Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority bills signal another swing at pushing Texas to the right

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority bills signal another swing at pushing Texas to the right

Patrick

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced a list Monday of 30 wide-ranging bills that he has designated his legislative priorities, including providing property tax relief and increasing natural gas plants to improve the reliability of the state’s power grid. He also detailed more specifically his plans to push a socially conservative agenda that would ban certain books in schools, restrict transgender student athlete participation in collegiate sports and end gender-transition treatment for young people.

In a statement announcing his priority bills, Patrick said he believed Texans largely supported his proposals because they “largely reflect the policies supported by the conservative majority of Texans.”

Traditionally, the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, and the House speaker, who presides over the lower chamber of the Legislature, unveil 20 bills with low bill numbers near the start of each legislative session to indicate their priorities. Since 2017, Patrick, who is seen as one of the strongest lieutenant governors in modern Texas history, has expanded his priority list to 30.

Patrick gave reporters a glimpse at his legislative priorities in December. But Monday’s announcement had brief descriptions of the priority bills (many of which have not been filed yet) and more directly addressed controversial legislation that the most socially conservative members in the Republican Party have called for, including bills that seek to impose restrictions on transgender Texans.

Patrick also included legislation to ban what he deems “obscene” books in schools and to prohibit children from being “exposed” to drag shows. Such legislation has come after clamor from some Republicans to ban books that they deem sexually explicit in public schools and after similar groups and activists have called for an end to events where drag performers read to children. In recent months, Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials have taken action to have some books removed from school shelves, including ones that have content related to gender identity or portray LGBTQ relationships.

On education, Patrick said he would fight to “empower parents” including through “school choice,” indicating a support for voucher legislation that would use state dollars for parents to take their kids out of public schools and place them in private schools. At the collegiate level, he also doubled down on ending tenure, a policy idea he initially floated last year as a way to stop professors from teaching critical race theory, and banning diversity, equity and inclusion policies in hiring practices.

These issues are consistent with Patrick’s typical role pushing the Legislature to the right. He is perhaps the most socially conservative among the state’s “Big Three” leaders, which also include Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan. But Patrick shied away from them during his earlier announcement in December, focusing more on property taxes, immigration and the electric grid.

Patrick, who has a Republican majority in the Senate, should have an easy time passing his priorities through the upper chamber despite what is expected to be strong opposition from advocacy groups on issues around LGBTQ rights, education and civil liberties. But the bills must pass through both chambers of the Legislature and then be signed by the governor to become law.

In the past, the House has stifled attempts to pull money away from public schools and divert it to private education, largely because rural Republicans do not have private school options in many of their districts and public schools are some of their districts’ biggest employers. The lower chamber has also had less of an appetite for socially controversial legislation, like passing bills targeting LGBTQ people.

But the chamber has grown more socially conservative in recent elections, passing a bill that banned transgender student athletes from participating in K-12 sports. And this year, key players, like Abbott have indicated support for vouchers and Patrick has said he is hopeful that lawmakers can create a framework that would not hurt rural districts.

Patrick also said he wants to remove district attorneys and state judges who “refuse to follow Texas law.” Republican lawmakers have been particularly angry at prosecutors and judges in Democrat-dominated parts of the state who do not prosecute certain kinds of crimes, like small possession of marijuana or minor theft charges, and judges who let defendants leave jail under no cash bail agreements. Proponents of those policies say such discretion allows prosecutors more time to focus on major crimes that are more important to tackle.

Patrick also signaled the importance of rural Texas by designating among his priorities the state’s future water needs, the need for more mental health hospitals in rural areas and a need to assist rural law enforcement agents, who don’t have tax bases as broad as urban centers.

He also made “banning local COVID-19 mandates” a priority, perhaps in a nod to Abbott’s threat to keep in place his emergency powers until lawmakers codified his order to ban cities and counties from implementing vaccine and mask mandates.

Patrick, who has to maneuver the 31 senators who make up his chamber, tried to reassure some of the members whose priorities perhaps did not make his list.

“This session I could have used 50 low bill numbers because there are so many issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “Just because a bill does not make the priority list does not mean it is not a priority for me or the Senate.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/02/13/dan-patrick-priority-bills-texas-legislature/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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