Abbott, House deadlocked over school choice, teacher pay
Gov. Gregg Abbott and the Texas House are at loggerheads over which will come first – vouchers for parents to pay for private school tuition, or funneling more money to public schools, The Dallas Morning News reported.
The House wants money for teacher bonuses and a revamp of public-school accountability passed at the same time as Abbott’s proposed education savings accounts, often referred to as ESAs. The governor insists the House first pass a voucher program. A version of his voucher program has already passed the Senate. The Legislature can’t consider increased school funding or teacher bonuses unless Abbott adds it to the special session agenda.
This third special session ends by Nov. 7, though Abbott has indicated he would call another one if this one ends without a decision on vouchers.
“I think there is still significant opposition to any school finance bill that includes an ESA,” Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told the Texas Tribune. “I’m comfortable we have enough like-minded rural Republicans, and urban Republicans, to stand against that in numbers sufficient to defeat it.”
Abbott has dismissed the House’s compromise proposal, House Bill 1, which would create a limited voucher program while increasing spending on public education, calling it “insufficient.”
House passes three border security bills
The House passed a trio of bills that increase border wall funding, increase the penalty for smuggling migrants, and allow state and local police to arrest migrants living illegally in the state, The News reported. The votes came last week after a lengthy heated discussion among Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
The anti-smuggling bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to Abbott’s desk, while the other two bills are going to the Senate.
Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said the plan would undercut the U.S. Constitution so that the state could “flex its muscle with the power that it does not have,” according to The News.
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to change the bill by filing nearly four dozen amendments. Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine, filed a successful motion to limit amendments, which led to a confrontation between him and Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston.
“This is an emotional issue,” Walle said in a statement late Wednesday evening. “This affects my family and puts so many families like mine at risk.”
Paxton sues over razor wire being cut
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration, claiming Border Patrol agents are illegally destroying state property by cutting through concertina wire placed by the state on the banks of the Rio Grande to deter illegal immigration.
The state has spent $11 million in the past three years placing 70,000 rolls of the wire along the Texas-Mexico border, according to the Texas Tribune.
“By cutting Texas’s concertina wire, the federal government has not only illegally destroyed property owned by the State of Texas; it has also disrupted the State’s border deterrence efforts, leaving gaps in Texas’s border barriers and damaging Texas’s ability to effectively deter illegal entry into Texas,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security, under which the Border Patrol operates, said it doesn’t respond to pending litigation.
In Eagle Pass earlier this year, a state trooper claimed the concertina wire has injured people, including a woman who had a miscarriage while entangled in the wire, the Tribune reported.
High court to hear case of judge’s refusal to marry gay couples
The Texas Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a case to decide whether a Waco justice of the peace can legally refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, kut.org reported. McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley has refused to perform those ceremonies, saying it violates her Christian beliefs and is protected under the state’s religious freedom laws.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2019 issued a warning to Hensley for her refusal. Lower courts have dismissed her claims against the commission.
Initially, Hensley declined to officiate any wedding ceremonies after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. She began performing weddings again the following year, but only for straight couples.
New area code for Houston area approved
The greater Houston area has another area code after the Public Utility Commission of Texas approved a proposal to add 621 to the four existing area codes – 281, 346, 713 and 832. The area was expected to run out of new phone numbers using the existing area codes by 2025.
The new code is expected to meet demand for new numbers for another nine years. Houston’s first area code, 713, was created in 1947 as one of the original four codes assigned to Texas.
Record $345 million approved for pedestrian, bike projects
The Texas Transportation Commission has approved more than $345 million for new sidewalks, bikeways and other types of mobility infrastructure for 83 projects across the states.
“This is a major investment in communities across the state that will help make it safer and easier to get around on foot or a bike,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert “Robie” Vaughn said.
The state has seen pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities rise nearly 30% over the past five years. Two dozen of the projects will go in areas with a high pedestrian crash record.
Early voting ends Friday; election Tuesday
Early voting for the Nov. 7 general election ends on Friday. Voters will decide the fate of 14 proposed state constitutional amendments, including items dealing with property tax cuts and increasing pay for retired teachers. In addition, municipal and school board races are being held across the state, as well as school, city, and county bond elections.
Contact your county’s election office to see what is on the ballot where you are registered.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.