Texas Legislature Starts Session For 2023

Texas Legislature Starts Session For 2023

Texas legislators met in Austin on Jan. 10 to begin their 88th biennial legislative session, which will end on May 29. During the meeting, they will pass laws, address issues facing Texas, and discuss regulation of the state’s budget.

Some aspects of the Texas Legislature will remain unchanged from previous sessions, such as the Republican majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the Texas House of Representatives, and the Texas Senate. However, since the last assembly in 2021, Texas has faced difficulties such as the Uvalde school shooting, controversy over the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and significant inflation, all of which could affect the events of the session.

In response to a recent survey about Texas legislative decisions, Westwood students shared their opinions on the topics that are likely to emerge during the legislative session.

“Knowledge is power and students who choose [not to] articulate their thoughts into meaningful responses, let alone gather unbiased information, do not hold political power,” Amber McFall ‘25 said.

One important factor of the Legislature’s decision is Texas’s record-breaking budget surplus, which will give lawmakers the opportunity to implement projects across the state. However, part of the surplus is reserved for highway funds and the Economic Stabilization Fund, which will be used to pay any small and unexpected expenses. Additionally, due to inflation, some legislators are considering increasing state employees’ salaries to mitigate the effects of rising costs for state services. In the survey, 37.1% of students said that increasing state workers’ wages would be the best use of the Texas budget surplus, while 8.6% believe that reserving the money for emergency spending would be the best course of action.

“Austin is facing a teacher shortage, a bus driver shortage, and a police shortage,” Zachary Gawiser ‘24 said. “One great way to entice more people to take those jobs is to raise pay.”

Another way to spend the money would be to deliver a large property tax cut, as suggested by Governor Greg Abbott. Half of the surplus would be used to achieve this, including part of the reserved portion, which has led critics to caution against this plan. Other ideas include one-time infrastructure spending, which will improve the outdated infrastructure throughout the state. 17.1% of survey takers believe that delivering a large property tax cut would be the best way to spend the money, while 5.7% support infrastructure spending.

“Property tax is rising, and soon, minimum wage won’t be enough to live off of,” Jacqueline Harris ‘25 said.

Another issue that several Republican lawmakers are focusing on this session is parental rights, which will give parents more control over their children’s education. Gov. Abbott has proposed a “parental bill of rights” with more specific requirements for what books are allowed to be made available to students, and supports the concept of school vouchers to help parents move their kids to private schools if they disagree with what is being taught in public schools. 62.9% of survey takers believe that these parental rights should not be implemented.

“Parents can choose to teach their kid whatever they want to at home, but education should not be limited for this reason,” an anonymous student said. “If I want to learn something my friend’s parent doesn’t agree with, I should be able to learn it if I want to. Kids should be exposed to all ideas and choose what they feel is right.”

This session, socially conservative legislators have also filed new bills concerning the LGBTQA+ population. The bills restrict drag shows and outlaw gender-affirming care for transgender children. Gov. Abbott has supported the investigation of parents who allow their children to receive this care. 60% of responses were against restrictions on drag shows and gender-affirming care, arguing that such care could help treat gender dysphoria.

“Drag shows are just that – shows with drag queens,” an anonymous student said. “Like any other show, people may find offense while others may find enjoyment. Furthermore, gender-affirming care for transgender children is similar to the debate on abortion rights. I believe that the choice should be given to the ones whose life the procedure will affect. We don’t have to all agree, but if a surgical procedure makes another’s life more fulfilling [or] happier, why would anyone else have the right to deny them that right?”

However, a fifth of student responses support these restrictions. Some have argued that drag shows are similar to strip clubs, and should be age-restricted. Some of the students against gender-affirming care believe that people can’t be sure they are transgender until they’re 18, and should therefore be required to wait until they are adults to undergo the procedure.

“I do not believe gender-affirming care should be given to any children under the age of 18,” Neo Kamaruzzaimie ‘25 said. “Minors are mentally undeveloped, and cannot comprehend the impact of the life-changing choice on their body, which will affect [them] socially and mentally, and in severe cases, physically. The risks to perform reassignment care to a minor who’s developed in physical aspects is an insecure choice. Though once they are adults, they are free to make any choice [with] their own will and judgment freely.”

Another issue for the Legislature to debate over is abortion, which it banned after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer. Republican legislators are not predicted to revisit the issue to provide exceptions to the abortion ban in special cases. Currently, Democrats are focused on mitigating the effects of the ban and improving access to healthcare. 77.1% of survey takers believe that the Legislature should revisit these abortion laws to discuss creating exceptions.

“It is so important to understand why people get [abortions],” Hannah Daniel ‘25 said. “No [one] does it for fun; they do it because they can’t afford to raise a child, didn’t choose to be with child, or [have] medical reasons. Special cases should have an out instead of a one-way ticket to [an] unhappy, unsafe, and unhealthy life.”

Border security, like many other topics of debate, has emerged as a continuation of controversies from the previous legislative session. During the 2021 session, $3 billion was used to send state troopers and National Guard members to the Texas-Mexico border to prevent crossings. Migrant crossings haven’t significantly ceased as a result of this program, but leaders believe that more money and effort should be spent on this issue to ensure success. 54.4% of students who responded to the survey do not support continued funding for this issue. Some believe that migrants should not be restricted if they are in need of opportunities, while others have alternative ideas for solving border issues.

“If a $3 billion investment has been made to prevent crossings and crossings haven’t really shown a decline, I don’t think spending more money would actually help solve this problem,” Adhy Chandrasekaran ‘23 said. “A different solution such as coordinating with the federal government to request the Mexican government to also have a heightened presence at the borders may help solve the issue.”

Although many students have strong opinions on legislative topics, overall, they believe their opinions don’t carry much political weight. On a scale of 1 to 10, survey takers rated themselves a 3.77 on average in terms of their political power as students.

“Honestly, I don’t think our opinions matter because there are so many government officials that hold a higher value than us,” Yash Pawar ‘26 said.

However, some students believe that political change can occur as the result of the collective effort of the student body.

“My political power as a student alone is not significant, although if [students] were to connect together and form a large mass of people fighting for what’s right, I believe our movements could be significant,” Kamaruzzaimie said.