House Takes Up Vaccine and Border Bills, But School Choice Still in Limbo

October 26, 2023
Andrew McVeigh
88th Legislative Session, Border Security, Dade Phelan, School Choice, Special Session

With more than half of the special session already over, on Wednesday, the Texas House finally took up and considered four bills on the Floor for debate. 

Two House bills and two Senate bills considered included:

SB 7 by Senator Middleton (R-Galveston) – Carried by Rep. Leach (R-Allen) in the House, SB 7 would prohibit private businesses from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates on employees (it would not cover any other vaccines).

SB 4 by Senator Flores (R-Pleasanton) – Carried by Rep. Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) in the House, SB 8 would increase criminal penalties for human smuggling or the operation of a stash house. 

HB 6 by Representative Jetton (R-Richmond) – HB 6 would allocate an additional $1.5 billion of taxpayer money for border “barriers.”

HB 4 by Representative Spiller (R-Jacksboro) – HB 4 would create a new Misdemeanor offense for foreign nationals to enter Texas anywhere other than a port of entry, but the bill has several exceptions, including not applying to asylum seekers and DACA.

SB 7 was taken up first, and after several hours of debate and several attempts to expand the bill to provide more protections for Texans, SB 7 was passed by a vote of 90 to 57 on the second reading and 91 to 54 on the third reading. While the measure is well-intentioned, many would argue that it is two years too late to provide any meaningful protections or recourse for workers forced to decide between their own livelihoods or getting a vaccination. 

SB 4, HB 6, and HB 4, three bills that attempt to fulfill the Governors call related to border security, were also passed after several hours of debate going late into the night.

School Choice

Despite progress on these two issues, one subject that seems to be stalling is the issue of school choice:

In the early days of the special session, the Senate passed SB 1 by Senator Creighton (R-Conroe), which would provide for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for roughly 62,000 children, or roughly 1% of the Texas schoolchildren population. 

After several weeks, the House introduced their own plan, HB 1 by Representative Buckley (R-Salado), which included, in the 184-page omnibus education bill, ESAs but for a paltry 0.4% of Texas schoolchildren. 

Neither chamber seems to be budging on their plan, and progress seems to have come to a standstill, with Speaker Dade Phelan indicating to members of the House that the Special session will go on for the full thirty days. 

It remains to be seen if two chambers can reconcile their two very different plans and if the Governor will fight the legislature to actually provide real school choice for ALL Texas school children (which is what he called for in his special session proclamation) and not just less than 1 percent.

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