DALLAS – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is considering calling a special session of the legislature after the regular session ended with a $217 billion budget.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar must certify that Texas has enough revenue to fund the two-year budget before Abbott signs the measure, Senate Bill 1. The Texas governor has the authority to issue line-item vetoes in legislation that reaches his desk.
After differences in House and Senate versions of the budget were approved by a conference committee, the budget bill won approval in the House on a vote of 135-14 and the Senate 30-1.
The approved budget taps the state’s rainy day fund for $1 billion, about half the amount sought in the House version. About $2 billion would also be diverted to the general fund from rainy day funding earmarked for transportation projects.
The diversion of funds from the Texas Department of Transportation amounts to an accounting gimmick, because the funds are only delayed for a few days to the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year on Sept. 1, 2019. TxDOT officials say the move will not affect any road projects.
The budget reduces funding for public schools by $1.1 billion but provides funding for growing enrollment. Growth in local property taxes due to increased values would make up most of the increase.
"This budget is fiscally responsible," said Sen. Jane Nelson, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and authored SB 1. "It essentially is flat compared with the current one, but it makes progress in several key areas."
Abbott said he is considering a special session to take care of regulatory matters that were not passed by the session’s deadline. The chief concern is lawmakers’ failure to save the Texas Medical Board from sunset provisions that end an agency’s existence without legislative approval.
Without action by the Legislature, the agencies without regulations would enter a one-year “wind-down” period after Sept. 1, 2017, in which they would begin the process of shutting down completely. The Texas Medical Board regulates the practice of medicine in the state.
On the final day of the session, a shoving match between several House members developed as protesters of the state’s new immigration policy filled the Capitol. Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, told fellow lawmakers that he had summoned Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to arrest protesters who claimed to be in the country illegally.
The protest was directed at Senate Bill 4, already passed and signed into law by Abbott. The bill outlaws so-called "sanctuary cities" by requiring local police to cooperate with federal immigration agencies and allowing police to investigate the immigration status of people they detain. Under SB 4, local authorities are forbidden from adopting policies that prevent local law enforcement from asking about a person's immigration status.
Sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders can be punished jail time for ignoring federal requests to hold inmates who are subject to deportation. They also could face civil penalties: $1,000 for a first offense and up to $25,500 for subsequent infractions. These penalties also apply to public colleges.
In the last week of the session, lawmakers passed reform bills for Dallas and Houston public employee pension systems. The bills, designed to keep the pension funds solvent for the foreseeable future must be signed by Abbott.