Culture wars, tax cuts, Covid mandates: Texas Lt. Gov. lays out legislative priorities

Dan Patrick, who sets the Senate agenda, released a list of 30 top bills for the session ahead.
FILE – Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Texas lawmakers are poised to consider a new flood of conservative legislation during this year’s session, from bills relating to transgender rights to critical race theory and bans on local public health measures, the state’s most powerful lawmaker said Monday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who sets the agenda in the state Senate, released a list of 30 bills he said would be his priorities in the session ahead. The list Patrick produced includes only brief descriptions of the legislation the Senate will take up, though some measures have already been previewed by their chief sponsors.

Traditionally, Texas lieutenant governors set 20 bills as priorities, but Patrick increased that number to 30 in 2017. This year, he said, the legislature has so many issues to tackle that he could have set 50 priority measures.

“I believe Texans support our priorities because they largely reflect the policies supported by the conservative majority of Texans,” Patrick said in a statement. “We will pass over 600 bills this session. As I like to say, every bill is a priority to someone, otherwise we would not pass it.”

Among Patrick’s chief priorities:

Education reforms: Senate Bill 8 would create education savings account programs that would allow students to use taxpayer dollars for tuition at private or religious schools, or for homeschooling. Senate Bill 9 would raise teacher pay to address a severe workforce shortage.

Senate Bill 13 would create new rules governing books in school libraries, following a pattern in other red states that have sought to ban books with sexual content. Senate Bill 11 would add funding for school security, following last year’s attack on a school in Uvalde, Texas.

Higher education: Senate Bill 16 would ban the teaching of critical race theory in higher education. Senate Bill 17 would ban diversity, equity and inclusion policies at institutions of higher learning, following a top priority of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Senate Bill 18 would eliminate tenure at public universities. Patrick made ending tenure a cornerstone of his re-election bid last year, saying it would combat teachers who “indoctrinate” students.

Targeting LGBTQ rights: Patrick said he would back Senate Bill 12, which would ban children from being exposed to drag shows. Other red states have adopted varying versions of that legislation in recent weeks.

Senate Bill 14 would bar health providers from gender modification procedures in children, though details remain scant. Some states have blocked surgical procedures on minors, while others have extended bans to hormone treatments and puberty blockers.

Senate Bill 15 would ban transgender women from playing in college sports that align with their gender identity.

New criminal penalties: Patrick said he would back legislation to make voter fraud a felony once again. Though there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas, some incidents have received broad attention. One Texas woman, Crystal Mason, was given a five-year prison sentence for voting a provisional ballot in 2016 while on supervised release for a federal conviction.

Senate Bill 23 would create a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for criminals who commit gun crimes. And two bills — Senate Bills 20 and 21 — would allow for the removal of district attorneys and state judges who “refuse to follow Texas law,” a reference to local prosecutors who have deprioritized crimes such as marijuana possession and minor theft.

Tax cuts: Patrick will back raising the homestead exemption to $70,000. He will support bills to create new property tax relief and business personal property exemptions.

Preemption: The conservative legislature meets in the heart of liberal Austin, and lawmakers have spent the last several sessions curtailing the rights of city and county government to pass laws relating to everything from distracted driving to cutting down trees.

This year, Patrick said he would back Senate Bill 29, a measure barring local governments from imposing mandates related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he would maintain a statewide state of emergency until those local ordinances are rolled back.

Texas’s constitution vests unusual authority in the lieutenant governor, and Patrick, in office since 2015, has become arguably the most powerful Republican in the state. He has routinely clashed with successive House speakers, including incumbent Dade Phelan (R), over conservative priorities, and usually has Abbott’s support.

This year, Abbott has said he will support the education savings account proposal, if legislators can find a way to allocate the money without hurting rural districts. Abbott signed legislation last session banning transgender athletes from K-12 sports that conform to their gender identities, too.