Special Session: Senate committees stack full weekend of hearings

Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, discuss Senate Bill 19 in the Senate Finance Committee on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, discuss Senate Bill 19 in the Senate Finance Committee on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

State senators heard nearly 20 hours of combined testimony between three different committee hearings on Saturday.

Texans had the opportunity to testify about several different items on the Governor’s call during the special session. Senators are spending the weekend pushing legislature through committees in order to allow the full Senate to hear them.

The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce discussed Senate Bills 8, 12, 13, 14 and 15. The topics of health insurance coverage for elective abortions brought heated debate from witnesses.

Senator Brandon Creighton, R-The Woodlands, left, discusses Senate Bill 8 with Senator Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, in the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Senator Brandon Creighton, R-The Woodlands, left, discusses Senate Bill 8 with Senator Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, in the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

“I think if we’re going to permit the slaughter of innocent children, we ought to at least not ask the rest of us to pay for it,” said Adam Cahn, who testified in support of SB 8.

Texas Equal Access Fund Executive Director Nan Lee Kirkpatrick said, “abortion is healthcare, we believe it should be covered, and we believe bills like this just put people at risk of harm, and endanger them.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, called the issue the most emotional topic he has seen during his 44 years in public office.

SB 8 passed through committee into the full senate.

In the Select Committee on Government Reform, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, outlined his plan for Senate Bill 1, dealing with property taxes.

“What should happen is … when values go up, tax rates should come down,” Bettencourt said. “What’s been happening instead is that when values have skyrocketed, tax rates have slightly increased.”

“The purpose of government is not to tax us out of our homes, and that’s what’s happening now,” Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, said.

Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, outlines Senate Bill 1 in the Senate Select Committee on Government Affairs on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, outlines Senate Bill 1 in the Senate Select Committee on Government Affairs on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

That committee met for nine hours, hearing from many local officials who told the body they did not want the state to step in on handling property taxes. Senate Bills 18, 93, and 96 were also brought up during that hearing.

SB 1 was approved by the committee and will be heard by the full Senate.

In the Finance Committee, public hearings on SB 9 and SB 19, lasted just over three hours. SB 19 relates to “bonuses and salaries for public school classroom teachers and state assistance for the Texas Public School Employees Group Insurance Program,” and brought along with it passionate pleas from both supporters and opponents.

“We are going to prioritize our teachers in our next budget. SB 19 sets up structure for these pay raises and bonuses,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, as she explained that the bill lays the groundwork for lawmakers in the future.

The bill would provide $193 million for teacher bonuses starting in 2018, put $212 million into the state’s health insurance program for retired teachers, and require public school districts to hike teacher pay by $1,000 starting in 2019.

Testimony yielded a mixed result.

“I’m pleading with you as members of this chamber, do not let nothing happen,” said Tim Lee, Executive Director of Texas Retired Teachers Association, after Nelson suggested SB 19 was a temporary fix before the state can create a permanent solution for school finance.

“If we have to re-prioritize in our district in order a raise, there will be harm to our students,” said Abilene ISD teacher Tonja Gray.

“If we don’t find a good source of funding for schools … I don’t think the mission will be completed,” warned Whitmire.

Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, discuss Senate Bill 19 in the Senate Finance Committee on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, discuss Senate Bill 19 in the Senate Finance Committee on July 22, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

SB 19 was approved by the committee and will be brought with recommendation to the full senate.

Senators planned additional hearings Sunday related to other items on the Governor’s call.

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