Senate committees heard testimony Tuesday related to three of the four topics laid out for consideration in this session by the governor: school choice, border security, and vaccine mandates. The Senate Education Committee approved the Senate’s school choice proposal in the form of SB 1, by committee chair and Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton. This bill would create education savings accounts to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, or other approved education related expenses. Creighton said the bill is very similar to the one passed by the Senate in April.
The bill would set aside $500 million in state sales tax revenue to fund 62,500 education savings accounts worth $8,000. Parents could apply to receive one of these accounts, but if demand outstrips availability, then they would be apportioned out via lottery. Ninety percent of slots are reserved for disadvantaged students or students with disabilities, leaving 6,250 slots available to any student regardless of need. This is a change from the regular session bill, which prioritized applicants from underperforming or failing public schools. “This program will give students who need a fighting chance the opportunity to find an education that they personally need and would succeed with,” Creighton told members. The accounts would be administered by the Office of the Comptroller rather than the Texas Education Agency.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee advanced a bill that would make it illegal for private employers to require workers to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as a condition of employment. SB 7 is intended to protect individual liberties and medical freedom, said its author Senator Miles Middleton of Galveston. “No one should be forced to make that awful decision between making a living for their family and their health or individual vaccine preference,” he said. The Senate passed a similar bill in the regular session, but it died in the House. The governor did sign a more narrowly targeted bill, which only banned government entities from requiring COVID vaccinations for employees, in June.
The Border Security Committee approved bills that would give law enforcement more latitude to go after those who traffic persons or cross the border illegally. The first, by Pleasanton Senator Pete Flores, takes aim at human traffickers and would increase the penalty for operating a “stash house”, where migrants are kept – often in crowded and squalid conditions – by traffickers pending ransom. “We’ve seen how cartels and other bad actors take advantage of illegal migrants by packing them in tractor-trailers and exploiting them through trafficking and other means, all for profit,” said Flores. “The intent of this legislation is to go after those who are profiting off of and endangering the lives of innocent people.” The bill, SB 4, would impose a minimum 10-year sentence for those convicted of human trafficking along the border in Texas. Convicted stash house operators would be looking at a minimum of five years in prison.
The second measure, SB 11 by Granbury Senator and committee chair Brian Birdwell, has been offered for consideration by the Senate as a bill or an amendment five times this calendar year, the author told his colleagues. “You may be very familiar with it,” he said. This measure, which would create a new offense for entering the state illegally from a foreign country, would permit state peace officers to arrest people they see crossing the border with Mexico illegally and charge them with a class A misdemeanor. “SB 11 neither enforces or contradicts federal immigration law,” said Birdwell. “It is carefully tailored to avoid intruding on federal immigration enforcement authority, while providing law enforcement with an important new tool deter improper or unlawful entry into Texas.”
All bills passed out of committee Tuesday will be eligible for consideration by the full Senate when it reconvenes today.