AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – History was made twice at the Texas Capitol Tuesday.
In the Senate, Republican State Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound became the first woman to preside over the Texas Senate on opening day.
That’s because the White House called Patrick to Washington to discuss border security with senior administration officials.
Nelson told senators that Patrick faced a difficult choice. “He really wanted to be here with the members and their families on the really exciting day, but the Lt. Governor’s schedule is not the White House schedule and when the White House calls you to Washington, you go to Washington.”
A White House spokesman told CBS 11 Tuesday: “Lt. Gov. Patrick has been an important partner as we work to secure the southern border. He is at the White House today meeting with senior administration officials to continue that discussion as well as other shared priorities.”
After President Trump made a primetime address from the Oval Office Tuesday night about border security, the Patrick issued a statement that read in part: “President Trump is absolutely right that Congress must pass his common sense border security bill and end this very real crisis at our southern border. In Texas, illegal immigration costs state taxpayers billions of dollars every year in healthcare, education and law enforcement costs. In 2018 alone, over 500,000 illegal aliens were apprehended crossing the border illegally — 300,000 of those were in Texas. I was in Washington today working with the president’s team on his historic first address to the nation from the Oval Office and I am committed to doing everything I can to help the president end this crisis. I will be joining him in McAllen on Thursday for a briefing from those working directly on this problem.”
A spokesman said Patrick is thankful Senator Nelson presided in his place.
In the House, members unanimously elected their first new Speaker in ten years: Republican Dennis Bonnen of Angleton in the Houston area.
He’s a veteran member of the House and succeeds Joe Straus who decided against running for a sixth term as Speaker.
Republican State Rep. Craig Goldman said Bonnen has a reputation for getting things done. “By working with members in the past, he’s come up with solutions. He’s helped members whether they’re Republicans or Democrats.”
Democratic State Rep. Nicole Collier of Fort Worth praised Bonnen’s style. “He is very upfront about his position on pretty much anything. He’ll tell you whether he is with it or not and so his transparent position is what I do appreciate.”
The new Speaker and Gov. Abbott told lawmakers they must pass property tax reform and change how the state pays for public schools.
Bonnen said, “These are complicated issues that can no longer wait, pressing issues that deserve a very meaningful result.”
Gov. Abbott said, “You have the ability and we will achieve it. We are going to reform school finance in the state of Texas this session… and we are going to reform property taxes in Texas this session.”
The governor has proposed capping property tax revenue increases for cities, counties and school districts to 2.5 percent or require a vote to increase that.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price attended opening day ceremonies in the House Wednesday.
She said she recently met with Abbott and will meet with his staff next week.
Mayor Price said while she disagrees with a one-size-fits-all cap, she wants to work with lawmakers. “Fort Worth has lowered our rate seven cents in the last three years. We understand the burden on our citizens and we’re working on that and that’s something we want them to understand. Don’t paint every city with the same brush. We’re all a little bit different.”
Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the new Speaker Bonnen also held their first joint news conference Wednesday morning.
During the news conference, the top state officials talked about the top issues facing Texas lawmakers, such as school finance reform.
“Under the plan… on the property tax side… one thing that it would do would reduce the amount of recapture or Robin Hood. But also with regard to school funding. We do want to provide more funding for schools. But we don’t want to just throw money at the schools. We want to use strategies that have proven to provide results,” said Abbott.