House Speaker Joe Straus would rather lawmakers spend their 30-day special session that began Tuesday ((July 18)) improving Texas' broken school finance system than policing which bathrooms transgenders can use.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the driving force behind the "bathroom bill," hijacked a must-pass sunset safety net bill in the regular session, to make the special session necessary.

Gov. Greg Abbott obliged Patrick, including the bathroom bill among 19 lawmakers can consider after the sunset bill.

But Straus's school finance message has picked up steam.

First, the governor – the only official who can call special sessions, and who dictates their agenda – put a $1,000 teacher pay hike first on his list for lawmakers after the sunset bill.

He didn't say where the money should come from – which sounds like an unfunded mandate for local school districts.

Then, Patrick, at a surprise press conference Thursday, ((July 13)) unveiled a plan for benefits in excess of $1,000 for current and retired teachers.

Again, no provision for new state money -- though Patrick proposed amending the constitution to earmark the first $700 million of lottery proceeds for teacher salaries.

Isn't lottery money already earmarked for education? Well, yes. But Patrick would require school districts to increase teacher pay.

Patrick predicted school districts would say "'you're taking $700 million away from us.' 'No, we're not. We're just directing it to teachers, because you haven't been.' We're going to help them make a little bit wiser decision."

Sure enough, education folks called it an "unfunded mandate" -- the state shifting still more of its funding responsibilities onto local districts.

Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria wasn't pleased with the lieutenant governor, or governor.

"Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's newfound interest in teachers and retired teachers is as hollow as the governor's $1,000 teacher pay raise because neither is willing to make a genuine commitment to investing state funds in public education," Candelaria said in a statement.

Patrick, at his press conference, compared his plan with what he termed Speaker Straus' "Ponzi scheme" – appropriating $1.5 billion for schools, paid for in part by deferring a payment to schools to 2019. It passed the House during the regular session, but not the Senate.

Straus faintly praised Patrick.

"It's encouraging to see the lieutenant governor's newfound focus on school finance reform," Straus' press statement said.

"Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session."

Meanwhile, the opposition to laws that discriminate against LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) also grew louder.

The growing chorus from different groups is discriminatory laws are not just wrong, but will badly hurt the Texas economy.

The American Association of Law Libraries underlined that. It said its four-day national conference that began Saturday ((July 15)) in Austin will be its last in Texas unless state lawmakers quit passing discriminatory laws – and reverse one they already passed.

The association sent a letter about that to leaders in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio last week.

Many members say "our association should not be putting on conferences in states where anti-LGBTQ legislation has been enacted or proposed," said Greg Lambert, a Houston lawyer and the group's incoming president.

The law librarians, while opposing the bathroom bill, also called for reversing another bill it says is discriminatory.

That was HB 3859, passed in the regular legislative session, and signed by Abbott. It allows religious-based foster care and adoption agencies to refuse to place children with lesbian, gay, or transgender parents, if that goes against the group's beliefs.

"We cannot stand by as Texas enacts legislation that discriminates against this vulnerable community," Lambert said.

Computer giant IBM ran full-page ads Sunday in newspapers in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, saying such discrimination is bad for Texas and bad for Texas business.

"As one of the largest technology employers in Texas, IBM firmly opposes any measure that would harm the state's LGBT+ community and make it difficult for businesses to attract and retain talented Texans," the ad said.

It urged Abbott and the legislature "to abandon any discriminatory legislation . . . . and ensure Texas remains a welcoming place to live and work."

Straus said in a newsletter Sunday ((July 16)) the House wants to protect "vulnerable" Texans, and repair a Robin Hood school finance system where next year, wealthier districts will send $2 billion in property taxes to poorer districts – and it's still not enough.

And please – no bathrooms.

 

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