Abbott highlights legislative priorities in State of the State address

In the echoing warehouse of a San Marcos manufacturing facility, Gov. Greg Abbott delivered his 2023 State of the State address during which his emergency items for the Texas Legislature were unveiled.

“This session, we will ensure Texas remains the leader of this nation as an unflinching force in this world. Together, we will build a Texas for the next generation — the Texas of tomorrow,” Abbott said in his speech.

“Texans have inherited a legendary pedigree, a state first settled by brave pioneers willing to risk everything for the promise of freedom and opportunity.”

With the 88th Legislative Session now well underway, Abbott named seven emergency items that highlight his top priorities for the five-month sprint.

Those items include:

Providing property tax relief

Restricting pandemic emergency powers

School choice by way of Education Savings Accounts

School safety measures

Bail restrictions

Securing the border

Cracking down on fentanyl trafficking

Currently, the first versions of the 2024-25 budget lay out $15 billion for property tax cuts, about two-thirds of which is for new cuts. The other third is to maintain previous cuts. To avoid the constitutional spending cap, that tranche will likely be appropriated to a Property Tax Fund that exists separately from the General Fund; such a mechanism must be passed by constitutional amendment.

There are already various similar proposals to distribute the $32.7 billion projected surplus this session.

In a sizable shift from last session, Abbott explicitly called for reforms to the state’s emergency powers — something that sputtered out during the 2021 session.

“We must prohibit any government from imposing COVID mask mandates, COVID vaccine mandates, and from closing any business or school because of COVID,” he said. “These actions will help Texas close the door on COVID restrictions.”

A driver of this item, Abbott insinuated, was the school mask mandates that were banned via executive order by the governor and are now being challenged at the Texas Supreme Court.

Two other school-related items Abbott spotlighted were passing a school choice program, specifically in the form of Education Savings Accounts, and school hardening measures in response to the 2022 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The only redux on the list from two years ago is bail reform, which passed during the 87th Legislature but did not receive the two-thirds majority in the House to meet the constitutional amendment threshold.

“Harris County’s revolving door bail practice is literally killing people,” Abbott said. “In just two years, more than 100 people were murdered in Houston by criminals who were let out on multiple felony bonds.”

Potential reforms on this issue include limiting or restricting entirely the ability of judges to award personal recognizance bonds or low cash bail to defendants accused of violent crimes.

“Texas is the home of justice, where dangerous criminals will stay locked behind bars, and law-abiding Texans will have their liberty protected.”

On the border, Abbott called for another $4.6 billion appropriation to security measures — an item already in the draft budget — along with further countermeasures to stem the flow of fentanyl into the country.

In September, Abbott signed an executive order that designated cartel and gang members who traffic fentanyl into the country as “terrorists.”

Other items Abbott called for, but did not make emergency items, were:

Reviving Chapter 313 economic development program in some fashion

Creating specialized commercial courts

Providing community colleges with financial rewards for producing skilled workers

Approving a $100 billion transportation infrastructure plan

Building more thermal generation

Requiring the Legislature to convene if a future pandemic is declared

Increasing per-student school funding and teacher pay raise

Reforming school curricula through a Parental Bill of Rights

Increasing nursing home funding

Creating a 10-year mandatory minimum for those convicted of gun crimes or smuggling illegal immigrants into the country

Abbott’s seven emergency items allow legislation pertaining to those issues to be considered by the Texas Legislature immediately rather than waiting the normal 60-day period before lawmakers can vote on bills. The 88th Legislative Session adjourns on May 29.

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