End of legislative session hints at trouble ahead

Noah M. Horwitz

The regular session of the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature has adjourned sine die. In the estimable words of former Gov. Rick Perry, “Adios, Mofo.”

The session did nothing to alleviate the many issues leveled upon our state in past meetings. And in many cases, they actively made things worse.

The Legislature is only mandated by the Texas Constitution to pass a budget— and they did this. However, it preserved most all of the heinous cuts passed in recent sessions to state services, though at the behest of the less-crazy House of Representatives, some portions of the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” were tapped. Accordingly, State Supported Living Centers for the disabled will not be shuttered, but deteriorating roads and stagnant Medicaid were left untouched.

Otherwise, the biggest accomplishments were acts of hate spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate and the House Freedom Caucus, an obstreperous gaggle of carnies led by State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

There was SB4, originally a bill to punish cities and counties that do not zealously cooperate with ICE’s deportation squads. The Senate and the Stickland Brigade hijacked it and turned it into an Arizona-style “Show Me Your Papers” law.

There was HB3859, which allows adoption agencies to discriminate. Jews, Muslims, LGBT folks and others may now be denied the ability to adopt children from some agencies simply because of who they love or what they believe.

There was HB1935, a bill to legalize the carrying of dangerous weapons such as the bowie knife. It was inexplicably passed without opposition mere days after Kendrex White used such a knife to murder Harrison Brown on this University’s campus.

All the while, the Legislature ignored the actual pressing problems facing the state. The aforementioned devastating cuts were not reversed. Roads were not adequately funded, nor were other imperative infrastructure projects. Perhaps most shamefully, the Legislature abdicated its moral, constitutional responsibility to efficiently fund a system of public schools.

Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the school finance system was, just barely, good enough to pass constitutional muster. It urged the Legislature to do something—anything!—about the situation. The school finance system is a mess, wherein cash-strapped districts with a large proportion of impoverished students, such as in Houston, are deemed “rich” because of property values and must pay a “Robin Hood tax” to the state. It is also the reason why property taxes are so prohibitively high in many portions of the state.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, chair of the House Education Committee, attempted to fashion a thoughtful solution. It was dead-on-arrival in the Senate, wherein Patrick and his cronies, namely State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, chair of the Senate Education Committee, gutted the bill and replaced it with their ludicrous pipe-dream of destroying the public school system and replacing them with inadequate vouchers. (Vouchers have been voted down repeatedly in the House.)

But fear not, for it is all but a foregone conclusion that the Legislature will be back for overtime. The Constitution gives the Governor the power to call the legislature back into special session in extraordinary purposes to resolve emergency priorities. However, Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency, extraordinary circumstances are less likely to be the financing of our schools and more likely to be the Potty Police.

SB6, Patrick’s darling, the North Carolina-style Bathroom Bill, languished in Speaker Joe Straus’s House without so much as committee approval after being dispatched with expediency by Patrick and the Senate. In response, Patrick took hostage an uncontroversial but absolutely imperative bill—the Texas Medical Board sunset bill, which essentially is the one that allows for there to be doctors in the State of Texas. Now the issue is likely to be taken up in overtime, wherein the rules will be different.

All this would be bad enough if it was not accompanied by an utter breakdown of decorum, decency and comity on the floor of the House and the Senate. On Monday, the last day of the regular session, Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, threatened to shoot Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, in the head after a confrontation over protesters.

This was the most sobering, depressing, evil session I have ever witnessed—and all this is preceding a special session (or series of them) that is sure to be even worse. I wish there was good news, something along the lines of “Democrats and moderate Republicans will now win, because surely this craziness has gone too far,” but I cannot bring myself to lie.

The 2018 elections will be determined based almost solely on the approval rating of the bloviating carny in the White House. Rinaldi threatening to shoot a Hispanic man in the head for protesting a racist law will not register, nor will Patrick playing Russian roulette with the medical practice of Texas in order to push his transphobic agenda.

A war, recession, WikiLeaks bullshit or seven-second soundbite of Chuck Schumer that occurs between now and November 2018 will be all that matters. And such emphasis will almost indubitably ensure the cycle continues, and continues to escalate.

Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is senior columnist.