After 175 amendments and more than 10 hours of debate on Thursday, Texas House lawmakers unanimously passed a preliminary $246.8 billion state budget for the next biennium.
The approved budget bill will now return to the Senate, and then to a conference committee between both chambers for more changes before arriving at the governor’s desk.
Budget day in the House wrapped up relatively quickly. In past sessions, the gruelling legislative process has often stretched well past midnight (the infamous 2017 budget day lasted 15 hours and saw lawmakers move through 378 amendments).
Among the day’s most heartfelt moments, the chamber voted 115-29 in favor of an amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) to prohibit Texas Education Agency money from going to school voucher or school choice programs. And an amendment by Rep. Jessica González (D-Dallas) limiting outside legal expenses made by the attorney general’s office to $500 per hour passed in a 73-64 vote — an obvious thumping for the governor’s top henchman Ken Paxton, who was recently found paying lawyers as much as $3,780 an hour in his crusade against Google.
Most notably, the chamber unanimously passed an amendment by Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (R-Victoria) requiring a special session for the appropriation of federal funding relating to COVID.
But things didn’t all work out so harmoniously. The biggest sour note of the evening for Democrats came when an amendment to expand Medicaid by Rep. Garnet Coleman failed. The amendment would have allowed Texas to apply for federal funding to create a Texas healthcare plan to expand Medicaid to residents near the federal poverty line.
“All this amendment does is to direct the Health and Human Services Commission and Governor Abbott to seek a waiver to bring our federal tax dollars home to help reduce the number of uninsured,” Coleman said on the House floor. “I think both Democrats and Republicans can support that fiscally responsible goal.”
Coleman’s amendment failed in a 68-80 vote that fell along party lines with the exception of one Republican.
Another amendment by freshman Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) would have taken $20,000,000 in state funding for “Alternatives to Abortion” and redirected it to help victims of child sex trafficking. It failed in a 62-81 vote.
Republicans then proceeded to do the opposite, increasing state funding for Alternatives to Abortion by siphoning money from Health and Human Services Comission information technology projects.
For the most part, controversial amendments were either knocked down through parliamentary point of orders or were willingly let go and moved to Article 11, often dubbed the wish list section.
After wrapping up the 2022-23 state budget, lawmakers quickly moved through and unanimously passed a supplemental appropriations bill for the current biennium. That bill will now head to the Senate.
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call