Texas House advances bill to restore money to pay salaries for 2,100 state workers after Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed Legislature funding

The sun sets on the state Capitol in Austin, on May 27, 2021.

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The Texas House on Wednesday gave the preliminary OK to legislation that will, among other things, restore funding for the salaries and benefits of the 2,100 staffers of the Legislative branch after Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed those dollars in the next state budget.

The legislation, House Bill 5, will need another stamp of approval in the House before it heads to the Senate, which has not yet debated its version of the proposal on the floor.

The bill, carried by House Appropriations Chair Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, as passed would restore roughly $316 million to Article X of the 2022-23 state budget, which funds the Legislature and various legislative agencies such as the Legislative Reference Library and Legislative Budget Board. Abbott vetoed those dollars earlier this year as retribution after House Democrats walked out of the chamber in the final hours of the regular legislative session that ended in May to block a GOP elections bill. The veto did not affect lawmakers, whose salaries are constitutionally protected.

HB 5 would also add dollars for the coming biennium toward other issues on Abbott’s special session agenda, including $90 million to the Department of Family and Protective Services to help combat the state’s foster care crisis and over $17 million to the Department of Information Resources to ramp up the state’s cybersecurity efforts.

Under HB 5, additional funding also would go toward tacking a number of other issues. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, for example, would receive over $700 million for the biennium to help implement a one-time payment for retired teachers, counselors and other school staff — so long as that companion proposal is passed by the Legislature during the special session and becomes law.

After Abbott vetoed legislative funding, the governor included restoring those dollars on both his first and second special session agendas. But plans to pass legislation related to the issue during the first overtime round were derailed after House Democrats broke quorum a second time to prevent the passage of that GOP elections bill.

Funding for the Legislature was set to run out Sept. 1, when the next two-year budget takes effect, but Abbott and other Republican leaders earlier this month announced they had secured an additional month of funding, buying the Legislature some time to reinstate those dollars.

A group of Democrats and state employees argued Abbott’s veto was an unconstitutional overreach of executive power and asked the Texas Supreme Court to override Abbott’s veto. But the all-Republican court denied that request, writing in its opinion that “this political dispute within the legislative branch is not an issue of separation of powers that we can decide.”

During the second special session, a House bill relating specifically to legislative funding was approved unanimously by committee but has not yet hit the floor for debate. Its companion legislation in the Senate also has not yet been debated by the full chamber.

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