Governor Greg Abbott laid out his priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature Tuesday morning. He told lawmakers to immediately get to work on four issues: overhauling the state’s broken foster care system, ethics reform legislation, banning so-called “sanctuary cities” and passing a resolution to support a convention of states to amend the US Constitution.

The designation of an emergency item permits the Legislature to vote on relevant legislation in the first 60 days of the 140-day session.

 

Child Protective Services overhaul:

The state’s child welfare system was declared broken by a federal judge in 2015 and lawmakers have been working to overhaul the agency. They approved emergency funding last year so CPS could hire more caseworkers and give employees a pay raise. The agency has been plagued by high caseloads and high turnover.

“Do not underfund this rickety system only to have it come back and haunt you,” Abbott told lawmakers in his address. “If you do nothing else this session, cast a vote to save the life of a child.”

 

Banning “Sanctuary Cities”:

Abbott has been in a showdown with the Travis County Sheriff over her new “sanctuary city” policy that places limits on requests from federal immigration officials. The Governor said this session will be the one where lawmakers ban sanctuary cities.

 

Ethics Reform:

The Governor named ethics reform an emergency item last session but lawmakers failed to get a bill to his desk. Abbott said he’s confident the sponsors of the legislation this time would be able “to avoid the pitfalls that led to the demise of ethics reform last session.”

 

Convention of States:

Abbott has been touting this idea for months. Calling for a convention of states would allow states to propose amendments to the US Constitution. For it to happen, 34 state legislatures must apply for a convention.

“For decades, the federal government has grown out of control,” Abbott said Tuesday. “It has increasingly abandoned the Constitution, stiff-armed the states and ignored its citizens. This isn’t a problem caused by one president. And it won’t be solved by one president. It must be fixed by the people themselves.”

 

The Governor also ordered a state hiring freeze through August. He said it’s a way to deal with the state’s tight budget and would free up about $200 million in the current budget.

 

Governor Abbott then touched on a number of topics that he did not deem emergency items. He criticized lawmakers on the pre-K program he championed last session. He said both the House and Senate budget give insufficient attention to improving the program.

“If you’re going to do this, do it right or don’t do it at all,” Abbott told lawmakers.

 

He has said he wants a so-called school choice bill to reach his desk and told lawmakers to make Texas the 31st state that offers parents the option of using public money to send their children to private schools. He also said lawmakers are right to tackle the issue of school finance now rather than putting it off. The Texas Supreme Court ruled the system barely constitutional last year, and urged lawmakers to make changes.

 

One thing notably missing from Abbott’s address – his stance on the so-called “bathroom bill” that could be the most controversial item of the session.

 

Click here to see the Governor’s budget.

 

Watch Capital Tonight at 7pm for analysis and reaction from Texas Democrats.

 

Posted by Karina Kling

@KarinaKling