From rabbit meat to nuisance chickens to guns at the school board, the 86th Texas legislature has already begun tackling the problems that plague our state with over a thousand newly filed bills—and it’s only been a week. Here are five issues in session which Texas conservatives should keep on their radar.
For years, Texas conservatives have put property tax reform at the top of their legislative to-do list. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen have especially come out against the state’s notoriously high property taxes, which rank 14th in the country. Texas has no statewide property tax; currently, property taxes are gathered locally, outside the control of statewide voters. Lifelong homeowners, such as elderly homeowners on fixed incomes, commonly lose their homes to tax foreclosures. Last Wednesday a senate resolution created the new Senate Committee on Property Tax to address the growing problem. Supporters hope that the new committee will take tangible steps to make property tax reform more than a conservative daydream.
State Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) also introduced a bill which would authorize local governments to replace property taxes with a “supplemental sales and use tax,” which cities would impose after eliminating the property tax to make up for any lost revenue. The bill aims to provide tax relief and help homeowners guard their equity by shifting local government costs to sales taxes. While it would necessarily result in a slight sales tax increase, Krause’s bill would mean people pay more for things they choose and less for their own homes.
State Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) filed a bill to allow counties to create healthcare provider participation programs in counties not served by a hospital district or public hospital. While aimed at increasing access in rural areas, the bill would avoid new taxes by collecting funds from hospitals in the same area, thus draining already needy communities of existing resources and burdening hospitals where they are most scarce.
Many conservatives in Texas look to the deregulation of nursing as a way of expanding healthcare access. A house bill filed last session by State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) and endorsed by some members of the Texas Freedom Caucus proposed deregulating the use of nurse practitioners who are subjected to hefty contract fees and other restrictions that drive up clinic prices. Past sessions saw similar attempts to unlock nurses from costly restrictions, an idea currently supported by the Coalition for Healthcare Access, a group which includes the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation as well as AARP and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. Authorizing advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) to practice with full authority would allow patients more options and would lower clinic costs for the rural and low-economic areas in which healthcare is especially expensive and scarce.
Several lawmakers in this session have proposed making marijuana legal in different capacities. Two bills, SB 90 and HB 209, would legalize marijuana for medicinal use. One joint senate resolution proposed an amendment to the constitution which would legalize cannabis entirely. Both ideas, medical legalization and entire legalization, include heavy regulation and taxation of cannabis. Introducing a new market ripe for taxation makes the cannabis issue more cut-and-dry for Democrats than for Republicans. Legalizing marijuana theoretically can cut down on our nonviolent prisoners and deal a blow to cartels. Criminals convicted of possession can potentially serve years-long sentences for a victimless crime. Others argue that simple decriminalization, rather than legalization, can solve the prison problem while still keeping a dangerous substance out of as many hands as possible. Even others point out that criminals serving long sentences for possession typically have pleaded down from not-so-victimless crimes, and that the criminalization of marijuana gives prosecutors a common bargaining chip. In the end, the marijuana issue strikes a fine divide between liberty and order, and conservatives in the Texas legislature will be forced to choose between these two pillars of their principles.
State Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) filed a bill which would amend the occupation code to prohibit doctors from conducting abortions not intended to save the life of the mother, remove an ectopic pregnancy, or ensure that at least one child of many unborn children is born healthy. If passed, Swanson’s bill would mean a major victory for pro-life advocates in Texas. Pro-life legislators are seeking to capitalize on two laws passed in the Texas legislature in 2017, one which protected doctors from suits in the case of babies born with birth defects and another which would require doctors to make sure an unborn child is dead before conducting dismemberment abortions.
One proposed senate bill would ensure that firearms confiscated from the mentally ill should be returned within thirty days if the owner may otherwise lawfully possess firearms. Especially now when the definition of mental illness continues to expand, the bill may act as a preemptive defense against growingly popular suggestions to prohibit the mentally ill from owning weapons. While the mention of mental illness tends to conjure up dangerous conditions like schizophrenia, a mental illness prohibition would keep people with conditions as benign as depression or anxiety from protecting themselves. The silence of liberal ‘ableism’ activists on this issue is deafening, and conservatives should continue support the lawful second amendment rights of all citizens.
More broadly, another bill would institute constitutional carry in Texas. Thanks to lawmakers in the last session, Texans can now carry bladed weapons without restriction; this bill, known as the Texas Constitutional Carry Act of 2019, would effect the same freedom for firearms. Firearm owners would be allowed to carry any weapon without a permit. Texas would not be the first; other states like Alaska, Vermont and New Hampshire have already beaten us to the punch, without the catastrophic results predicted by liberal pundits. In addition to being perhaps the clearest interpretation of the second amendment, constitutional carry would eliminate the costly process of permits, allowing poorer people to defend themselves more easily.
Citizens have a little over a hundred days of session left to keep an eye on Bonnen and their lawmakers. Since former House Speaker Joe Straus stepped down and Republicans elected Bonnen as the new speaker, conservatives have their first real chance since 1993 to act fast without top-down obstruction, and they would be wise to take it.