Texas House Speaker looks ahead to 2017 legislative session, reflects on 2016 election

Sarah Philips

With the Texas Legislature convening in six weeks, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, weighed in on the Nov. 8 election and the upcoming 85th legislative session in a conversation with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on campus Tuesday.

“I can say with a lot of confidence that it was an election everyone is glad to have behind us,” Straus said. “American people were very angry with Washington, and understandably so.” 

Straus supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the GOP primaries and never publicly backed President-elect Trump. Straus did say the opportunities for Republican-leaning policy after the election were “enormous” and added Trump seemed flexible on some of his policies and ideals. 

When asked about the possibility of a Trump administration repealing or replacing Obamacare, Straus said Texas has asked for flexibility in Medicaid programs in
the past.

“My hunch is [Obamacare] won’t be completely or quickly dismantled,” Straus said. “We can’t have [a plan] until the new administration takes place, but we do have a plan to work with them.”

Straus said a new administration under Trump provides an opportunity to address issues he feels hasn’t received enough attention.

“I feel good about the team we have,” Straus said. “I feel good about the new blood that comes in.”

Straus said the state couldn’t continue to double the border security budget every legislative session as they have done in the past to enforce legal entrance to the U.S. on the Mexico border.

“It’s time to go the other way,” Straus said, adding that border security was going to be a bigger concern for the incoming Trump administration. “It’s time for the federal government to assume their responsibility on border security. Anything that alleviates the Texas budget, I’m strongly in support of.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already released his top 10 legislative priorities for the session, which includes issues such as school choice, passing the budget, prohibiting sanctuary cities and banning “partial birth” abortion. Straus, referring to these priorities, said his role in the House varied from that of Patrick’s, who presides over the Senate.

Straus said technically he is not the Speaker of the House until he is elected by House members at the beginning of session, meaning he shouldn’t have an outlined agenda for the session. 

“I’m a House member on the first day of session until I’m elected, hopefully, by House members,” Straus said. “It’s not appropriate for a speaker to have a hard-driving, lengthy agenda of specifics.”

When asked about one Patrick priority in particular, the Women’s Privacy Act — commonly dubbed the “bathroom bill” — Straus said it wasn’t a main concern of his.

The bathroom bill, Patrick has argued, is needed for women’s privacy and safety, and would require people to use public restrooms, showers and locker rooms based on their birth gender rather than the gender they identify as.

“I know the lieutenant governor is very enthusiastic about this idea — let him run with it,” Straus said. “But if it creates a situation North Carolina went through, my enthusiasm level won’t be high for that.”

The Texas 85th legislative session will begin Jan. 10.