Will Texas loosen marijuana laws? Allow casinos? Raise age on guns? Here’s what we know
The clock is ticking for Texas lawmakers to take action on guns, marijuana, property taxes and other significant issues in the session’s final weeks.
Lawmakers who began meeting in January have until May 29 — unless there’s a special session — to get bills passed and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Here’s where several of these high-interest bills stand, as of this week.
Raising the age for AR-style gun purchases
One of the most closely watched gun bills this session would raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles.
House Bill 2744, which Uvalde families have pushed since the May 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary, would make it a crime to sell a semiautomatic rifle to anyone under 21 instead of 18. The proposal missed a key deadline when it wasn’t set on a calendar for consideration in the House on May 9.
The day before missing the deadline, families of children killed in Uvalde cried, hugged and cheered when the proposal was unexpectedly advanced by a House committee. The vote came after this month’s deadly shooting at Allen Premium Outlets, where eight children and adults were killed and seven people wounded.
The missed deadline makes the bill’s passage unlikely, but there are procedural maneuvers lawmakers can use to try to pass a policy even when the bill appears to have failed. That’s what Democrats attempted Thursday when they brought proposal up as amendments to a separate bill related to guns, but the amendments were ultimately withdrawn.
Property tax relief
The Senate and House have been at odds over the best way to offer property tax relief for Texans, including homeowners.
The Senate’s proposal has centered on increasing the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, while the House’s plan has focused on limiting annual appraisal increases to 5% for all types of property. Currently, appraisal hikes are capped at 10% per year on homesteads.
House Bill 2, the House’s primary vehicle for property tax cuts, has been referred to the Senate’s local government committee, but a hearing hasn’t been held.
The Senate’s plan is made up of three bills, only one of which has passed out of House committee. The bill has been updated to increase the homestead exemption to $100,000 and drop the appraisal cap to 5%, The Quorum Report reported Friday.
Medical marijuana for chronic pain
The Texas House on April 12 passed a bill that would expand medical marijuana, called the Texas Compassionate Use Program. The program allows for prescriptions of low-THC cannabis for patients with qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.
House Bill 1805 by Rep. Stephanie Klick, a Fort Worth Republican, would add patients with chronic pain who would otherwise be prescribed an opioid. It also changes how THC is measured in cannabis prescription products.
The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee. It would need to pass out of the committee and the full Senate to head to Abbott’s desk.
The House approved expanding the program for chronic pain when lawmakers last met in 2021, but the provision was removed by the Senate.
Tax exemptions on diapers, period products
A bill that would exempt items including diapers and tampons from sales tax was heard in the Senate State Affairs committee May 8, after passing out of the House in late March.
House Bill 300 eliminates sales tax on diapers, baby wipes and bottles; menstrual supplies including tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups; maternity clothing; and products for pumping breast milk.
The next step for the bill is a vote in a Senate committee that was scheduled to meet Monday.
Limiting drag shows in Texas
A bill that aims to restrict drag shows in Texas is making its way through the legislature.
After passing out of the Senate in early April, a House committee on Friday advanced an amended version of Senate Bill 12, which prohibits “sexually oriented” performances in the presence of minors, adding civil and criminal penalties.
The legislation had not been set for debate on the House floor as of Monday afternoon.
Gender-affirming healthcare for transgender kids
Legislation banning gender-affirming health care for transgender kids is on track to head to Abbott’s desk.
Senate Bill 14 would prohibit doctors from providing care such as surgery and the prescription of puberty blockers to anyone under 18. The bill, which already cleared the Senate, received final approval in the House on Monday.
A change made in the House would need to be OKed by the Senate before the legislation heads to the governor for his signature.
Preserving Fairfield Lake State Park
A House bill aimed at preserving Fairfield Lake State Park had yet to be voted out of a Senate committee as of Monday, its next step before heading to the Senate floor for a vote. If approved there without amendments, it heads to Abbott.
Dallas-based developer Todd Interests intends to purchase the park land from its private owner and build a private luxury community and golf course. The state has leased the land for the state park since the 1970s. The developer has urged legislators to drop the bill, which he says would impede on private property rights.
A state official has said the developer also intends to sell water from the lake to the Metroplex. House Bill 4757 aims to block that by prohibiting approval of applications for new or modified water rights for the lake unless approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. The bill also allows for preservation of water levels, water quality and public access to Fairfield Lake.
Casinos and sports betting
Unless there’s a twist in the coming days, don’t put your money on seeing online sports betting or expanded casinos in Texas.
Proposals for a limited number of destination resort-style casinos — HJR 155 and HB 2843 — were delayed past the end of the session in the House, effectively killing the bills. The delay came as Fort Worth Republican Rep. Charlie Geren needed 2/3 support from his House colleagues on a constitutional amendment to let voters decide on plan for casinos.
“I do know when it’s time to fold ‘em,” Geren said Friday.
The House did approve a proposal that would put online sports betting on the ballot and a companion bill laying out the regulatory framework — HJR 102 and HB 1942. But over the weekend, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweeted that the proposals would not be referred to committee on the Senate side.
Texas is a red state. Yet the House vote on sports betting was carried by a Dem majority.
The Texas Senate doesn’t pass bills with GOP in the minority. The GOP majority guides our path.
HJR102 also will not be referred.
Can’t waste committee/floor time in the last days. #txlege
— Office of the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (@LtGovTX) May 14, 2023
I've said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP. I polled members this week. Nothing changed. The senate must focus on issues voters expect us to pass. We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support. HB1942 won’t be referred.…
— Office of the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (@LtGovTX) May 13, 2023
Is there a bill you’re interested in?
Bills and their status can be looked up online at Capitol.Texas.gov. On the home page, bills can be looked up by key word or bill number. Click on the “Bill Search” text below the search bar for a more detailed search that lets users look for a bill by things like author and subject.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.