AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott delivered his second biennial “State of the State” address to a joint session of the Texas Legislature on Jan. 31. 

In exercising his prerogative as governor, Abbott presented a short list of emergency items for lawmakers to enact during the 85th regular session of the Texas Legislature: 

- Improvements to Child Protective Services;

- A ban on sanctuary cities;

- Ethics reforms; and 

- Approve a resolution calling for a convention of states. 

Abbott said a convention of the states is needed to propose constitutional amendments in order to “fix America” because of a federal government “grown out of control.” It would take a two-thirds majority, or 34 of the 50 state legislatures, to call a convention under Article V of the United States Constitution.

In addition to the emergency items, Abbott called for:

- A hiring freeze, to be observed at all state agencies through the month of August. The freeze, he said, would give the state $200 million to use on other budget items;

- More attention to pre-kindergarten programs and the funding of them;

- Full funding of the Texas Enterprise Fund, a financial instrument used by the governor’s office to help lure big businesses to the Lone Star State; and

- Property tax reform.

On Feb. 1, a day after delivering the State of the State address, Abbott met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for a quick tour of the Rio Grande Valley. “Together with the federal government, Texas will not flinch in our resolve to keep our citizens safe,” Abbott said, and pointed out the connection between border security and his emergency item calling for a ban on sanctuary cities.

Hecht speaks to lawmakers

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht delivered his “State of the Judiciary” address to a joint session of the Texas Legislature on Feb. 1.

Hecht began his remarks by recounting the 2015 shooting of State District Judge Julie Kocurek in Travis County. Kocurek survived the shooting and returned to the bench.

“With judges like Judge Kocurek serving the people of Texas every day,” Hecht said, “I am proud to report to you that the state of the Texas judiciary is strong.”

Hecht asked lawmakers for help in improving judicial security and compensation, electronic access to court documents, guardianship monitoring and increased access to justice for the poor and the middle class. Hecht pledged to work with lawmakers in crafting reforms to the bail system, the treatment of the mentally ill and the imposition of fines, fees and costs for minor offenses. 

Hecht also called for an end to straight ticket voting in judicial elections. Following Hecht’s address, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus agreed, adding: “We shouldn’t stop there. Texas should join 40 other states and end straight ticket voting in all elections. This change would encourage voters to learn more about individual candidates, their platforms and their qualifications. Too often, good men and women are swept out of down-ballot offices due to the political winds at the moment. It has happened in San Antonio and across Texas. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address this issue.”

Health spending analyzed

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Jan. 31 announced his office’s posting of an online report examining health care-related spending by 68 state agencies and higher education institutions from fiscal 2011 through 2015.

The report features a close look at the five state agencies reporting the largest share of that spending: the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Aging and Disability Services, the Department of State Health Services, the Employees Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement System. Those agencies accounted for 82.5 percent of all state health care spending in fiscal 2015. The report also features a section on health care spending by counties.

One finding in the report is that in fiscal 2015, Texas spent $42.9 billion on health care, representing 43.1 percent of all state appropriations.

Revenue total is reported

Texas Comptroller Hegar announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.45 billion in January, 0.7 percent less than in January 2016.

 “Sales tax collections reflect tepid spending by both businesses and consumers. Receipts from the information sector were up, but declines were seen in receipts from the construction and mining sectors, as well as retail trade,” Hegar said.

However, he added, total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in January 2017 was up by 0.3 percent compared with the same period a year ago.