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The 2023 Texas legislative session opened Jan. 10, with property taxes, gun control and the power grid expected to be among the top issues on the agenda.
The Texas Standard talked to political journalists Niki Griswold of the Austin American-Statesman and James Barragàn of the Texas Tribune to see what might be upcoming.
Griswold predicts the “so-called culture war issue” could take center stage, with a number of bills already filed regarding the rights of transgender children and their parents, as well as battles over what books should be made available to children in the classroom and libraries.
Barragan said the state’s predicted $27 billion surplus will attract a number of factions wanting a piece of that action. Gov. Greg Abbott has called for about half the surplus to be spent on property tax relief, while House Speaker Dade Phelan is pushing for more spending on infrastructure.
Griswold pointed out that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wields considerable power in the Legislature and is keenly interested in more fixes to the state’s electric grid.
The regular session will last 140 days, as set by the state constitution.
Ag agency: Climate change threatens food supply
A new report released last week by the Texas Department of Agriculture concluded climate change is a potential threat to the state’s food supply and could produce food insecurity. The report comes after a historic drought decimated crops and forced ranchers to sell the highest number of livestock in more than a decade.
The Texas Tribune reported the food access study, published by TDA and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, noted that “climate instability is strongly associated with water quality, soil degradation, droughts, fires, floods and other environmental disasters.”
The report was submitted to the Legislature on Dec. 31 and points to other factors that make it harder for Texans to access and afford food, such as wages not keeping up with inflation and lack of access to food in rural areas.
“The important takeaway here is that there are significant gaps that need to be addressed between what researchers calculate to be a living wage in Texas, the wages that Texans are actually receiving, and many of the poverty thresholds that determine eligibility for assistance programs,” the report says.
Emergency SNAP benefits again extended
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has again provided the state with more than $344.1 million in emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food benefits for the month of January, benefitting about 1.6 million Texas households
The funds are distributed by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Each SNAP household will receive at least $95 in emergency allotments in addition to its regular allotment.
Since April 2020, the federal government has provided more than $9.3 billion in benefits to Texans through SNAP.