State lawmakers get back to work

Texas Legislature begins 140-day session

AUSTIN, Texas – Lawmakers and their families crowded the state capitol Tuesday for the opening of the 85th Texas Legislature.

Before the real work begins for lawmakers, ceremony took center stage, as members of the Texas House and Senate were sworn into office.

For many lawmakers, day one of the legislative session was a return visit to Austin.

But for some, like District 120 Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins of San Antonio, opening day was a first.

The Democrat is new to the state House, and like most in her shoes, Gervin-Hawkins had a lot going through her mind on her first day.

"Internal celebration as it relates to the level of responsibility that I have," she said. "I've been a leader most of my life, so this takes it to a whole new realm."

Gervin-Hawkins said her focus this session will be on education and finding a way for traditional public schools and public charter schools to coexist.

An early order of business was a House vote for speaker.

Republican Joe Straus, of San Antonio, faced no competition and won by a unanimous 150-0 vote. Straus will serve a record-tying fifth term. The victory was a sharp departure from previous sessions, when far-right conservative groups who criticize Straus as a moderate backed long shot challengers against him.

Straus marked his re-election by offering what appeared to be a veiled swipe at a transgender bathroom bill cheered by top conservatives.

"This state should invite economic opportunity, not turn it away," he told House lawmakers.

Straus didn't specifically mention the Texas version of a bill that created a national uproar in North Carolina last year. The bill would ban transgender people from using public bathrooms of their choice.

Business groups say the bill could cost Texas billions of dollars in lost revenue. Straus previously has suggested that it's not a top priority.

But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Texas Senate, has vowed to fight for the bill at all costs.

Straus also said that one of his goals will be to improve Child Protective Services.

"We believe that children should not have to live in fear of their own parents," Straus said.

The legislative session kicks off the newest opportunity for lawmakers to push their priorities. District 123 Rep. Diego Bernal is a Democrat from San Antonio.

"I think in this office, public education is our number one priority," Bernal said. "I sort of believe that if you fix education, you fix everything else. It's the one thing that radiates and bleeds into everything. It's like food coloring in water."

For District 122 Rep. Lyle Larson, some of his goals include property appraisal values.

"The focus will be to stabilize that," Larson, a Republican, said. "So, if you go in and protest your taxes, then you will have a five-year period where they will not go up other than inflation and up to five percent."

Larson also filed a bill that aims to give residents a vote when it comes to annexation.

"We're simply asking that the city of San Antonio, or any other municipality in the state, if they want to go out and start annexing property, they have to allow those folks a vote on whether they want to accept that or not," he said.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott opened the session by urging lawmakers to put aside their differences.

"We may bring different political perspectives, but we unite under one Capitol dome," he told senators.

The prolonged oil price slump has hurt state revenue, meaning the Texas budget approved this session could be tighter than previous versions.

"It's a tough budget," Larson said. "In 2011, we were $27 billion short, so it's all relative."

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