Education, Medicaid among 958 last-minute bills filed Friday


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 6:21 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 11 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Lawmakers of the 83rd Texas Legislature filed a grand total of 5,853 bills, according a tally provided by the Legislative Reference Library on Monday. While slightly down from the 5,873 filed in 2011, the final day saw slightly more activity than in the previous session.
A total of 958 bills were turned in Friday, the final deadline for filing. The number is up from the 893 submitted on the final filing day of the 82nd Texas Legislature. 
Among the last-minute entries was HB 400 by state Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton), which would outlaw smoking in all enclosed public spaces and most public and private businesses including bars and restaurants.
Filed by state Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas), HB 3288 would require a drug test for those applying to obtain or renew a concealed handgun license (CHL).
State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) filed HB 3303, which would double the mandatory waiting period for adults with children seeking a legal divorce.
While this session likely won't see another bitterly partisan battle over immigration, lawmakers are instead headed to major debates over other issues such as education and Medicaid.
In the latest demonstration by public education advocates, hundreds of teachers and parents gathered at the Texas Capitol on Monday to demand lawmakers restore the $5.4 billion cut from education last session.
"I understand there's really important issues facing the state, but I think educating our future generation is at the top of the list," said American Federation of Teachers Texas President Linda Bridges. "We've got to restore our funding because we have more kids, 80,000 kids each year, coming into our schools that deserve a chance." 
While Democrats have largely advocated seeking ways to restore the funds, Republican leadership has promised to fund enrollment growth while recommending the legislature wait out the results of the lawsuit over school finance before making any permanent changes.
At the same time, a number of Republicans have advocated various proposals aimed at increasing "school choice," such as private school scholarships and raising the cap on charter schools.
Filed Friday by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, HB 3339 would authorize using the Economic Stabilization Fund (commonly referred to as the 'rainy day fund') to help restore the cuts to education. State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, filed SB 23 on Friday, which would create a tax credit for low-income children to attend private schools.
"Expanding school choice in Texas will empower parents to make decisions in the best interest of their children, and provide an incentive to keep all Texas schools competitive" Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) said in a statement issued Friday, lauding Patrick and other Republican lawmakers who filed similar legislation during the final stretch.
Another major debate will center on expanding Medicaid to more than a million low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act. State Republicans have largely opposed the expansion as defined under the law, saying Medicaid is "broken" and must be reformed before spending additional money on the program. On Friday, state Rep. John Zerwas (R-Simonton) filed HB 3791, authorizing the state Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate a compromise with the federal government. 
"We have the opportunity to really do something different with this population of people," Zerwas told KVUE Monday. "And I think that's really what this bill is intended to do, to start the conversation around what does the Texas solution to an expanded Medicaid population look like." 
With all bills filed, now begins the process of deciding which ones reach the floor and get a vote.