Budget day in the House: Texas lawmakers keep anti-DEI proposal
By Karen Brooks Harper and Zach Despart, The Texas Tribune
“Budget day in the House: Texas lawmakers keep anti-DEI proposal” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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The Texas House on Thursday hammered out a $302.6 billion proposal for how the state will spend taxpayer dollars over the next two years.
[How could Texas spend its record $32.7 billion surplus?]
House Bill 1 passed on a vote of 136-10, with a handful of Democrats and two Republicans, Rep. Tony Tinderholt ofArlington and Rep. Brian Harrison of Midlothian, voting against it.
The plan pushes some $136.9 billion in general revenue to some of the state GOP leadership’s biggest priorities for the next two years, including $17.5 billion for property tax cuts, $5 billion in new money for schools and $4.6 billion on border security.
The budget plan also leaves tens of billions of dollars in unspent general revenue available to them after record-breaking tax collections left the state flush with more cash than ever before. That includes a $37.2 billion surplus higher than the entire budgets of 24 states.
Lawmakers debated the 979-page bill for more than 12 hours. There were hundreds of amendments, which led to votes on issues ranging from school choice to abortion. Read more about the bill and its final passage here. And read more about the issues debated below.
Watch live video of lawmakers debating the budget
Democrat tries to force Texas Medicaid expansion in supplemental budget bill
In a break from recent tradition, Democrats had not proposed an amendment seeking to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, which would extend health care benefits to more low-income Texans. But Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, forced the issue by proposing an amendment to the supplemental budget bill, Senate Bill 30.
“We are being incredibly short-sighted by not taking advantage of this opportunity that Texas has,” Turner said.
Historically, Republican state leaders have opposed expanding Medicaid because they believe residents should get health care through their employers. Nearly 18% of Texans do not have health insurance coverage. Turner’s proposal failed along mostly partisan lines, 83 to 65.
House grants preliminary approval to budget after nearly 11 hours of debate
The House has concluded 444 pages of amendments for the budget, a process that took more than 10 hours. About 40 amendments were adopted, some were withdrawn or defeated and the majority were moved to Article XI, the portion of the bill where items are left unfunded. When they finished, the members granted preliminary approval for the bill on a voice vote.
Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said he would vote no because the budget does not sufficiently cut property taxes. Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, spoke in opposition to the budget, saying it does not spend nearly enough on public education. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, the Democratic leader, said he opposed the budget for similar reasons but gave his blessing for other members of his caucus to vote for the spending plan.
The chamber will now consider supplemental spending in Senate Bill 30 before returning to the main budget for final passage. — Zach Despart
House votes to keep anti-DEI measure in budget
Despite emphatic pleas to reconsider, House Democrats failed to convince their Republican counterparts to remove a rider from the House budget that would ban public higher education institutions from using state funding toward diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
The rider, which was attached to the House budget in committee and filed by Rep. Carrie Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, says that no state funds can be used “for diversity, equity, & inclusion practices or similar programs, including personnel, training or activities.”
Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, filed the amendment to strike the rider. She argued it would lead universities to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they would be discouraged from providing services for certain groups, such as English language learners, for “fear of being quote-unquote inclusive.”
The amendment failed in an 83-64 vote against it. Two members were absent.
“What we’re saying is all you people here who now have a place at the table, all these communities who fought and bled and sometimes even died to have a seat at the table, we are now being told [to] get up and leave. Leave this table, you are no longer included,” Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said on the House floor.
Democrats’ inability to get the rider removed signals that supporters of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives face a steep uphill battle to keep those offices and programs in place on public university and community college campuses.
A similar rider was approved in the Senate version of the budget. Lawmakers have also filed multiple pieces of legislation attempting to curtail diversity programs and initiatives on college campuses. Senate Bill 17, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities, would prohibit DEI programs and training on campuses. The bill has a hearing in the Senate subcommittee on higher education Thursday.
Supporters say these offices and programs have been established on college campuses over the past few decades as universities have tried to make sure they are helping all students, including underrepresented students, students of color, first generation college students, veterans and students with disabilities feel welcome and supported to succeed and ultimately graduate. But critics have said these DEI initiatives, particularly in hiring, have gone too far and are political litmus tests. Faculty and students at Texas universities have said that characterization is inaccurate. Similar legislation filed in the House has not yet received a hearing.
— Kate McGee
Subdued budget atmosphere after House members ax hundreds of amendments
Democrats prepared for a partisan beatdown in the GOP-dominated House chamber, but they avoided a public bloodbath when, in a sweeping move early in the day, lawmakers from both parties dropped hundreds of previously planned challenges to parts of the 979-page budget.
In doing so, they seem poised to skip public debate on three-quarters of the nearly 400 pre-filed amendments members submitted earlier this week.
It was a parliamentary maneuver that allowed the outnumbered Democrats to avoid outright defeat on some of their efforts, which would have included defunding Abbott’s border mission Operation Lone Star.
And it benefited House Speaker Dade Phelan, House Appropriations Chair Greg Bonnen and the rest of the House members by allowing the chamber to, at least by midday, avoid some divisive votes on politically tricky issues during the budget process — although many of those are likely to pop up in future floor debates over other legislation.
The budget is the only thing the lawmakers are constitutionally required to do during the session, and budget leaders often try to keep the bill clear of issues that could bog them down during the arduous process.
Most of the scuttled amendments went into an unfunded wishlist to be considered during budget negotiations behind closed doors later in the session, including $4.2 billion in supplemental checks and pay raises for some 123,000 retired state employees.
A number of amendments by North Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, were pulled down or delayed when Slaton was marked absent from the House floor for the entire day. Those amendments ranged from defunding the Texas Commission on the Arts to directing Comptroller Glenn Hegar to include statements about abortion, gun rights and defining genders in his tax policy e-newsletter. They also included an attempt by Slaton to name county morgues after President Joe Biden.
The removal or delay of a huge chunk of anticipated floor fights means that the normally fiery atmosphere in the House chamber during budget debates is subdued — and that most of the handful of floor changes that have happened so far were made with little or no discussion.
The amendments that had passed by midday included creating a grant program for kindergarten readiness, training first responders on how to handle the deadly drug fentanyl when they encounter it on the street and increasing the oversight of how state money was spent on the botched prosecution of the El Paso Walmart shooter.
— Karen Brooks Harper
House passes amendment opposing school vouchers
An amendment opposing school vouchers and similar programs passed by a wide margin, 86-52, a bad sign for school choice advocates.
A coalition of almost all Democrats and a group of Republicans voted in favor of a proposal from state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown.
A group of Republican school-choice advocates attempted to table the vote, suggesting they were worried they would lose an up-or-down vote. That turned out to be the case. This coming week, the House Committee on Public Education will consider several bills that would implement some form of school choice, allowing tax dollars to be used to send children to private schools.
A coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans have traditionally opposed this.
— Zach Despart
House rejects amendment that would have given teachers a bigger raise
The House voted 79-66 to reject an amendment by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, that would give teachers a more generous raise. Martinez Fischer, the Democratic leader, proposed taking $4 billion of the proposed $12 billion in property tax breaks and instead use it to give teachers an estimated $10,000 raise over the next two years. State Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, said the current budget plan would give teachers a roughly $3,800 raise. Fellow Republican state Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston noted that teachers pay property taxes, too, and would also benefit from the planned tax break.
Lawmakers approve $80 million for crisis pregnancy centers
The House tossed tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to crisis pregnancy centers that have been taking on more pregnant clients now that abortion has been largely banned in Texas.
“They desperately need this significant increase in funding to keep up with demand,” said state Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, author of an amendment that earmarked $80 million in general revenue to the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program. “The demand is there. The need is there.”
The funding passed on a mostly party-line vote of 88-59 in the first recorded vote of the day, with some Democrats joining their GOP colleagues to pass the measure some three hours after the House began considering the bill.
Most Democrats objected, with several arguing the centers don’t offer actual health care and are largely unregulated.
“Why should this body be investing more funds in a program that has very little accountability and is not shown to actually help women and families when we have good programs and good options, like funding our social support networks that are already in place?” said state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood.
— Karen Brooks Harper
Budget amendment approved seeking stricter oversight of El Paso shooter prosecution
The House unanimously adopted an amendment by Rep. Joe Moody that would increase oversight over how state funds have been used in the botched prosecution of the perpetrator of the 2019 El Paso mass shooting at a Walmart.
Moody, an El Paso Democrat and a former prosecutor himself, said he was disappointed to have to propose the amendment but said it was spurred by incompetence of the county’s district attorney’s office.
Facing possible removal from office, District Attorney Yvonne Rosales resigned last year.
More than three years after the shooting, the suspect has yet to stand trial.
— Zach Despart
Hundreds of amendments pulled as debate gets underway
Texas House budget leaders have laid out most of the details of HB 1, the $302.6 billion budget bill they’re planning to debate all day and much of the evening.
The bill, known as the “General Appropriations Act” in state law, proposes spending $136.9 billion in general funds on a host of Republican leadership priorities, including property tax cuts, teacher pay raises and increased mental health services.
Shortly after House Appropriations chair Greg Bonnen laid out the bill, some 250 proposed amendments — more than half of those that were up for consideration — were removed from Thursday’s agenda. No reasons were given for those proposed changes to the budget.
Those measures, which included efforts to defund the Texas Commission on the Arts in favor of programs like mental health for veterans and alternatives to abortion, could still be considered by the Texas Senate or in later negotiations.
The author of those amendments, Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, was excused from the House floor on Thursday but the reason for his absence was not immediately clear.
Lawmakers have an unprecedented surplus
The Texas House has an unprecedented amount of cash to work with as they hammer out a $302.6 billion budget, including a historic $32.7 billion cash surplus, and hundreds of ideas before them on how to spend it.
The budget bill serves as the jumping off point for Thursday’s floor debate. Among its marquee items are $16.7 billion for property tax cuts, as well as money for raises for current and retired teachers, and boosts in funding for state mental health services and school security programs.
But House members have already prefiled nearly 400 amendments that could be debated, including swapping out funding for their own priorities or creating new laws and legal definitions within the language of the bill.
Proposed amendments range from adding more money for public schools to banning funding for private school voucher programs and targeting drag shows on college campuses.
At the end of a day expected to last 15 hours or more, if a majority of the House’s 67 Democrats and 83 Republicans can agree on a plan, they’ll send it to the Texas Senate for the upper chamber’s chance to craft its own proposal.
Near the end of the session, the two chambers will attempt to hammer out their differences and, if they succeed, send a compromise to Gov. Greg Abbott.
Passing a balanced budget is the only constitutional requirement for the Texas Legislature, which winds up its session at the end of May. In Texas, state lawmakers meet every two years.
— Karen Brooks Harper
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/06/texas-house-budget/.
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