Local Lawmakers React to Special Session Successes, Failures

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Texas panhandle lawmakers have a mixed reaction to the conclusion of the special session in Austin earlier this week.

House Representative John Smithee said he felt the session was a good use of tax payer money.

“It’s frustrating to spend 30 days and a lot of money to feel like you didn’t fully accomplish the mission,” Smithee said. “Whatever that mission was. But I think some good measures passed. So from that standpoint I feel like it was justified and worthwhile from that standpoint.”

State Senator Kel Seliger disagreed.

“I don’t necessarily think this special session was worth the money to tax payers paid for it,” Seliger told us by phone Thursday. “But we got a lot of work done.”

What did lawmakers accomplish?

They passed measures, also known as sunset bills, that would keep some state agencies from closing. Seliger said that was something they ‘absolutely had to do.’

Proposals were also made in to decrease mail-in ballot fraud, extend the life of maternal mortality task force, and reform the municipal annexation process, as well as limit local ordinance regulating trees.

The House also set new restrictions on abortions. Representative Smithee authored House Bill 214, which stops insurance companies from paying for elective, or non-medical emergency abortions, unless a woman pays for an additional plan.

“Well I think it is a matter of personal freedom,” Smithee told us in an interview last Friday. “I know a lot of people, myself included, have either moral or ethical or philosophical objections to most abortions that are being performed. And this bill does nothing to make those illegal or obstruct accessibility, it just says that people who object to those procedures will not be forced to pay for those procedures on other people when they find that morally objectionable.”

The bill was signed by Governor Abbott earlier this week.

Another big issue for local lawmakers was funding for public education. Representative Four Price was not available for comment, but released a statement today detailing the success of two bills he authored, House Bill 21 and House Bill 30.

Originally, House Bill 21 asked for $1.8 billion dollars for state education. It was dramatically cut in the Senate to $351 million. That money will help fund financial hardship grants for districts that would have otherwise seen a significant loss, increase funding for the existing debt allotment.

“Well House Bill 21,” Seliger said. “Which had to do with public education, it was far, far from a perfect bill, but it puts money into education particularly in regards to districts in the Panhandle. And it addresses what we call small district penalty, which is for districts less than 300 square miles. And it’s going to address some disabilities: things like dyslexia and autism.”

Governor Abbott had 20 items on his agenda with about half of those issues being addressed during the session. Lawmakers from both chambers were not able to come to a conclusion on the governor’s top priority, property tax reform.

Both Seliger and Smithee said they do not want to come back for a second special session, at least not anytime soon.

If another special session is called, Seliger said it would probably have to do with redistricting. Earlier this week, a six-year court battle ended with federal judges invalidating two state congressional districts. The ruling shows the issue must be fixed by the legislature or a federal court.

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