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Less than four months before the first day of the 2023 legislative session, Texas lawmakers and Republican and Democrat candidates presented their vision on how to spend their 140 days together on Friday.
More than a dozen legislative leaders spoke on Friday during a series of panels at the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival.
With the likely total control of the state government, Republicans will have the opportunity to promote a conservative agenda. Among the topics that will dominate the session are immigration and the border, abortion and education. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and Senate will have little legislative power to limit the whims of their Republican colleagues, but they hope to compromise on some issues.
Here are five insights from the political panels for the next legislative session.
Governor Greg Abbott’s bus schedule has drawn attention to the border, but lawmakers say there has been little relief.
Amid a record number of border crossings between the United States and Mexico, Governor Greg Abbott took the step of transporting migrants by bus to major Democratic-led cities to draw attention to the matter. He has sent more than 10,000 migrants to Washington, DC, New York and Chicago.
His action has drawn praise – and imitations – from Republican leaders across the country and criticism from Democrats for using migrants as political pawns.
Local border community officials on both sides of the corridor agree that there is a problem that needs to be addressed but diverted as to how to address the problem.
“Most people are pretty frustrated. There’s a lot of anger out there, “said former state senator Peter Flores, a Republican from Pleasanton. Flores served in the Texas Senate from 2018-2021. He now runs in a different district, Senate District 24, which it was redesigned this year to include his hometown.
State Representative Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, applauded the governor’s bus strategy. He said Abbott is shaping the national conversation.
“You have a part that says, ‘We’re safe. There is no problem, ‘”said Morgan LaMantia, the Democratic candidate for District 27 of the Texas Senate, which includes part of the lower Rio Grande valley. “We have the other side talking about how we live in a third world area and it’s a war zone. Neither is true. ”
States’ ban on abortion could see clarification.
Democrats see an opening to work with Republicans to clear Texas abortion law to ensure doctors understand when the procedure can be provided. They recognized that this may be the only area of compromise with their partners across the aisle on the issue.
Republicans have expressed a willingness to clarify the abortion ban, with one Senate Republican saying he would support new exceptions.
State Senator Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, announced his support for exceptions to the abortion law at the Festival.
“If I get a chance to vote for a rape exception, I will vote yes,” the East Texas senator said.
State Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, denounced what she said was the Republican government’s overriding in banning abortion. She said the general ban on abortions, which provides little clarity as to when doctors can deliver the procedure, was out of step with voters.
“If we can perhaps address some of the definitions and talk about rape and incest, that could bring some relief,” Alvarado said.
After the Uvalde shooting, gun control reform does not look promising.
Almost four months after the deadliest shooting at a Texas school in Uvalde, Republican lawmakers said there was little support for tightening state gun laws.
Among the changes requested by some families of Uvalde’s shooting victims is the raising of the minimum age for the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 years.
Burrows, the Lubbock Republican, said raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic weapons is a constitutional matter.
“We have decided that there is a majority age and that the age is 18,” Burrows said.
Last month, a federal judge overturned a Texas ban that prohibited adults under the age of 21 from carrying guns.
Nichols, however, said he is trying to keep an open mind on raising the minimum age, but no big GOP leader has echoed the willingness to compromise.
“The maturity of an 18 year old is still in high school versus a 21 year old in college. … There are a lot of things that change, ”she said.
Democrats have long tried unsuccessfully to regulate access to weapons.
“There is no bottom here. It is a fetish and a cult of weapons that is taking us beyond the mirror, “said state representative Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas.” Nobody thinks it’s a good idea for an 18-year-old to be able to buy military-style weapons. ”
State Senator César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Republicans must stop diverting attention from gun control by blaming mental health or trying to toughen up schools to prevent future mass shootings.
The future of school vouchers remains uncertain.
The other school-related issue that is likely to see debate in the next session is the effort by Republican leaders to expand the use of school vouchers, which allow families to divert funding to private schools.
Critics of school vouchers say these programs define public schools, while advocates say these efforts offer parents more choice.
State Representative Mary González, D-Clint, said the effort to expand school vouchers is just one more step in the direction of underfunding public schools.
“I don’t think it’s an accident. I think there is a lot of intentionality in dismantling trust in teachers, in public education, ”said González.
He said that with this dismantling of trust, it is not surprising that there is a shortage of teachers.
Republicans said the challenges facing schools, especially in rural areas, may not be solved by good schoolchildren.
“We are losing teachers in droves, and if we don’t understand how to improve their working conditions … then we will continue to lose teachers,” said Kevin Sparks, a Republican candidate for Texas Senate District 31, which includes Amarillo.
Everyone agrees that the grid needs more adjustments.
Strengthening the Texas power grid has emerged as a major issue for Republican lawmakers. Texas grid operators, which famously collapsed during a 2021 winter storm, asked residents to cut electricity consumption this summer, when record temperatures threatened to overload the power system, which could cause blackouts. continue.
“[Winter storm] Uri showed us we had a lot of problems on the grid, and it’s our fault we didn’t see them, “said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who is running for Senate District 10, referring to the 2021 winter storm he has. resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.
District 10 of the Senate includes South Tarrant County.
Blanco, the El Paso Democrat, also acknowledged that voters want state leaders to address “bread and butter” issues such as infrastructure, including the power grid.
During Friday’s sessions, GOP lawmakers pointed to renewable energy as one of the sources of the grid’s problems. King said renewables have been subsidized so heavily that they “distort the market.”
Nichols said the renewable energy subsidy created an unfavorable climate that discouraged gas companies from coming to Texas. Nichols urged the need for an alternative to renewable energy, such as natural gas, when wind and sun are not available to power wind turbines or solar panels.
Jesus Vidales, Pooja Salhotra and Trent Brown contributed to this story.
The Texas Tribune Festival is here! From September 22-24 in downtown Austin, this year’s TribFest features more than 25 virtual conversations with guests such as Eric Adams, Pete Suza, Jason Kander and many others. After airing for ticket holders, anyone can watch these events at Tribune’s Festival news page. Get the latest news free news and sessions from TribFest.