Teacher protest

The Texas American Federation of Teachers holds a rally March 11 in support of public education at the Capitol.

The biggest change in the Legislature this session was the shift in who the lawmakers fear most.

Just a few years ago, the Tea Party wave put the most conservative factions of the Republican Party in the pilot’s seat. For several legislative sessions, word that those restive activists were watching a vote could — and sometimes did — influence what the Legislature was doing and how it was talking about issues.

But another faction, focused on public schools, has come into power, turning the heads of Republican leaders. A 2018 election put more Democrats in office, changing the temperature in the Capitol. And a fat state bank account made it possible to do the kinds of expensive things that lawmakers rarely get to do.

Many issues dear to the far right got only fleeting attention from the 86th Legislature. Lawmakers passed a bill protecting babies born alive after abortion attempts — a rare circumstance — that was a political goal of anti-abortion groups. But the state didn’t join in efforts — like those in Missouri, Alabama and Georgia — to pass “heartbeat” abortion laws limiting legal abortions to the first few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. They did succeed with legislation barring cities from doing business with groups that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.

Another skirmish in the culture war was waged via the so-called Chick-fil-A bill, with lawmakers ultimately passing a watered-down measure preventing public entities from acting against businesses and people on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. And an effort to throw out municipal non-discrimination ordinances undermined an otherwise surefire bid to ban sick-leave laws passed by local governments.

Proposals to allow gun owners to carry guns without permits — an idea popularly known as constitutional carry — fell apart after an enthusiastic advocate decided to help the cause by visiting the private homes of legislators while those legislators were in Austin. The lawmakers saw that as threatening behavior and shut down both the visits and the legislation those visits were intended to promote.

Budget writers temporarily threw another $100 million in spending at the Texas-Mexico border, adding it to — and then quickly deleting it from — the appropriations bill on the last weekend. The governor’s office wanted to put emergency money into those efforts but needed to tap into the state’s rainy day fund to do it; that grab was blocked by Democrats in the House.

The big new spending item in the next budget is the $11.6 billion going into education and property taxes — a number that includes, to the delight of the right and others — $5 billion for property tax relief. Lawmakers hope that will show up as an 8-cent reduction in your school property taxes the first year, and a 13-cent reduction the second year. Some Democrats would rather have spent that money on public schools, but that was the compromise. State leaders tried, at one point, to sell everyone on a sales tax increase that would pay for a property tax cut, but the swap turned out to be unpopular on a bipartisan basis. It never came up for a vote in either the full House or the full Senate.

The success of the education/property tax package is testament to the last elections. Everyone in the Legislature was hearing about property taxes from Texas homeowners and businesses. And the cultural conservatives who’ve dominated Republican primaries for the last decade were effectively shunted to a political siding this time as the education train moved through.

The House had a new speaker, but that’s not enough to turn a government around. It takes some turned heads in the other two offices — governor and lieutenant governor — to get the change in the direction Texans saw in their Capitol this year.

More voters showed up last November, and while Texas remained red, it was less red than recent history led people to expect. Republicans nervous about Democratic advances were looking over their shoulders and thinking about the 2020 election cycle.

Noisy suburban Republicans demanded more attention on the public education systems that drew many of them to the suburbs in the first place; some Republican incumbents had unexpected turbulence in their elections. That turned heads, too.

And the comptroller started this legislative session with good news for anyone seeking solutions to expensive political problems like schools and property taxes: The state had plenty of money — at least for the next two years.

Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This analysis originated at texastribune.com. Contact Ramsey at rramsey@texastribune.org.

(5) entries

PJBM626

We need baby protection . Dems want to kill them at birth

natives5

Your inflammatory rhetoric does not help anyone. The Democrats do not want to kill babies at birth. How many children have you adopted and supported that have been placed into the foster system?

sailfish

Inflammatory rhetoric?! Are you kidding me? I guess the truth is uncomfortable to hear.

natives5

Just because trump tweets it does not make it true. Educate yourself.

susieq62

Totally agree. I am still hoping that before raising taxes on the people. That our legislature will stop being so close minded to the legalization of bringing Hemp back as an agriculture crop, which will definitely create an increase employment opportunities. Then use the production of Hemp in every aspect it can be used in fabrics that we now get from foriegn countries,and the cannibais will create jobs as well as all the other revenues and taxable income from the sale of a much healthier choice for pain than what we are seeing from the aftermath of the use of opiates. So please write your congressman, because we have a much better choice than drug rehabilitation paid for by our states funds, a d raising taxes on the American people. Thank you and I appreciate your time.

Sign the guestbook.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.