previous sessions.

But TRUST, a coalition of advocacy, religious, and business organizations, said the measure would “usurp federal authority and spend billions of our tax dollars to target our families, friends, and neighbors.”

“This legislation doubles down on Governor Greg Abbott’s abuse of state authority to implement failed deterrence initiatives that discriminate against immigrants and communities of color,” the group said in a statement last month. “Experience shows that these kinds of policies have widespread and devastating impacts, encourage racial profiling, and violate migrants' fundamental human rights.”

Another immigration-related bill — a proposal allocating more than $1.5 billion for border security measures — was also passed by lawmakers. Most of that money will go toward the placement of buoys, concertina wire and other barriers on the Southern border. The legislation also allocates $40 million for officers in the Department of Public Safety participating in Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s border security initiative.

Property tax cuts in limbo

During the last few days of the fourth special session, Texas senators rushed to pass a measure that would shorten the time frame to challenge a constitutional amendment election.

Senate Bill 6, filed by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was filed Friday in response to a handful of lawsuits filed by far-right activists challenging Texas’ November constitutional amendments election.

“If this bill is not passed, and if this case is slow in the courts … that means the property tax cuts that Texans are expecting are in jeopardy,” Hughes told senators last week.

The lawsuits also put cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers in limbo.

SB 6 would expedite a trial challenging a constitutional amendment election, and it would apply retroactively to elections that happened on or after Nov. 1, 2023.

But the House chose not to take up the measure. House Speaker Dade Phelan said his chamber ran out of time.

“The Senate has proposed an entirely new bill with only five days of session — knowing full well there is not enough time to get it passed and sent to the Governor’s desk,” Phelan tweeted on X, formerly Twitter, Friday.

But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on Friday Phelan had five days “but falsely says he doesn't have time to pass these bills. All he has to do is call the House back at any moment or, if needed, suspend House rules to pass these bills on Tuesday.”

This is the latest fight between Patrick and Phelan — both leaders have sparred on social media all year long over school vouchers and property tax cuts.

Copyright 2023 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Haya Panjwani