For the first time since the end of the last legislative session in May 2015, the Texas Legislature did some official business Monday. Yes, filing has kicked off the 2017 session.
While the procedures to pass the bills filed today won't begin until Jan. 10, the political process has begun, with multiple bills that could have long-lasting effects on North Texas filed already.
Here's a look at five bills worth paying attention to as the legislature gets rolling.
1. Don Huffines takes a shot at term limits for elected officials across the state — A packet of legislation introduced Monday by Dallas state Senator Don Huffines would drastically limit the terms he and his fellow legislators and elected officials could serve in office.
Huffines, a Tea-Party Republican elected in 2014, wants to cut state representatives and senators off after six legislative sessions. Statewide elected officials should serve no more than two four-year terms, he says, and local leaders should serve their municipalities for no more than 12 years, depending on city-specific limits. (Dallas, for example, already limits council members and mayors to no more than eight consecutive years in office.)
Huffines cited the recent electoral success of Donald Trump while announcing the effort. "Voters are fed up with career politicians. The American electorate made this evident when it overwhelmingly voted Donald Trump, a man who has never before held elected office, into the highest office in our nation," Huffines said. "People are tired of complacent politicians, with little-to-no real world experience, who only hear the voices of the special interest and not the cries of their constituents."
2. Eric Johnson wants Dallas to opt out of open carry — Mimicking efforts in the last legislative session to allow Texas' largest cities to opt out of allowing residents with handgun permits to carry those guns openly, Dallas Democratic state Representative Eric Johnson filed a bill Monday that would allow any Texas city with a population of between 1.2 million and 1.4 million to vote on whether or not to abide by open carry.
Dallas, with a population of just over 1.3 million, is the only Texas city that meets House Bill 291's criteria.
3. Could Uber and Lyft be regulated statewide? — Huffines and his GOP Senate colleague Charles Schwertner both filed bills Monday that would help make transportation-for-hire regulations uniform across the state. Schwertner would require companies like Uber and Lyft to get a state permit and have all drivers pass a national background check in order to operate in Texas.
Huffines' measure would deregulate the industry, including cabs and limousine services, entirely.
"The ride-for-hire industry keeps asking for the same thing — a fair and equal market — and I agree. But a level playing field need not mean building up regulations on innovative and popular services," Huffines said. "Let's tear down regulations to create a truly free market for every ride-for-hire business — whether it's Uber, Lyft or a more traditional taxi cab."
Dallas passed its own transportation-for-hire regulations — which require background checks and vehicle inspections for all drivers — in December 2014. Other cities, like Austin, have passed tighter restrictions and seen the companies leave their cities entirely.
Huffines wants to take the matter completely out of cities' hands.
"Unfortunately, this bill might ruffle some feathers in city councils across the state. However, the Legislature has an obligation to act in defense of economic and personal liberty, and that’s exactly what we will do with SB 113," Huffines said.
4. Royce West wants to help students deal with the police — Dallas Democratic state Senator Royce West filed Senate Bill 202 in response to police shootings around the country. He wants every ninth-grader enrolled in Texas public schools to get training on how to interact with police and he wants every peace officer in the state to get training on how to interact with the public.
5. Rafael Anchia takes on the Railroad Commission — Rafael Anchia, a state representative from Dallas, wants the Legislature to do what the Texas Railroad Commission itself refused to do earlier in November — change the name of the agency to match its purpose.
If Anchia gets his way, the RRC would be renamed the Texas Energy Resources Commission, accurately reflecting the commission's primary function, regulating Texas' oil and gas industry.
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