AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas House and Senate have officially ended their work at the Texas Legislature, wrapping up the 140-day legislation session.
For the most part, the Republican-led legislature stayed away from controversial issues that divided the state in 2017; instead, they focused on difficult but important issues like Hurricane Harvey relief, public school finance reform and property tax reform.
Sunday, the Texas House and Senate approved a two-year state budget of $250 billion — a record. It includes upwards of $6 billion for public education, including teacher pay and more per-student spending; another $5 billion will go to pay local property taxes to ease the burden on homeowners.
It also includes smaller items like the creation of a nearly $1.7 billion account that local governments can tap into after natural disasters, plus $445 million to build new mental-health hospitals. There’s also $100 million for school safety upgrades.
Some legislators in the Texas House feel like the tone this session was positive, with much more cooperation across both parties. Amarillo Republican Rep. Four Price praised the work of his colleagues at the Capitol.
“I’m feeling great,” Rep. Price said. “It’s been a great session and very productive.”
Funding for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in the budget will benefit his district, he said, along with other policies addressed this legislative session, such as telemedicine and mental health resources.
Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, marked her second legislative session this year.
“It was just so much more positive,” she said. “There was more of a feeling of equity, of evenness.”
Ortega described parts of the school finance bill as a “win” for her community.
“That has to be our biggest victory this session,” she said. “Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, I think everybody was incredibly happy with how that turned out.”
Both chambers also approved legislation that would create a statewide flood plan, something legislators say is equally as important as their top three priorities.
“There will be much better planning on the front end now – infrastructure, development, mitigation work,” Price said. “I think something that really will make a difference down the road, if and when we have additional disasters and flood problems, the planning that can start now will really make a difference to prevent some of the catastrophic damage that we’ve suffered from hurricanes.”
If Houston Democrat Rep. Shawn Thierry’s legislation to address child sex trafficking is signed into law, minors will no longer be arrested for the crime of prostitution.
“My thinking was, we’ve done so much on sexual assault, raising awareness and protecting our victims, if there is an adult that is having sex with a child, commercially exploiting a child for sex, then that is rape,” she said. “Under all circumstances, children cannot consent to sex and they should absolutely not be criminalized because of predators.”
Those minors would instead be directed to receive other services.
“We’ll be sending these children to local care coordinators where they’re eligible for emergency housing, medical treatment,” she said. “All of this was in statute. What we’re doing is redirecting these children so they can get the help that they deserve and need and hopefully regain what’s left of their childhood.”
Wrapping up their day in the Texas House, some legislators wore fun ties, coats and had posters for their colleagues to sign to hang in their offices.
“You have to have fun doing this,” Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, said. “If you’re not having fun, you’re probably going to be miserable.”