Story by Texas Tribune Staff
(TEXAS TRIBUNE) – Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday outlined his highest priorities for the legislative session, offering an agenda centered on the economy, schools and public safety, complete with some proposals to push Texas even further to the political right.
During his biennial State of the State speech, the Republican governor named seven emergency items that lawmakers can vote on immediately: cutting property taxes, ending COVID-19 restrictions “forever,” expanding school choice, making schools safer, ending “revolving-door” bail policies, securing the state’s border with Mexico and cracking down on fentanyl.
“This session, we will ensure Texas remains the leader of this nation as an unflinching force in this world,” Abbott said during the speech in San Marcos. “Together, we will build a Texas for the next generation — the Texas of tomorrow.”
The legislative session, which began in early January, is Abbott’s fifth as governor, and it comes months after he secured a decisive reelection victory for a third term. It also comes as he has emerged as more of a national political figure for his attention-grabbing efforts to secure the border — and as a possible 2024 presidential candidate.
His speech included two references to President Joe Biden, a Democrat, saying in one that Texans are rightfully “furious about the lawlessness caused by Joe Biden’s open border policies.”
The speech otherwise included a host of priorities that Abbott has been emphasizing for months, like using the state’s historic budget surplus to deliver the “largest property tax cut in the history of Texas.” He also reiterated he wants to root out “woke agendas” in the classroom and let parents use tax dollars to send their kids to schools outside the traditional public education system.
Emergency items are proposals that allow lawmakers to bypass a ban on passing legislation before the 60th day of a session — which would be March 10. Thursday is the 37th day of the session.
Among his emergency items, Abbott called for legislation to permanently prevent COVID-19 mandates, like local requirements to wear masks, getvaccines and shut down businesses. While Texas long ago lifted its statewide COVID-19 restrictions, Abbott has kept in place a disaster declaration for the pandemic that has drawn some criticism from his right, and he has promised to end it once lawmakers act.
Notably, Abbott also nodded to conservative pushback by giving lawmakers more of a say in how he responds to the next pandemic.
“We must change how government responds to future pandemics, including requiring the Legislature to convene if another pandemic is ever declared,” Abbott said.
The governor has typically given the State of the State before a joint legislative session at the Texas Capitol. But Abbott chose to deliver the speech outside Austin for the second time in a row, after giving it in Austin two years ago amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This time, Abbott delivered the speech at Noveon Magnetics in San Marcos, a setting that had drawn some controversy. Attendees were initially asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, with his office citing “national security and corporate espionage concerns,” but the request was rescinded, according to the USA Today Network.
Reporters were not allowed to cover the speech in-person, but it was broadcast live on Nexstar TV stations across the state and streamed online.
Abbott opened his speech by recognizing Noveon as a “cutting-edge business in the critical field of Rare Earth Elements.” He warned that China currently dominates the rare earth materials market and that Texas needs to embrace companies like Noveon to become more self-reliant.
“The future of Texas and the United States should not depend on China,” Abbott said.